CRISTO STUART – BUYER IN LONDON FOR A MAJOR LUXURY FASHION HOUSE
Please tell us a little bit about how you got into the field and your career path until UK Buyer for a major luxury fashion house.
I knew I wanted to work in the luxury industry during my final year of university. After I graduated I returned home and worked for an insurance company to save money to afford relocating to London. I got a 3-month internship with a contemporary fashion brand and I never went home. I ended up interning for a year and a half which I now refer to as my “retraining” in fashion (I had studied Chinese and business). Interning taught me the structure of the industry and helped me define what I actually wanted to do within the industry which I learnt was made up of many different parts and hundreds of different career paths. I determined that buying/merchandising was what I truly wanted to pursue as a career. After 18 months I was somewhat short on money so to avoid the alternative of returning home I got a job on the shop floor in Harrods with the brand I work for today and worked up from there. I worked as a sales associate and then a department manager in store (taking part time courses in buying) before securing a junior merchandising role and progressing from there.
What was the most important thing you learned when building your career? Also, what was your main motivation?
The most important lesson I learnt was that of patience. When I first moved to London I thought that 3 month internship was going to end in me being Anna Wintour. I was quite clearly wrong and in the end it took me about 5 years to get into a head office position I was happy with, and this is just the beginning of my career. Working in fashion can be incredibly rewarding and fun, however it is simultaneously incredibly demanding and the competition is fierce. The industry is shaped in a way that makes it seem that success comes very quickly, because of the very fast careers of young models, influencers, stylists, creative directors and photographers etc. However, this is a fraction of the industry and the majority of roles require extensive knowledge and experience which are only built up over time. Fashion is not an industry that requires formal exams like accountancy or law so the only way to prove yourself is over time. I come from a small town where the fashion industry is non-existent, I wanted to prove that you can do anything if you believe and work hard enough, this is what motivated me on a daily basis.
We know fashion is a very competitive industry. What do you believe made you a different candidate from others?
Fashion is indeed very competitive and a sad reality is that many entry level positions have a salary that exclude those who do not have the finances to support themselves. I invested my personal savings (from my teenage holiday work) into my period of interning and self-development so my advice is to ideally prepare a buffer to help you through your first years in fashion. The first years are the hardest and require the most intensive dedication. For the first 4 years of my career I didn’t go on one holiday besides returning home to rest. The fact I was investing my own money made me value every decision I made and fuelled me to push harder, learn more and develop further. Furthermore, being curious is imperative in my opinion for success in the industry. Even if you know you want to work as a buyer or in PR, learn everything you can about every other role/function in the industry, this curiosity will provide you knowledge that will ultimately help you to progress in the long run as you understand the structure behind others you interact with within a company or the wider industry. Finally, fashion is frequently portrayed as being a rather “bitchy” industry where big ego’s dominate. In reality this is not often the norm and the values of honesty, intelligence and integrity are more swiftly rewarded.
Now the fun part. Which are your main responsibilities and what do you love the most about being a buyer for a major luxury fashion house?
My responsibilities in one sentence are to ensure that the UK stores have the right products, in the right place at the right time, in the right quantity. I buy the collection for the stores and analyse the sales performance constantly taking strategic actions to enhance the sales where applicable. What I love about my role is the blending of both creative and analytical capabilities. As a buyer you have to be an expert on the product but you also have to have strong business acumen to analyse the sales data that that product produces. Additionally working in luxury over high-street means the sales volumes are much lower but that individual clients become more influential, therefore the psychology involved to understand buying behaviours and patterns becomes very detailed and that is often fascinating (at least I think so).
How do you believe your job affects the reputation of the brand? And what measures do you take to ensure that you are sharing the right image and vision of the brand to the consumers?
Fortunately I am not solely responsible for the reputation of the brand, brand reputation is a complex beast determined by many different factors of which the largest is often communication. Buying/merchandising is also incredibly important however my role rather than influencing the reputation directly (a task better left to creative directors etc) is more to ensure the worldwide vision for the brand is implemented locally which involves collaboration with the whole local team to ensure that the consumer interprets the story we are telling in the way we want it to be heard.