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.
SHANGHAI, China — Takahiro Iizumi is the men's buying manager for concept store 10 Corso Como's spaces in Shanghai and Beijing, and the Trendy International Group. A graduate of the Aoyama Gakuin University in Tokyo, Iizumi's first job was in graphic design, but he soon transitioned to merchandising and worked for local multibrand stores. In 2004, Iizumi joined Japanese retailer Estnation Inc. as a buyer for women's international luxury brands. In 2009, he moved to popular Japanese boutique Aquagirl as senior womenswear buyer, where he was responsible for over 200 brands across 30 stores. Iizumi relocated to Shanghai in 2013 to become men's buying manager of 10 Corso Como.
BoF: Please describe your current role.
I am the men’s buying manager of 10 Corso Como in Shanghai and Beijing. I'm in charge of men’s buying and merchandising and I'm responsible for aspects of the business like sell-through, gross profit, open-to-buy, brand lists, buying selection, negotiations with vendors, payment and delivery, as well as pop-up and event planning. My role requires me to build close connections with our visual merchandising, retail, marketing and PR teams. I work with the team to ensure that we have a consistent Corso Como vision across our various outlets, like art, fashion, music, design, cuisine and culture. It's our goal to create the best shopping destination in China.
BoF: What attracted you to the role?
The role of a buyer is very exciting. A buyer has access to cutting-edge, worldwide creativity and they're the first to see the most beautiful designs every season. We work with merchandisers on developing a good image and business for the store through good product selection and great store presentation. It's exciting knowing that you are communicating with like-minded customers who always look forward to seeing new trends. My job involves a lot of physical work and I'm always under a lot of pressure, but I want to be able to provide an intellectual, modern and positive stimulation for people. The first time I went to a 10 Corso Como boutique was in Milan in the nineties. It was during my first trip overseas. The store was incredible, with a beautiful selection of products, unique decor and a friendly retail environment. I was deeply moved by the atmosphere and I wanted to stay much longer. Since then, I've been learning how to create a store concept that tells a story.
I placed orders on green hats during my first season at 10 Corso Como, but they didn't sell very well. I later found out that there is an old saying in China that if a man wears a green hat, his wife is having an affair.
BoF: What is the most exciting project or initiative you have worked on?
The most exciting initiatives have definitely been the 10 Corso Como store openings in China and Seoul. [Founder] Carla Sozzani and [regular collaborator] Kris Ruhs are very artistic. They have a clear vision, solid passion and unyielding determination. We worked on a lot of interior decorating together, although most of it just felt like an impromptu performance. We didn't know how the final store would turn out. It was also very hands-on. We carried heavy racks and furniture. We painted the walls, ceiling, tiles and tables. There are many parts of the store that each have a story to them and were a culmination of efforts from the employees. It's quite special to us.
BoF: How is your role changing? What are the forces driving this change?
I always think that change is a challenge. One of the biggest changes in my life was relocating to Shanghai from Tokyo for this job with Corso Como. Even though China is part of the same continent as Japan, it has a completely different culture, mentality, market needs and shopping behaviour. I almost can't explain it in words. It's complicated, un-categorical, very fast and filled with massive energy. I've slowly gotten used to my new environment and am constantly learning about the Chinese market through my colleagues and customers.
Another change was that my role switched from women's to men's buying. I first joined 10 Corso Como as a women's buying manager, but I also had the opportunity to be in charge of the men's collections for a couple of seasons. I hardly had any experience in men's buying before. Through buying sessions, I became more interested and excited by menswear fashion. From global to local markets, there is a lot happening in menswear, whether it's new trends or emerging brands. I used the transition to menswear as an opportunity to further develop my buying style and continue my passion for discovering new things.
BoF: Tell us about a time you failed and how you learned from it.
"Don't make the same mistakes" — that's one of my favourite sentences. If I make the same mistake twice, it's usually because I was lazy or perhaps I was tired and overworked. I also have failure stories about misjudgment and misunderstanding, which led to unexpected problems. One story, for example, is when I placed orders on green hats during my first season at 10 Corso Como, but they didn't sell very well. I wasn't sure why. I thought they were trendy at the time. I found out from my colleagues that there is an old saying in China that if a man wears a green hat, his wife is having an affair. Since then, I realised how important it is to learn about the culture of a country and that you must learn to adapt your work.
BoF: What advice do you have for people who are interested in doing what you do?
My advice is to have a big dream and never give up until you get there. Know who you want to work with and prove your value. Learn to cultivate your own strength. A good buyer needs great taste, good analysis and communication skills, and a sense of individuality. In college, I didn't know what I wanted to do, but I knew that I liked fashion. I looked to fashion insiders like Comme des Garçons and the Antwerp Six. I didn't jump into the fashion industry until my late twenties. It might seem like I took a detour, but it doesn't matter because I'm exactly where I want to be now. Remember to be yourself and enjoy moments along the way. You deserve it more than anyone.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
For more information about fashion industry roles like this and others, visit BoF Careers.