Fashion Buyer Or Data Scientist?

There was a time when being a fashion buyer was a very exciting job. The buyers are a part of the niche circle of industry workers that are invited to attend fashion shows held each season in the fashion capitals of the world. They are the representing presence of their retailer, and also the key player in determining which pieces of the collection, if any, will be offered in the retailer’s assortment for that season. But, now it seems like the key player in making that decision is data.

Data has always been involved in the decision-making process because at the end of the day, fashion is a business and there are certain revenue targets that need to be hit by the buyer. But, there used to be an intuitive nature about buying that made the job fun and made buyers the initiators of season trends. The retail buyers are usually stylish individuals who are very informed about the pool of established and emerging designers. They also have a great eye and can identify which consumer would gravitate towards certain designers and certain clothing. Today, it seems like things are not quite the same. Trends seem to form before the collections are released and then that data informs how a buyer buys for that season. I can not disagree that this isn’t a great business practice, but as fashion is a creative industry filled with creative people, I will say that decisions being made solely off of data to safely guarantee that there will be a consumer for the buyer’s assortment takes away from the excitement and creativity of the job.

There is an element of fashion that is about taking risks and if you execute and it’s received well, then there is usually a celebratory moment to follow, and if it is not received well, then you learn and do better next time. But, where is the fun in fashion if there is no element of risk? Buyers should be trusted to do their job and be able to integrate themselves into their role, instead of just counting on the buyer to run data reports and choose what sells. I think we could just build some kind of technology tool at this point, if following data is all it requires to be a buyer. Some retailers do still trust their buyer’s instinctive decisions, but most are just trying to stay in line with the pack.

Social media, hype culture, and technological advancements have all been contributors to this shift in the fashion industry. It has even affected the most creative jobs in fashion like being a fashion designer. Felipe Oliveira Baptista, Kenzo’s creative director, recently mentioned “Intuition is a banned word at fashion houses these days. It’s as if there’s not space for it.” The industry is losing a grasp of control in terms of influencing what the consumer thinks is cool. Now, fashion companies are being told what to make by the consumers. They have to interact with the consumers more on social platforms, ecommerce websites, and more. The plus side is that they can actually engage with the consumers and create meaningful conversation, but the downside is that capitalism is at an all time high. If one designer creates a garment that is a hit and quickly sells out, five other fashion companies follow and replicate to benefit off that profit. This also isn’t a new business practice, but it is more likely and immediate in today’s world. These practices and banning of intuition are tainting the excitement of industry jobs and also gradually watering down the overall creativity of fashion houses.