Fashion Merchandising

What Is Fashion Merchandising?

Fashion merchandising involves wearing many hats within the fashion industry, sometimes juggling them and sometimes focusing on one area exclusively. The most important functions include product development and production, promoting the merchandise, and buying materials from suppliers. Clothing for both men and women is the most common item that fashion merchandisers work with, but they also create and sell accessories, cosmetics, jewelry, and shoes. People in this role typically work for a retail store or a textile manufacturer.

Keeping up with the latest fashion updates and market trends is an essential part of the job since marketing outdated trends will hurt revenue. Some of the specific job titles associated with fashion merchandising include:

  • Catalog Production Manager
  • Designer
  • Fashion Buyer
  • Fashion Director
  • Merchandise Display Artist
  • Production Development Manager
  • Retail Store Manager
  • Textile Manager

What Does a Fashion Merchandisers Do?

The ultimate goal of the fashion merchandiser is to make the product as attractive as possible to a potential customer so he or she is inspired to buy it. This requires a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes. For example, a person employed in a fashion merchandising career needs to negotiate pricing and shipping details with manufacturers and advertise to customers. They need professional communication skills to interact with a variety of personalities they encounter on the job. Success in this career also requires strong forecasting ability. Fashion merchandisers must be able to analyze past trends and be continually aware of developments in the world of fashion.

A sense of style and the willingness to wear or display current fashions themselves are additional ingredients of a successful fashion merchandiser. While it might seem the opposite to art and fashion, a person in this role needs strong analytical skills to do well. As an example, he or she needs to consider the company budget when purchasing inventory. An equally important component is the ability to determine whether certain products meet the needs and demands of customers and determining how long something might stay in fashion. Knowing the life cycle of a product helps stores avoid having to liquidate excess inventory later.

Some of the specific duties of a fashion merchandiser include:

  • Researching current fashion trends and predicting what may be popular in the future
  • Attending fashion shows
  • Creating advertising and marketing campaigns
  • Developing a budget and making sure that everyone stays within it
  • Negotiating with manufacturers and suppliers
  • Pricing clothing and other fashion accessories
  • Researching customer demographics to determine how to market to them
  • Coordinate efforts with sales, design, and merchandise planning teams
  • Buying inventory
  • Creating store displays to highlight certain products

Where Do Fashion Merchandisers Work?

This career offers a variety of work environments depending on the specific interests of the employee or self-employed individual. Some of the most common environments include retail stores, manufacturing companies, textile companies, theater and dance organizations, and design firms. Fashion merchandisers certainly don’t sit at a desk all day. They use the computer and telephone to secure deals and plan displays, but more of their time is spent traveling or managing the retail environment.

Approximately 25 percent of people working in this industry are self-employed. More than other fashion merchandisers, those who work for themselves offer independent clothing lines and custom apparel. The hours can be long in this field and may include regular evenings and weekends, especially for those who work in the retail industry. Wholesalers and manufacturers employ the highest percentage of fashion merchandisers.

How to Become a Fashion Merchandiser

A bachelor degree in fashion merchandising or a closely related field is the typical educational requirement for entry-level work. Many schools also offer certificate programs as well as associate and master degrees. The field can be highly competitive, so having strong post-secondary educational credentials as well as experience through an internship or volunteer work is essential.


A bachelor degree in fashion merchandising includes liberal arts curriculum, courses specific to the field, and several business courses. This prepares the student for entry-level work in a variety of roles. They develop both their artistic and leadership skills through increasingly challenging courses that build on the foundation of earlier material. These are some of the courses a student can expect to complete while earning a bachelor degree in fashion design:

  • Theory of Textiles and Colors
  • History of Fashion
  • Merchandise Planning and Management Strategies
  • Fashion Forecasting and Research
  • Supply Chain Management
  • Psychology of Consumer Behavior
  • Retail Management

When creating a professional portfolio, it is crucial to include only work that displays current or recent fashion trends. A portfolio with work that is even a year outdated tells the employer or client that the applicant is not as in touch with current fashions as he or she should be. The portfolio can include biographical text about experiences relevant to the position, photographs of recent work, personal reflections on fashion merchandising and trends, and essays about the driving forces behind certain trends. The work should show increasing complexity and problem-solving abilities.

Since most people hiring someone to complete fashion design are more interested in the portfolio than other credentials, students should choose a school with instructors who spend significant time teaching how to create a portfolio and what to include. Any item that shows unique work and futuristic thinking is likely to be well-received by employers and clients.

Earn Practical Experience

A fashion merchandising internship exposes students to actual work environments outside of a classroom setting. Most colleges offering a certificate or degree in this field require students to complete at least one internship off campus. Students earn credits towards their degree for this work experience in addition to a small financial stipend in some cases. The third year of college is often the ideal time to complete an internship because students have learned the basics of fashion merchandising and will return to learn more advanced skills during the senior year.

Finding an internship is usually left to the student, although most schools have career centers to obtain resources and guidance counselors to help with the process. A counselor may assist students with preparing for an interview and providing leads for him or her to pursue. In addition to offering an opportunity to learn hands-on job skills, internships allow students to make industry contacts, gain experience and references for their resume, and explore different aspects of this career.

