How to Become a Fashion Merchandiser


Learn the Basics of Fashion Merchandising

A fashion merchandiser is a forecaster in many ways. They must have the ability to look at current and past market trends and predict which direction the fashion industry is heading. The data compiled helps a merchandiser make an informed decision about what fabrics and textiles to purchase, and which to disregard. 

Fashion merchandisers act as an interagent between manufacturers and consumers, and among important job duties may involve the packaging and marketing of items secured from the manufacturer. The marketing end of fashion merchandising shapes the success of the brand. Fashion merchandisers must know their target audience exhaustively to choose items that will sell. For instance, buyers for a big box retailer will likely shop for affordable fashions while high-end retailers would need to stock more expensive garments. 

One possible bonus to the job is travel. Fashion merchandisers may travel to different areas to visit with suppliers and review samples. Buyers are given a budget to adhere to and must stick to the retailer’s guidelines. In that regard, sales experience is a plus since merchandisers must negotiate prices from suppliers. Once products hit shelves, a fashion merchandiser is also responsible for staying on top of profit gains, as well as losses. 

Product placement also falls under the role of a fashion merchandiser. Many fashion merchandisers plan and execute in-store displays within a retail shop, and any relevant advertisements are often tied into the displays selected by the fashion merchandiser.


Develop Essential Skills

Most fashion merchandising careers require more than a high school diploma, and to get a job you should enroll in a full-time fashion merchandising degree program. During your training, you’ll study the concepts and methodology required to succeed within the field. Loving fashion isn’t enough to give you the competitive edge needed to secure a coveted position in this industry. 

The foundation of your training is to study the basic principles of design. At this stage, you will develop a visual understanding of how lines, colors, and textures are used to create balance and color perception instruction will help you achieve visual designs that are creative, contemporary and in style. Fashion construction will also be covered, along with a comprehensive examination of the textile industry. 

Peering back at fashion choices throughout history will give a merchandiser insight into popular design aesthetics and how fashion relates to the cultural climate at the time. Influential designers may be studied to uncover how they responded to the stylistic needs and desires during their time. 

In addition, accounting is a skill set needed by the prospective fashion merchandiser. An analytical eye reviews profit and loss statements and understands how a buyer can use these figures for future negotiations. Merchandise management strategies will answer questions such as: How do I plan when I order garments? What is the right quantity needed by the retailer to earn a profit? How do I prevent over- and under-ordering? 

Another key ability that all fashion merchandisers must have is great communication skills.  Without this flair, even the most experienced fashion merchandiser is set up to fail. Buyers must learn to communicate properly with both suppliers and their customer base. Due to the diversity of these two sectors, a merchandiser must be able to communicate guidelines clearly depending on the situation and audience. A merchandiser must also find the perfect balance. For example, international communication strategies are imperative as promoting a brand to a global network is very different than marketing to a local market. 

Visual merchandising is one of the newest and most significant influences within the field of fashion merchandising. With social media and instant online access, buyers must anticipate shoppers’ reactions to certain images. What excites the target audience? What strategies are employed to make them stop and take notice of a specific brand or brands?


Earn Hands-On Experience

Building Industry Connections Is Important

Building a solid background in the retail industry is a vital stepping-stone for a future in fashion merchandising. Working the floor at a retail location gives merchandisers needed hands-on experience. A part-time position is ideal while attending school, while still trying to get your foot in the door. Choose an established retailer or a brand primed for future success. Don't shy away from internships offered at many colleges and universities since these positions often lead to full-time jobs.

Keep in close contact with anyone you meet in the industry. This includes retail managers and college professors. Network with retail business owners and fashion merchandisers you admire in the field. Reach out by email or through your growing social network to gauge their willingness to help you get that life-altering "first interview."

Interdisciplinary study is also a must in the field of fashion merchandising. Due to the many hats you're expected to wear, your background needs to be well rounded. This could involve a dual degree that includes economics, art, accounting, communications, or marketing.

Branding yourself is also an important part of securing a job as a fashion merchandiser. Because you're in the fashion industry, you must present a strong sense of self and have the ability to convey that to the world. The way you dress and present yourself can be the most important part of the job interview process…so play the part.

To learn more about some of the different careers, check out this article: Where Can a Career in Fashion Merchandising Take You? 

Helpful Resources

  • Interview with Sara Rotman, Creative Director & Fashion Branding Expert

    Tammi Edwards
    Tammi EdwardsJun 16, 2012

    As Sara Rotman was rising through the ranks of corporate America, she quickly learned that if she wanted to reach the pinnacle of her industry she would more than just design talent. She would also need to become business-savvy, something she learned and handled with ap...

  • Interview with Abi Ferrin, Fashion Designer

    Tammi Edwards
    Tammi EdwardsJul 02, 2012

    When you read about the reality of fashion design, from the perspective of our featured artist Abi Ferrin, you may be surprised. To the outsider, the field may appear to be filled with glamour and glitter; but to those who have worked their way to the top—it is seriou...

  • Networking for Fashion Merchandisers: Beginners Guide

    Anna Ortiz
    Anna OrtizJun 12, 2017

    There’s little doubt that in fashion merchandising, as is all areas of the fashion industry, networking for marketing purposes cannot be overlooked. Networking is not always a priority. It takes time and energy, and after a long week at work or school, the last thing ...