How to Become a Fashion Merchandiser

Fashion merchandising is one of those jobs you always hear about but never really know what it is. That’s because it’s an extremely broad field with many career paths, all of which are related to fashion.

Some examples of what fashion merchandisers might do is retail buying, trend-setting, executive decision-making, visual merchandising for retail, management, sales, and promotion among other things. The main aspects a fashion merchandiser must focus on, however, are sales, marketing, and fashion trends. Basically, the business side of the industry.

Once again, this is not a profession for the faint of heart. The fashion industry is extremely competitive no matter the specific career you pick. Fashion merchandising is no exception, but it can also be very rewarding both in terms of how interesting it can be and financially.

Take a look at this infographic for a little insight about the industry.

WHAT THE EXPERTS ARE SAYING

Jay Yoo

Fashion Merchandising Professor

Quick Look Bio

  • Name:
  • Location:
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  • Company:
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  • Jay Yoo
  • Waco, TX
  • 10
  • Baylor University
  • Fashion Merchandising Professor

I am from Seoul, South Korea. After finishing high school there, I was motivated to learn fashion in the U.S. So, I earned an A.S. degree from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York and a bachelor’s degree from Seattle Pacific University. After several years of working in New York’s textile industry, I obtained a master’s from Cornell University and a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota studying the psychological aspects of consumer behaviors and appearance management. Now I am an assistant professor teaching in the area of Fashion Merchandising in the Department of Family and Consumer Science at Baylor University.

I think it is important for people to do what they love and to do what they believe is important in order to become successful or to remain successful in their field. Merchandising students often think that only clothing makes up fashion, but fashion actually revolves around everything that people do to their body, such as using cosmetics, fragrances or hair products.

Fashion is a dynamic industry. People with so much energy and talent design, develop, and sell ever-changing fashion styles to consumers around the globe. Generally, I have discovered that students who are interested in fashion are determined to major in the field early in their life. By far, the most important thing is to obtain a degree in fashion before considering the idea of pursuing a fashion career. Being enrolled in a fashion major gives people the opportunity not only to learn in classes, but also to attend workshops, career fairs, participate in internships, and make connections with professionals in the industry.

Advice

Live and breathe the industry
In terms of developing fashion careers, my advice is to begin by going online and subscribing to fashion newspapers, such as Women’s Wear Daily (WWD). Students should be exposed to the best information about fashion trends, industry news, and career opportunities. They should also make every effort to get connected, especially with professionals in the industry whom they aspire to work with in the future. In the end, while they are in school, they should put forth their best effort in classes, and maintain close contact with, and establish life-long relationships with their college professors. They can be very valuable as mentors and contacts.

Pick the right curriculum
Creativity in merchandising is often overlooked, whereas there is a great deal of innovation assumed in the fashion business. I think it is important to instill the value of creativity into the fashion merchandising curriculum. In addition, graduating seniors should have a merchandising portfolio that articulates their 4 years of learning. They should also learn to use relevant technology.

Get your foot in the door
I also hope that students do not wait until they find their dream job! They must realize the abundant contacts they will make in a very short time period working in their first position. Any senior management in the company will serve as a great mentor, so they should take the opportunity to talk to people and seek help whenever possible. For this to happen, it is necessary to have to have a foot in the door first.

Jennifer Craven

Fashion Merchandising Professor

Quick Look Bio

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  • Jennifer Craven
  • Erie, PA
  • Mercyhurst University
  • Fashion Merchandising Professor

I received my B.S. in Fashion Merchandising from Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pa. I continued my graduate work at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, NC, where I earned my M.S. in Textiles and Apparel Technology Management. I knew that I wanted to remain in the field of education for my career, and was fortunate enough to return to my alma mater as a faculty member in 2010.

My main areas of interest and teaching experience include textiles, product line development, Adobe Illustrator for design, and various forms of communication, such as public speaking and fashion journalism. In the textile courses, students learn about fibers, yarns, and fabrics, as well as finishing techniques like dyeing and printing. If you’ve ever wondered why a cotton T-shirt feels and behaves differently than a polyester T-shirt, that’s something that my students learn.

Advice

Start at the bottom and move up
My advice for people pursing fashion merchandising as a career would be to not underestimate the power of networking. The fashion industry is highly competitive and very fast moving. It’s also incredibly broad with many types of career paths. Students are often encouraged to complete as many internships as possible, which is a huge benefit to narrow down the area of interest that fits them best. Oftentimes, internship positions turn into job offers. It may require employees to start in an entry-level position, however it is common to move up the ranks fairly quickly through promotions.

Learn the business
There are lots of colleges and universities that have fashion-related programs. Some of which are design-focused and some are more merchandising-focused. I believe that it’s important to add a strong business core to any fashion education, as it would be very helpful in navigating the fashion industry.

Roberta Gruber

Professor and Freelance Designer

Quick Look Bio

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  • Roberta Gruber
  • Philadelphia, PA
  • 30+
  • Drexel University & Self-Employed
  • Professor & Freelance Designer
  • Roberta H. Gruber

I graduated from Drexel University with a B.S. in Fashion Design and returned for my M.S. in Arts Management after spending 18-20 years in the Fashion as well as the Luggage and Leather Goods Industries. Along with designing ready-to-wear for 7th Avenue companies, the “American Women” line of a women’s business cases and bags for Schlesinger Brothers, I also created “wearable art” pieces that were sold in galleries and national high-end boutiques.

