André Myburgh: So, in fashion, it was probably around 17-18. Then in buying, much later when I moved to Germany. I realized that buying was another option to still work in the industry but not in design. My gran used to be a buyer at one of the big department stores in South Africa, so I had a unique insight into the business of buying, but at that stage, you were looking to be creative. You were looking to become the new John Galliano. So, I worked in design for a couple of years in Africa, and when I got to Germany, I questioned if I really wanted to live in the countryside because that's what it took to work in design or product management. I realized I could live in the city and look at different aspects of the clothing industry, so that's how I went into buying.
It's like half the rent having your budgets done. What I always tell the buyers here is to never spend your budget at once. Save some of it because something will catch your eye during your (buying) trips, and you're not going to have any money left for that. It might be a little highlight that pops up, which is always great on the shop floor to excite customers and keep them entertained.
André: Yes, it did. If you have that background, it just gives you an idea about the quality, fitting, sizing, fabric, so it does help, but it's not necessary. You can still understand how a fabric or garment works without going through the whole rigmarole of a design school. It just helps you identify trends. From looking at a couture show this season, you'd know what exactly would be coming on the runway for the ready-to-wear the season later. It just gives you a bonus of knowing what might work if they have already shown that on the runway.
André: No, no, no. Some have come in from the side, and others have done something completely different and ended up in fashion. Many of the buyers, especially at the company here (Jelmoli), are into figures because figures generate their buy-ins. But you can't apply that in a fashion area. It would have to be in an area, like men's shirts or trousers or ladies' blouses. It's basically like an accountant working in the fashion industry.
André: Yes, exactly. Everybody follows it. It doesn't matter if it's an H&M, Zara, or it could also be like a Matthew Williamson or Marc Jacobs. They all have a look and see what's going on, and then they can kind of tone it down and make it more accessible for everybody.
André: It was pattern cutting. That was my first job, pattern cutting for a big company. It gave me a great idea as to how everything worked if you understand its pattern. Nowadays, you see many designers coming up, like Jason Wu and some of these new people, but because they've learned how to make the pattern on the computer, they don't understand how it fits the body. Their designs are very flat. And then you see those people who are really old-school, who do the draping. I mean, that slack gives you a much different silhouette to what you would do if you just did it on the computer.
André: We are losing that craftsmanship at the moment. We have noticed that in textiles, a lot of these old valued craftsmanships are dying away. Many countries like Italy, for instance, get sponsored by the EU to keep these generation-to-generation companies alive to keep them going. All these intricate fabrics you get from Venice or Florence are dying, and they are really investing in them to keep them alive. There is also Suzy Menkes and Li Edelkoort; these women are really behind the whole push for this old craftsmanship. So, it doesn't matter if it's hand-sewn handbags, fabrics, and shoes where you need to use your hands. The pandemic fueled this whole process because younger people are taking more interest in something of more value rather than going to H&M and buying something for $7.99.
André: It was different back then when I worked in South Africa. There were lots of European and American companies working and producing in South Africa. There was a lot to do, and it was great fashion. You worked with great people, and it's how I got to work in design. I did that until I left for Germany. It was quite a shocker after that because I realized most fashion companies did not work in cities because of their expenses, so they had to have their businesses in the countryside somewhere. Not exactly what I was looking for; coming to Germany to live in some little village. So, it happened just by chance. It's not what you know but who you know; networking. I got a part-time job, as I was still trying to learn German working at a Benetton store, like one or two days a week. I got to talk to the boss, and he said, “Oh my god, you are way too good to be selling. You should be working with us in the showroom.”
They also did the wholesale for Benetton and Sisley. I took over the Sisley line, which in the nineties was the big thing; every village had a Benetton or Sisley banner. Then I got into wholesale and saw how the buyers worked, and I thought it was pretty interesting. So, I applied for a job as a buyer. I think it was by luck because it was in this high-end luxury category, and I got the job. What helped me get the job at that stage was my background in fashion design. They knew I would understand how the garments worked and the consumer purchasing at the end.
Part of my job is to know when the new stock will come in and where to put it on the floor to have the full impact because you can't just put any brand next to another brand. You've got to make sure they work together and that there's harmony. Like in luxury, Armani looks very different from Agnona, so you've got to ensure the transition from one brand to the next, works.
André: It's like half the rent having your budgets done. What I always tell the buyers here is to never spend your budget at once. Save some of it because something will catch your eye during your (buying) trips, and you're not going to have any money left for that. It might be a little highlight that pops up, which is always great on the shop floor to excite customers and keep them entertained.
