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How to Futureproof Your Career in Buying

As the buying industry undergoes a dramatic transformation, Browns Buying Director Ida Petersson shares her insights on the skills critical for success in the season ahead.
Source: Shutterstock
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  • BoF Team

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LONDON, United Kingdom — When the initial stages of lockdown spread through Europe at the tail-end of the Autumn/Winter 2020 season, buyers began to experience the precautionary health and safety measures and digital solutions put in place to maintain momentum in an increasingly grounded industry.

"We first started experiencing it with empty showrooms — facemasks on and hand sanitiser offered. It felt surreal," recalled Browns Buying Director Ida Petersson in a BoF Live event last week. "We had to do the last bit of buying virtually. At that point, nobody was prepared for it, [but] at least we had seen the product on catwalks. We're preparing for a second round of this, where we haven't physically seen the product at all."

Ida Petersson, director of men's and womenswear buying at Browns | Source: Shutterstock

In a discussion on the lessons she has learned as a result of the crisis, Petersson offered her expectations for the seasons ahead and the skills she believes will be critical for success. Now, BoF shares five key takeaways.

Adapt to Digital Touchpoints

In terms of a skillset for a buyer, being able to visualise things is more important than ever. As a buyer, you're hoping for a 360 view, for close-ups — fabric swashes, where possible. The reality is, in some cases, we're not even going to get models and will just receive CAD drawings. If someone can digitally break the touch/feel barrier, that will change buying forever.

We are buying into the unknown. We have to be brave.

We have already used Instagram as a discovery tool to pick up designers who are further away. You can find ways around sampling and other considerations, but there is an element of trust involved in this process.

There has been a fast-forward in innovation. Shanghai Fashion Week really set the tone and the innovation around technology excites me. I’m excited about seeing people dream big in lockdown but be realistic in what they can do.

Nurture Relationships with Emerging Designers

The relationship between buyers and emerging brands is now more important than ever. It’s time for us all to consider how we want to work and what makes sense for our businesses.

If you believe in this industry, you need to support younger, emerging designers. We have to think bigger than the bottom line. Major brands are in a different situation. They mostly have hefty cashflows and things to fall back on.

It is not the time to abuse the balance and dynamic of these relationships. Emerging talent really is the future of our industry. If we don’t support the young talent, they could not be there tomorrow. We have a real responsibility and I urge buyers not to forget this. In my experience, the best strategy in a crisis is actually focusing on creativity, not forgetting it.

Take Calculated Risks

Digging deep and taking risks is still critical. Now is the time to implement some disruptive thinking. My favourite thing is when someone on my team comes up to me and says, “let’s just change the world.”

Don’t be afraid to try and fail. We have to try in order to innovate — we have to push forwards. You can’t go anywhere without risk. Understanding what you’re up against but taking those leaps of faith is how you make things happen. One thing at a time, though — I still love a spreadsheet.

You can set your strategy, but it has to be able to pivot.

We buy six to eight months in advance anyway, but now we are buying into the unknown. We have to be brave about what we think the future will be. What will work and what won’t. Not where the world will be — who knows? But people will still buy.

Excel in Communication

What has hit me is the impact on some of the big brands — massive businesses — that are really struggling in this crisis. We have an ongoing dialogue with these brands about what they want to achieve and what we can do to help. We are finding solutions together and it’s been a real learning curve.

Those check-ins, seeing how everyone is doing, connecting randomly over nothing — all of it is so important. Sharing is key but it’s also crucial to take this time to look internally. We are examining, “how are we doing things?” “Are there new things that can be done?” I’ve seen some amazing changes coming through the team.

Learn how to deliver bad news constructively to anyone you do business with, internally or externally, in a way you would hope to receive it. Be honest and clear about what you are facing and try to share as much with your team as possible. We need good communicators. There are so many forums, panels of buyers, suppliers and other industry players coming together to share their experiences. It’s powerful to share the good and the bad.

Learn to Be Flexible

While numerical, analytical qualities have always been important to buying, the need for flexibility is becoming increasingly important. You can set your strategy, but it has to be able to pivot. It’s important to always look to new opportunities, but also looking to engage and involve the wider team within that. Being calm under pressure is also crucial.

The crisis means we can finally try to find a balance between work and life. Not just for myself — for my team. Buying runs on an exhausting cycle and it’s easy for people to do it for ten years and then burn out. [But] experience is key, so having people walk away because they’re burned out is not good. When we eventually go back, working from home will be more viable, but we will all need to be as flexible and collaborative as possible to ensure we achieve everything we want to.

The Best Buying Jobs on BoF Careers:

Montblanc Senior Buyer, Richemont — Hamburg, Germany

Buyer, Carolina Herrera — New York, United States

Team Lead Buying Menswear - Zalando Lounge, Zalando — Berlin, Germany

Assistant Buyer, Maternity, Gap — San Francisco, United States

Shoes Buyer & Merchandiser, Suitsupply — Amsterdam, Netherlands

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