Front­line / The fas­ci­nat­ing and beau­ti­ful world of fash­ion buyer Georgie Mears

Latitude Magazine - - CONTENTS - WORDS An­nie Studholme

Fash­ion buyer for Christchur­ch’s iconic fam­ily-owned Bal­lan­tynes de­part­ment store’s Con­tem­po­rary Lounge, The Atrium and Women’s Footwear, Georgie Mears loves see­ing the lat­est trends first. But in the high stakes world of fash­ion, be­ing a buyer is as much an art as it is a science.

Fresh from vis­it­ing the lead­ing fash­ion houses in Paris and Lon­don, at 28, Georgie Mears ar­guably has one of the most sought-after jobs in the fash­ion in­dus­try. Hav­ing in­her­ited a love of fash­ion from her mum, Georgie left her home­town of Ash­bur­ton after fin­ish­ing high school and headed to Otago Polytech­nic to study a Bach­e­lor of De­sign ma­jor­ing in Fash­ion, and a Di­ploma of Busi­ness. ‘I had al­ways loved fash­ion. At school, it was just a hobby. I never re­ally thought I could make a job out of it. But I did it any­way.’

With no de­sire to be­come a fash­ion designer yet de­ter­mined to get ahead in the in­dus­try, on grad­u­at­ing Georgie moved to Mel­bourne, home of all the ma­jor fash­ion head of­fices for the Aus­tralasian mar­ket. She started in re­tail, slog­ging away on the shop floor, work­ing her way up into man­age­ment, then into vis­ual mer­chan­dis­ing, even­tu­ally land­ing a job with pre­mium Aus­tralian re­tailer Seed Her­itage.

Ready for more over­seas ad­ven­tures, Georgie ap­plied for her work­ing hol­i­day visa to the United King­dom, but after see­ing a po­si­tion ad­ver­tised for a ju­nior buyer at Bal­lan­tynes’ Con­tem­po­rary Lounge, her plans changed. A favourite shop­ping des­ti­na­tion for her mum, aun­tie and nana for as long as she could re­mem­ber, she was de­lighted to kick off her buy­ing ca­reer at the pres­ti­gious de­part­ment store.

She started out work­ing un­der a se­nior buyer, and after six months was buy­ing on her own for the Con­tem­po­rary Lounge. About a year ago Georgie took on buy­ing for the Women’s Footwear De­part­ment and The Atrium. She now buys for all three de­part­ments, as well as for the Bal­lan­tynes Ti­maru store.

Georgie hap­pily ad­mits she knew lit­tle about the role as a fash­ion buyer when she first started. ‘I knew that some­one had to be do­ing all the pur­chas­ing, but I didn’t think about what it re­ally en­tailed.’ She quickly learnt that be­hind the glam­orous im­age of a buyer who trav­els the world se­lect­ing the lat­est pieces off fash­ion run­ways, the role ac­tu­ally re­quires a com­bi­na­tion of skills. To be suc­cess­ful, a good buyer is a great observer of con­sumer be­hav­iour, trends, cur­rent events and mar­ket de­mo­graph­ics, but most im­por­tantly, also has an eye for the fu­ture.

‘It is so much more than work­ing be­hind a desk, plug­ging in or­ders. It ’s not just about buy­ing a pretty dress; we need to plan and ne­go­ti­ate our ev­ery pur­chase for the de­part­ment – how the col­lec­tion will be ad­ver­tised to our mar­ket, which cus­tomer pro­file does the brand ap­peal to. Ma­jor­ity of the time you must rein in your own ex­cite­ment. You have to bal­ance the re­port­ing with that ex­cite­ment, but you also have to think about what our cus­tomer will see as a “must-have”, that ’s go­ing to draw the cus­tomer in and get picked up in PR and editorial. Some­times the data tells you not to in­vest, but the wow fac­tor speaks louder than num­bers,’ she says.

When se­lect­ing pieces, Georgie also has to fac­tor in tim­ing. On aver­age, she is buy­ing a min­i­mum of six months in ad­vance, and in some cases it ’s as long as 18 months. Each brand has a set al­lo­ca­tion for each month.

It ’s im­por­tant that Bal­lan­tynes has new stock drop­ping daily. ‘It ’s such a fast-paced in­dus­try. If you drop a whole col­lec­tion at once, peo­ple don’t see that fresh­ness. We want to in­spire our cus­tomers’ wardrobes.

‘I love that you are a cru­cial part of such a fast-paced en­vi­ron­ment,’ con­tin­ues Georgie. ‘To have that in­sight 12 months be­fore any­body else – well be­fore it lands on the shop

Georgie rel­ishes any op­por­tu­nity to get out on the shop floor. She en­joys noth­ing more than be­ing able to wit­ness her prod­ucts be­ing sold first-hand.

floor keeps it so ex­cit­ing to see what’s next for us all.’