André: You can understand just by looking at your figures which items have worked well and which items you need to have another look at. If we take knitwear or dresses and then what the designers are offering, you ask yourself how to turn it back into the new season for the store. Especially if there are new items, like a brand where you sold all of their knitwear last season, but there isn't any knitwear this season, only blouses. You quickly understand what will work for the store, and you develop an eye for detail, style, and what's going to happen.
André: The most important thing to know is that buying/fashion has to be something you burn for, something that makes your life work because you will spend so much time at work. Your hobby has to become your job.
If you want to break into the industry, either go to a course or start somewhere as I did, like a kind of an entry-level job, which might not be what you want to do at first, but it's the foot in the door. So even if it's working at the reception desk at a big company (head office), that might be a good start. Or a small company with two or three stores, and they do their own buying, opt to work for them on the shop floor and then assist now and again with the buyer because you can climb the ladder that way.
André: I think dancers probably understand how the body works and what looks good. So they can quickly understand which styles would work for the consumer because you have got to think about different shapes and sizes. Not everybody looks like a dancer. You have to understand your size, fit, and colors, and I think the transition from dance into fashion, as it is a very creative art form, could work together. I think dancers are also very persistent and hardworking, and that is what you need in the fashion industry. You might go to a brand to have Gucci for your store, and they might say that the store is not good enough for the brand. It doesn’t matter. You have to keep on going back every season and be persistent until they say yes.
André: You have got to have the support of your buyers. So we have divided it up. We've put the head of each department: head of menswear, head of ladieswear, beauty, home, living, sport, and so on so that we can have interaction with them to better understand how their day works and what they need from us to make their life a little bit easier. So, it's a lot of meetings to stay updated. Like, what’s going on? What do you need? Are there any new brands we need to be looking at? A lot of negotiations and presentations that I have to do. I do mostly PowerPoints all day for different companies or for the store itself. As well as think about how the shop window should be looking or the in-store visual merchandising, etc.
Then there's always feedback from the buyers if they need me for something. I try to give the buyers the support to be adventurous; to not be safe, especially ones who rely on lists and figures to do the buy-ins. It's like take the pink bag; you will sell the black one, obviously, but the pink one will draw people to the table, and then you will sell the black one. To help them add value with their choices to the department.
I oversee all the budgets, buy-ins, and some appointments with the buyers. I don't do many because there's too much that's left behind at work then. So, it's a pretty long day. I think yesterday I had a 12 hour day, but it's usually about 9 or 10.
André: Kind of the first thing I do is drop everything. Some buyers might be in; some of them might be on the road, so I get feedback on anything urgent that needs to be sorted. Because of COVID, I also check on the status of the deliveries and get in touch with suppliers to see where there might be potential hold-ups. I then have to check out the sales so that by next week, we remove that off the shop floors to put in the new winter stock. So, it's very much coordinating the day with various departments. I also check and run the Never Out of Stock (NOS) products through the system to check there's enough in the warehouse. Essentially, you put it in your system and every time you've sold one, the computer will automatically order you another one. But you've got to kind of take care of that because some items take, for instance, a pair of jeans in a popular size might be selling too fast, so you need to increase those pieces. I will go through a different department every day to see if they have enough. It's a luxury if I can go out for lunch. Then yeah, the afternoon is the same again.
André: Yes, but it's a great role. It has to be your passion so that the hours don't get grueling. Part of my job is to know when the new stock will come in and where to put it on the floor to have the full impact because you can't just put any brand next to another brand. You've got to make sure they work together and that there's harmony. Like in luxury, Armani looks very different from Agnona, so you've got to ensure the transition from one brand to the next, works.
I also work with the buyers to know what they have bought, and then they will give me their presentations, and then I will work with the guys from visual merchandising to know that when we put it out on the floor so that it looks great. It's a continuous process. You work very closely with the marketing department because they also have various things going on.
So, I'm on the floor at least 2-3 times a day speaking with sales staff. They all know me, but there are a couple who are the top in sales. So I will chat with them because the figures don’t tell you if a customer has come in for something and we don’t have it or something incorrect with the sizing. You can only get that information from the sales staff. We make sure that we have meetings with all the departments at least once a week to catch up. We don't always get everything right, so the meetings are a great way to connect and get information.
Top Image by Marcus Loke