In 1986 I became a full-time faculty member at Drexel University’s Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design where I began my career in higher education. I continued to do freelance design, wrote a book on fashion drawing, Fashion Images, Prentice Hall 2000, and I am now Head of the “Department of Design”.

Advice

Follow your passion
Go for it, enjoy what you do, and don’t expect any 2 days to be the same. Be open-minded and look for opportunities. Be passionate about design in general and the fashion industry. Know the economic and creative impact it has and its ability to make peoples lives more pleasurable.

Be interdisciplinary
Study design as well as business. Their interdependence is key to being successful and understanding the needs of the consumer. Look for programs that give you a well rounded, general, but directed area of study. Understand Art History and its connection to trends, as well a historic costume and economic history in general. Know that whatever you learn, specific skills or general knowledge, (from color theory to textiles, accounting, marketing, economics and history) you will use it all, and incorporate it in most areas of your life.

Start by selling
Retail, retail, retail! Start on the selling floor or online development and understand consumer needs and desires. They are after-all the ultimate judge!

What Kind of Education Do I Need to Become a Fashion Merchandiser?


This is one of the niches in the fashion industry where getting a degree is more than advisable. Because fashion merchandisers take care of the business side of things, it’s important for them to have the right preparation in sales, marketing, and finance.

The competitiveness of the industry also influences the need for a degree in order to get your foot in the door. Not only will your resume have a leg up on those who have not studied, but at the right school, you’ll have the opportunity to make contacts within the fashion industry, as well as with your fellow students. Both of these will help you grow your network and aid in knocking on doors when you are looking for a job.

This being said, a degree is not enough to become a successful fashion merchandiser, especially if your goal is to get to the top of the ranks and have decision-making power in trends and buying. You also need to be curious and a self-starter. You must follow trends in the fashion business on your own, have initiative to read magazines, watch shows, and go to industry events. If you are truly passionate about fashion, however, this should be very easy to do, but of course, it will require additional time investment.

WHAT IF I DO WANT A DEGREE IN FASHION MERCHANDISING?

In the case that you are set on a merchandising career in fashion, here are some schools that appear high on US rankings. Keep in mind that there are hundreds of programs out there to choose from, and they range in quality, content, pricing and location.

  • Fashion Institute of Technology
    Located in New York, this is the “it” school for most things fashion. They offer an A.S. and a B.S. in Fashion Merchandising and Management along with a wide variety of design and fashion-related courses. You can also combine your studies with international exchanges. If you are an in-state student, you are in luck, with tuition at a low cost of $5,200. It’s almost triple for out-of-state at $14,200.
  • Kent State University
    This school, in Kent, Ohio, offers a bachelor’s degree in Fashion Merchandising, or a 5 and a half year option, where you don’t only obtain your B.A., but also an M.B.A. with a concentration in fashion design and merchandising. Tuition for undergrads currently stands at $10,012 for in-state and $17,972 for out-of-state.
  • Drexel University
    Drexel’s Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, located in Philadelphia, PA, offers a degree in Design & Merchandising and is ranked 3rd in the US by FashionSchools.org. You can also choose to minor in a variety of art and/or fashion programs that the university offers. Yearly tuition here is around $44,646.
  • Oregon State University
    The College of Business at Oregon State University offers a B.A. in Merchandising Management through the school of Design and Human Environment. You can later go on to get your M.B.A. here as well. In-state tuition is currently $10,037, while out-of-state is $26,537.
  • Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising
    With two campuses, one in San Francisco and another in San Diego, FIDM offers a number of majors, some Associate, others Bachelor’s degrees, to choose from for aspiring fashion merchandisers. These include Beauty Industry Merchandising & Marketing, Merchandise Marketing, and Merchandise Product Development, along with many other areas of specialization. Tuition stands at an average of $27,855 per year.

GETTING MY FOOT IN THE DOOR

First thing to know is that it probably won’t be easy to start a career, especially your dream one. Fashion is extremely competitive for all of those who aspire to work in the industry, and fashion merchandisers are no exception.

Just like Roberta Gruber advises, begin on the retail floor. Try to work for companies with a big name. It could be H&M, Victoria’s Secret, or Calvin Klein, but choose a company that is well-positioned on the market. While in university focus on your studies, but also try to go up in the ranks and get a key-holder, team lead, or store manager position. Always try to have leading sales in the store.

Later, building a portfolio will be extremely important. You will probably begin at entry-level jobs and must have initiative and put in the long hours if you want to grow faster. At any point in your studies or your career, try to network as much as you can. You never know who will be your next employer, or who might have the inside scoop on the positions that are available.

Finally, have a brand. You are looking to get into the fashion industry which means you have to live up to its standards. Look the part by dressing to the latest fashion, always having your hair and make-up done right, and by using accessories that will interest others. This is an industry where everyone cares how you look, so be prepared to be judged on that.