There are few sectors of the economy that offer as wide and interesting a range of career opportunities as fashion. Role Call highlights some of the industry’s most interesting jobs and the talented people who do them. For more information about fashion industry roles like this and others, visit BoF Careers.
LONDON, United Kingdom — Laura Larbalestier is the buying director at Browns Fashion. Originally from the United States, Larbalestier moved to London to study fashion management at the London College of Fashion, graduating in 2003. She first joined Selfridges as a buying administrator in the children's department, then transitioned to buying assistant in the womenswear design team, where she was promoted to the position of buyer within a year. In 2006, she became buying manager across all of bridge and designer-wear, and led a team of eight. She remained in the role for five and a half years, before joining Browns Fashion in June 2011 as the boutique's buying director.
BoF: Please describe your current role.
I am the womenswear buying director for Browns. I look after all of women’s ready-to-wear, fine jewellery, shoes and bags. It’s safe to say no two days are the same. About five months of the year, we travel to different cities, mainly Paris, New York and Milan, to buy the 150 collections we stock. As buying director, I am responsible for setting the direction and budgets for each season. Once we are back in the office, we need to work with press, retail, online and logistics to make sure we deliver the best to make a successful season.
Simply put, our mission is to offer the best edit of the most important brands, the most exciting new designers and the most desired products and must-have pieces, across a range of price points, with a strong point of view. The art of buying is knowing what are the best pieces to invest in and have delivered at a certain time of year, and what will excite and engage your customer.
BoF: What attracted you to the role?
When I joined Browns almost three years ago, I was attracted by the store's heritage, its history of championing new talent and being the first to support these new designers. I feel that smaller stores offer a specific, edited point of view and that makes their products more compelling, rather than overwhelming, which is what a consumer might feel when faced with too many choices. Having said that, newness is also really important and that’s where Browns Focus offers new brands and products that work without the constraints of typical seasons.
Smaller stores offer an edited point of view and that makes their products more compelling, rather than overwhelming, which is what a consumer might feel when faced with too many choices.
BoF: What is the most exciting project or initiative you have worked on?
When I first joined, my first steps were to reposition Browns Focus and address the way women shop and what they were wearing. One of the best things of working in a smaller store is the speed at which you can change the product offering and the direction. What customers want changes so quickly, so it is important that we have a constant evolution of new products, and a destination store that people feel they must visit whenever they come to London.
BoF: How is your role changing? What are the forces driving this change?
Online has given every retailer such a global presence, meaning we cannot look at local markets as our competition any more. Creating a concise and unique environment has become more and more important. When people come to Browns, we want them to see an edited vision of the season, instead of a random mixture of products.
BoF: Tell us about a time you failed and how you learned from it.
One of the great things about buying is that every season, different challenges arise in terms of brands that over- and under-perform. All of the best people I have worked with in my career are incredibly passionate and have a huge drive to succeed, and often, they witness better performance and growth each season. In that sense, anything that doesn’t work can be seen as a failure.
The most satisfying part of buying is managing the business in season and figuring out what to develop and where to minimise risk. As the retail landscape gets more and more saturated, the factors that impact your sell-through increase, so the challenges of having a good season are constantly changing and this makes buying a very dynamic business.
BoF: What advice do you have for people who are interested in doing what you do?
The role of a buyer in a company is buying the stock that will ultimately make the company profitable, so a good understanding of business is extremely important. A passion for product is essential, as well as willingness to work hard and work your way up. I always think working on the shop floor and gaining direct contact with the customer is always a very good place to start, as it’s not all about picking the prettiest dress.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
For more jobs like this, visit BoF Careers, the global marketplace for fashion talent.