Buy­ing for a de­part­ment store such as Bal­lan­tynes is an en­vi­ous task though. With more than 100 brands across mens, wom­ens, ac­ces­sories and shoes, Georgie is buy­ing for cus­tomers aged 12 to those in their eight­ies and nineties. ‘I like to think that we have op­tions for ev­ery­one – mums, dads, brothers, aun­ties, un­cles, lit­tle brothers, lit­tle sis­ters. As a buyer you’re al­ways jug­gling mul­ti­ple cus­tomer pro­files. The cus­tomer comes first and is al­ways in the front of your mind. It’s about find­ing the right bal­ance be­tween choos­ing some fash­ion­able, on-trend pieces, as well as other sta­ples, such as a clas­sic white T-shirt, which I need to en­sure we never run short of.’

But when it comes down to mak­ing tough de­ci­sions, she says it’s a blend of data and in­stincts. ‘There is so much data and an­a­lyt­i­cal re­port­ing that goes into ev­ery de­ci­sion. Even though you want to, you can’t buy it all. You have to be ob­jec­tive. It’s about fifty-fifty gut in­stinct. The data tells you what pieces have sold pre­vi­ously, but you can’t keep it too safe or the cus­tomer will be­come dis­in­ter­ested. The con­ser­va­tive pieces won’t sell the col­lec­tion by it­self. You need that stand­out item but they’re the ones I’m al­ways most ner­vous about.’

Over time, Georgie has learnt to be crit­i­cal of her own buys, but equally, not to take it per­son­ally when a par­tic­u­lar piece doesn’t sell. ‘You have to be quite thick-skinned. It’s not only the shop floor staff com­ment­ing, but cus­tomers too. I buy thou­sands of items for each sea­son, and not ev­ery piece is go­ing to be a winner. You need to take it on the chin. There’s a myr­iad of vari­ables as to why some­thing didn’t work.’

When you’ve spent months plan­ning de­liv­er­ies of each brand, see­ing it hit the shop floor is ex­cit­ing. Georgie rel­ishes any op­por­tu­nity to get out on the shop floor. She en­joys noth­ing more than be­ing able to wit­ness her prod­ucts be­ing sold first-hand. ‘It is an amaz­ing feel­ing when we take a gam­ble and in­clude a very di­rec­tional, unusual look and it takes off and sells well. The high­light is see­ing pieces you’ve pur­chased fly­ing out the door. It’s such a great feel­ing when you have picked out a prod­uct that peo­ple love and feel great in. That’s when you know you’ve done a good job.’

As part of her role, Georgie spends a lot of time trav­el­ling around the coun­try and off­shore to view dif­fer­ent col­lec­tions and at­tend­ing spe­cial events like New Zealand Fash­ion Week. She vis­its Auck­land reg­u­larly, as well as hav­ing monthly trips to Syd­ney and Mel­bourne, and twice a year she heads to the North­ern Hemi­sphere fash­ion hubs of Lon­don and Paris.

While it sounds glam­orous, with buy­ing trips comes a huge amount of ex­tra hours be­hind the desk. ‘It can be very glam­orous meet­ing lead­ing New Zealand and in­ter­na­tional de­sign­ers. Early morn­ing flights and then into show­rooms where brand man­agers take you through the col­lec­tion style by style. All brands vary, from large re­tail­ers – Tommy Hil­figer for ex­am­ple with a con­cept area to fill, to a 20-piece footwear col­lec­tion. It can be ex­haust­ing, but also re­ally ex­cit­ing. A day trip to Syd­ney means an 18-hour day with plenty to catch up on as soon as I get back to the of­fice.’

The role in­volves a lot of build­ing re­la­tion­ships with sup­pli­ers, ne­go­ti­at­ing ship­ments and mak­ing sure that de­liv­er­ies of new stock ar­rive on time. She also works closely with de­part­ment man­agers and the mer­chan­dis­ing team within the store to build her vi­sion. Part of the role also in­cludes creat­ing the trends and giv­ing di­rec­tion to the mar­ket­ing team and help­ing with Bal­lan­tynes mag­a­zines.

Georgie is con­stantly re­view­ing each sea­son, while also plan­ning the next one. With hun­dreds of new gar­ments ar­riv­ing each week, she says Bal­lan­tynes re­mains par­tic­u­larly loyal to lo­cal de­sign­ers. ‘Our strat­egy con­tin­ues to bring ex­clu­sive lead­ing fash­ion while be­ing cur­rent and rel­e­vant to cus­tomers’ life­styles.’

In say­ing that, she is ex­cited to see cus­tomer re­ac­tions to Bal­lan­tynes’ new in­ter­na­tional brand of­fer­ings ar­riv­ing in store from Jan­uary.

Fash­ion buyer Georgie Mears uses a blend of in­stincts and data. Photo, An­nie Studholme.

CLOCK­WISE / from top left: Georgie styling a model for a pho­to­shoot; large de­part­ment stores over­seas pro­vide in­spi­ra­tion; part of Georgie’s work in­volves work­ing closely with other de­part­ments, here with Bal­lan­tynes pro­mo­tions co-or­di­na­tor Tess Hawkins; shoe in­spi­ra­tion.

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