Liz Cook

Senior Fashion Buyer

Liz Cook is the Senior Buyer for M&S currently responsible for Women’s Swimwear & Summershop. She has 17 years experience and worked for numerous companies within the UK High Street these include Etam, Disney, Debenhams and M&S. I had the pleasure of interviewing Liz to help you all gain an insight into the buying world and where she has worked with top designers and celebrities, and travelled around the world. Through her eyes, she’s shares her thoughts and expert advice to any potential inspiring fashion buyer.

...I can speak to them at anytime day, night, weekends and during holidays. The Buyer/Supplier relationship is so important and can make or break you as a Buyer.

— Liz Cook

When & how did you get into the fashion industry?
From a very young age I knew that I wanted to work in fashion, I had a Saturday job at Etam at 16 years old and continued working there while studying for my A-levels and university. At school I looked into different careers within the fashion industry. I knew that I wanted to travel with my job and had an interest in business studies so very quickly narrowed down my options to buying. I was a little concerned because I was not at all creative at school and was never very good at drawing and I just thought all jobs in the fashion industry were creative. It was then that I started to research the Buying role and it sounded like my dream job. My love of traveling and business were two of the main aspects of the job!

I applied to London College of Fashion to do a BA (hons) degree in Fashion Management. The 3 year course was run by retired professionals in the industry so their experience and knowledge was fundamental. One of my  Buying & Merchandising lecturers was the retired chairman of Etam and as I was still working for them in my spare time, He contacted some ex colleagues after I graduated and managed to get me some work experience within their buying office. It was after 2 week works experience that they offered me my first buying appointment at Tammy Girl as a Buyers Admin Assistant.

What are you responsible for in your department?
I am currently responsible for Women’s Swimwear. Managing a team of 5 which includes 1 Junior Buyer, 2 Assistant Buyers and 2 Buyers Assistants. My role involves working with Design and Merchandising teams to develop a commercially well balanced range, in line with key trends and customer requirements. I’m responsible for setting the department strategy to meet customer requirements and maximising sales and profit potential. I have a strong awareness and an in-depth knowledge of the Womenswear young fashion market and I am heavily involved in monitoring key trends and competitor activity to increase market share in key categories. My role involves creatively negotiating prices with suppliers to meet increasing margin targets as well as sample development with suppliers (globally) to fulfil design brief.

What’s the average day like for a fashion buyer and how do your assistant help you?
Monday morning is usually the most hectic time of the week. My assistant buyer would come into work an hour early and print off all the sales history from the week before and with the help of the buyers admin would prepare the rail with the top 10 biggest cash takers and any new positive reactions. We would also analyse worst sellers and areas within the department that are a concern. At 9am the Senior Buyer & Merchandiser would go into the weekly trade meeting with Senior Management and discuss the departments sales for the previous week. If we had a good week we may discuss repeating any best sellers or looking into how we could maximise sales. If we had a challenging week we may discuss marking down stock or use the time to re- look over new ranges that are launching in the future to make sure we are still happy with the collection. The 9am meeting can either make or break your week when your department is performing, the highs are fantastic! There is nothing better than having a range that is flying of the shelf but when your having a tough week everything can be scrutinised and reviewed and it wouldn’t be unusual to cancel and change ranges that were just about to ship.
The rest of the day would be spending time with the merchandising and design team on upcoming ranges. I would speak to my Supply base constantly by email and phone negotiating cost prices, discussing the critical path and any other issues they have. I would also spend a lot of time with my Assistant buyer looking at lab dips, approvals and the forthcoming collections.

What other departments do you work closely with and why?
I work very closely with my Designer, Merchandiser and Technologist. These 3 functions are all equally responsible for all decisions that are made for the department. My designer will push the new seasons trends and forthcoming looks for the season and my merchandiser will look and analyse history and advise on best and worst sellers. The Buyers role is to make sure all functions are happy and the range is moving forward with new trends, covering best sellers and still catering for the M&S customer.

How often are you in contact with your suppliers, and why is it important to go on  trips?
My Suppliers are so important to me and it would not be an exaggeration when I say that I can speak to them at anytime day, night, weekends and during holidays. The Buyer/Supplier relationship is so important and can make or break you as a Buyer. I have always been extremely close to my supply base and worked on this relationship hard as without them you would not be able to do your job. Suppliers are very passionate people and very proud of their business, they will always go that extra mile if they value your relationship and see it as a partnership. They have an interest in your business and want to work with you. A mutual respect and a good working relationship is paramount. I usually do on average 6 supplier trips a year where I would visit the factory and meet with the suppliers in person to discuss and negotiate the next seasons collection. These trips would be a great way to understand the suppliers business and look at their strengths. I would on average save up to 20% on cost prices and up to 3 weeks worth of negotiating by having face to face conversations rather than by email. Suppliers also love when the Buying team visits as they are very proud to show off their business, factories and workers. It is extremely important for relationship building and getting that cost price!!

To succeed in this industry you will need to be enthusiastic, highly motivated with the drive to succeed.

— Liz Cook

How important is it to cover your money makers each season?
Your money makers could be only 10 styles out of a range of 60 and could take over 50% of your money so cash takers are very important. Without your money makers the department would not be a success. A lot of monitoring from the merchandiser would go into what the money makers are per season it is then the designer/buyers role to make sure that these styles look new and inspiring and confident that they are going to drive sales.

Are there any final words of advice you can give people trying to break into the buying industry?
To succeed in this industry you will need to be enthusiastic, highly motivated with the drive to succeed.  You will need to be able to communicate, work well within a team and thrive in a challenging and fast paced environment. You need to be passionate about product with strong negotiation skills. Being confident and the ability to present at ease with varying audiences also helps! Never give up! The early days can be very hard work and it can seem to take a very long time to work your way up the career ladder. If you are wanting to travel and put together collections within the first few years this job is not for you. The first 3 years there is a lot of admin work, long hours and laborious tasks however this is all part of the buying journey. I have now been a Buyer for 10 years and the early years are worth the hard work. I have worked with some amazing people, travelled the world and shopped until I’ve dropped and can still honestly say I love my job!