Finding volunteer work in fashion merchandising can be a challenge. Most retail outlets and textile manufacturers require skilled and educated staff in order to meet their client’s needs. Due to the high-end nature of some of the fashions, students are less likely to find a volunteer opportunity with a charitable organization or non-profit agency. One place to start might be sorting and displaying clothing donations at churches, second-hand stores, or social services agencies. This experience will come in handy when moving on to a paying position.

Continuing Education & Development; Advance Your Career

After working in the industry for a while, some people decide to pursue a specialty certification or an advanced degree. Popular areas of specialization in fashion merchandising include advertising, communications, retail management, design, and marketing. Those who seek these certifications complete several courses on specific subjects to demonstrate mastery in that particular area.

Going back to school to get a master degree is another popular option for those who already work as a fashion merchandiser. Colleges typically require previous industry experience along with a bachelor degree to admit students into a post-graduate program. It takes approximately two years of full-time study to earn this degree. Examples of courses at this level include:

  • Fashion Analysis and Theory
  • Fashion Buying Strategies
  • Textile Markets
  • Consumer Buying Behavior
  • Operations Control
  • Apparel and Accessory Production

Master degree students often complete an internship during their degree program, which gives them the advantage of having two internship experiences. They also write an extensive research report called a thesis on a specific area of fashion merchandising. Some instructors assign final group projects in lieu of a master’s thesis.

Also, do not underestimate the power of networking. Marketing yourself effectively is critical to your growth as professional. You can learn more about networking here: Networking for Fashion Designers: Beginner's Guide


Fashion Merchandising Salary & Job Outlook

The median annual salary of someone in this career varies greatly according to his or her job title and specific industry. Below is a list of typical jobs in fashion merchandising along with the salary range for beginning to experienced workers:

  • Retail Buyer: $58,532 to $115,348
  • Visual Merchandiser: $27,129 to $62,997
  • Wholesale Account Representative: $43,112 to $86,114
  • Retail Fashion Store Manager: $37,656 to $80,016
  • Merchandise Planner: $44,949 to $85,927
  • Market Analyst: $55,804 to $136,842

No single statistic for job outlook exists for fashion merchandising as a whole. As with salaries, it is highly dependent on the specific job and industry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, buyers and purchasing managers will have a one to two percent decline in demand through 2024. Those who work in advertising, marketing, and promotions can expect a nine percent increase in demand. This is slightly higher than the projected growth for all types of jobs combined. Students looking to get into this field should consider a specialty area to remain relevant and in demand.

Related Art Careers & Occupations

Fashion merchandising is often confused with fashion design, but they are not the same thing. Fashion designers create new lines of clothing, shoes, and accessories while fashion merchandisers plan the best way to advertise and sell them. Fashion design uses more creative skills while merchandising requires stronger business skills. Either may be a good fit for someone interested in fashion. Other skills designers use on the job include sketching and drawing, creating new fashions using computer aided design (CAD), and selection of fabric, color, and style for new projects.

Fashion modeling is another popular related career. People in this occupation pose for photographers and artists to display new lines of clothing and accessories. The resulting advertisement may end up in a magazine, newspaper, direct mail flyer, email, or a banner ad on the Internet. Modeling does not require any formal education and may be an excellent way for people to break into the world of fashion.

Graphic designers use some of the same skills as fashion merchandisers except that their work is more often with computers programs than physical properties. They create compelling images either by hand or with the help of a CAD program. After creating the images, graphic designers decide how they will appear on websites, brochures, and other printed media. This is similar to how those in fashion merchandising careers plan and display new fashion items to make them most attractive to buyers.

Helpful Resources

  • 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 ...

  • Where Can A Career In Fashion Merchandising Take You?

    Kathryn Pomroy
    Kathryn PomroyJun 21, 2017

    There are many great careers in fashion merchandising for talented individuals. One job may suit your temperament and ambitions perfectly, while another may only frustrate your efforts, so finding a specialization where you can thrive is vital. Explore various career p...

  • Get Paid to Do What You Love: Seven Strategies to Make Money as an Artist

    Anna Ortiz
    Anna OrtizJul 10, 2017

    Doing what you love and making a living from your art is a goal that is within reach. Here, we offer a few tips to help you get your dreams off the ground. Try these seven strategies to make money as an artist.

  • Five Ways to Jumpstart Your Art Career

    Anna Ortiz
    Anna OrtizJul 17, 2017

    An art career cannot happen overnight. Becoming an artist takes dedication, hard work, and a plan. Learning early lessons about how to develop your skills, attract clients, and market yourself can help you generate early results.

  • 10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started My Art Career

    Anna Ortiz
    Anna OrtizJul 19, 2017

    The life of an artist is often glamorized, while the real challenges of being an artist tend to be glossed over. Here we provide a few tips on how to deal with early challenges, like facing criticism, dealing with frustration, and meeting the right people.

Fashion Merchandising Jobs