Why there are so few Aussie fashion buyers, and what brands can do about it
Australian businesses have been hit hard by the current hiring crisis, with a shortage of talent butting up against an employer-first mindset. But the reality is that certain industries have been struggling to hire since the beginning of the pandemic. Throughout the early days of Covid-19 lockdown, farmers called for help, with fruit and vegetables unable to be picked in time thanks to the lack of seasonal workers who routinely travel to Australia for work. Likewise, many specialised positions
ons traditionally held by workers from overseas to fill a local knowledge gap were difficult to fill. One of these was fashion buying.
Boutique fashion consultancy Numensa aims to change that. After a successful trial with Boardriders in 2021, it is now rolling out its six-month ‘I want to be a fashion buyer’ training scheme to help Australian fashion businesses fill buying roles and graduates get their start in the industry.
According to Numensa founder Beverley Chambers, the initiative has also worked with Best&Less, Forever New and Michael Hill, and will be further expanded in 2023 with the plan to take on 15 students in February, and more later in the year.
“The program was conceived as a solution to a problem that a number of our clients had voiced to us: they were struggling to find people for entry-level roles that had the right aptitude and attitude,” Chambers told Inside Retail.
Many graduates from fashion business degrees in recent years have opted instead to follow a career in social media management, Chambers explained, due to a misunderstanding of what the role of a fashion buyer entails.
“Many people believe that the buyer spends their time jetting off around the world attending catwalk shows, [whereas] the reality is quite different,” Chamber said.
“Whilst developing and buying clothing ranges for a fashion retailer is very exciting, essentially the buyer’s role, along with their counterpart the merchandise planner, is to maximise profit.”
Brands get onboard
Showpo and Sportsgirl are two of the brands currently working with Numensa to fill fashion buying positions.
“We’ve partnered with a few fashion colleges over the last year in providing interns, though we felt with the buying team in particular we would love interns that are specifically keen and interested in [fashion buying],” a Showpo spokesperson told Inside Retail.
“We love the structured program the initiative offers and with the addition of workbooks and support of the ‘I want to be a fashion buyer’ team we feel like the interns will get the most out of their internship.”
Showpo and Sportsgirl both expressed difficulty in hiring for these roles to Inside Retail, and said that the program would help to fill that gap in their business.
In order to ensure graduates have a proper view of what the role and industry require, the first three months of the scheme involve a wide view of the job across the support office, spending time with a buyer, a planner, as well as spending time in the marketing and design departments. Following that, the coordinators and students determine where they’d like to spend the next three months of the internship, and are placed accordingly.
According to Chambers, the course has a strong success rate so far, with one graduate stepping into a full-time role with the company they interned with, while others have stayed within the industry but moved on to different companies.
The Australian fashion industry has long relied on expertise from workers coming from overseas brands, with international retailers generally having a more formalised focus on training and upskilling than their local counterparts, Chambers said.
“I came to Australia almost 20 years ago from the UK with a background in fashion buying,” Chambers said.
“In all that time, the Australian retail industry has looked to import talent from overseas, [and] as the role of merchandise planning grew in importance for Australian retailers, this also became a skill set that needed to be important, usually from the UK or South Africa.”
However, the onset of the pandemic, and subsequent closure of Australia’s borders, shut off local player’s access to international knowledge.
“The pandemic made it almost impossible to import talent, and even now, with sky-high airfares and people’s memories of closed borders, Australia isn’t seen as the exciting haven it once was.”
Chambers used to lecture in RMIT University’s fashion and textile merchandising program, and she crafted Numensa’s program to focus on more mature and work-ready students than the average first-year university student.
The ‘I want to be a fashion buyer’ program focuses on recent university graduates, people who are interested in changing jobs, and upskilling retail associates from within fashion companies that are looking to move from the floor to the office.
“It’s well-known in the industry that people that have worked in stores often make the best buyers,” Chambers said.
“Our program is an opportunity for retailers to take great store talent and put them through our program. We can literally train retailers’ team members and cover formalised training, while the staff undertake an internship at their own company.”
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