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? 

Get to Know Our Experts

Jay Yoo

  • Title:
    Fashion Merchandising Professor
  • Company:
    Baylor University
  • Where:
    Waco, TX
  • Experience:
    10 years in the industry
  • Quick Look Bio

    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.


    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

  • Title:
    Fashion Merchandising Professor
  • Company:
    Mercyhurst University
  • Where:
    Erie, PA
  • Experience:
    4 years in the industry
  • Quick Look Bio

    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.


    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

  • Title:
    Professor and Freelance Designer
  • Company:
    Drexel University & Self-Employed
  • Where:
    Philadelphia, PA
  • Experience:
    30+ years in the industry
  • Quick Look Bio

    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”.


    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!

    Fashion Merchandising Infographic