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Fashion Industry Career: How to Become a Merchandiser

SFD087 How to Become a Fashion Merchandiser and Product Manager

April 29, 2019

In this interview with Shelby Collins, we go a little off the beaten path of the Successful Fashion Designer podcast. Shelby is a merchandiser and works in product development–she knew right from the beginning that design wasn’t quite the right path for her, so she did a lot of self-exploration throughout school and found the right path for her through trial and error.

Besides Shelby taking a “non-traditional path” through the design world, and going into something other than design, I want you guys to pay attention to the exact thing that Shelby did to progress her career. She worked her way up–spent a lot of time working for The North Face in California, and now works for VF Corp. Shelby’s career trajectory did not come by accident! She started out in some pretty crummy administrative roles that she hated, but she worked her butt off, got noticed, built friendships and relationships and that’s exactly how she grew her career.

We talk about how she was mindful about creating these relationships in the workplace, and how she was always very intentional about showing that she was willing to put in the work and go the extra mile to stand out, even if it was a project that wasn’t that exciting. She’s experienced such amazing growth in her career–so pay attention to her advice because I know it can help so many of you go so far in your careers as well!

In the interview (which you’ll love) we will cover:

  • How Shelby got her start in the fashion industry
  • The difference between the production / merchandise part of the business, and the design / development part of the business
  • How Shelby knew she wanted to get into merchandising (it all started with a 2007 Burton catalogue!)
  • Shelby’s first opportunity after college
  • How she proactively prepared for interviews
  • How Shelby navigated the “networking” world by authentically and genuinely maintaining relationships
  • What Shelby did in her Product Line Coordinator job
  • The one thing Shelby wishes people would ask her about working in the fashion industry

Press the orange play button below to listen here, or listen on Apple Podcasts:



SMALL TOWN DREAMS

Shelby grew upon a farm in a small town in Colorado. She always loved looking at magazines and seeing how different things were from her day to day “real world.” Like a lot of us, she really enjoyed expressing herself through apparel–she loved the way she could almost change her mood and how she felt; how she represented herself to the world. So the logical next step after high school? Start in a design program in college (because it’s so hard to know which career path to follow in the fashion industry when you’re brand new!).

But it didn’t feel quite right. She was doing well, but she didn’t feel grounded in the creative space. As a math lover, she wanted more balance and logic thrown into the mix. She kept thinking back to her magazine-flipping days, and specifically remembered a 2007 Burton catalogue–and how disruptive it was. There were badass women in white snowboard gear sitting in mud, completely filthy after snowboarding all day. She remembered how the image had struck her, and knew she wanted to be the person making those decisions. So she checked out merchandising, and got a little closer to her dream.

BREAKING IN AFTER COLLEGE (ALWAYS DIFFICULT, RIGHT?)

Shelby’s last semester at college was a 12-credit internship. School helped her land the gig (a little), but she had to work her butt of to get it. She applied to around 50 internships, and two people called her back…but that’s just how it goes! She googled interview questions and made her dad run through the answers with her (anyone else done this? Such a good idea!), and landed an internship in the marketing department. Sure–it wasn’t the product creation team like she wanted, but she was open to her options. Shelby dug in, learned what she could, and navigated forward from there.

After she graduated, she got a job at the same company she had interned at, but it was in customer service–not her desired career path. But she kept grinding and excelling, and when the company acquired another women’s outdoor brand, an opportunity arose. She became brand coordinator, and so began the marathon of many hats. And she LOVED it. She did materials sourcing, approved material colors, did day-to-day communication with factories, worked with the marketing team on sales tools, organized photo shoots, and so much more. She gained visibility into all areas of the business, and even though the learning curve was steep, and she was scared and insecure every once in a while, she took a deep breath and did it, and learned a ton.

The brand went under and closed after a year, but she got an opportunity to stay on the marketing team on another project. This was another job she wasn’t crazy about, but it motivated her to find something that did make her happy. She reflected on the relationships she had built with her coworkers–she had always been scared of the “networking” word, but was able to connect in a genuine, authentic way with the people she saw every day. She had always been mindful of building and maintaining relationships, so asking her connections for what she needed came naturally and easily for her. “If you do the upfront work of keeping in touch with people frequently, it doesn’t feel as icky when you reach out for connections.” (Write that down!)

JOB HUNTING

The connections she had helped Shelby get an interview in the Bay Area, and she got a job as a Product Line Coordinator where she did…everything. It was similar to what she had done in her brand coordinator position before, but more specific: she prepared meetings, made grids / visual line plans, managed all documents (like the workbook, line plan, image approval), did data entry, managed tools, and had lots of exposure to things like fittings and being at the decision table (finally!). She had always been a detail-oriented person, but this job was perfectly challenging for her. She was promoted twice in her five years at the company.

HER SECRET?

Shelby was never too shy to request feedback from her coworkers and superiors. She constantly wanted to improve, and constantly did so. When asking for promotions and raises, she backed everything up with hard facts. She would talk about which goals she met, the steps she took to achieve those goals, and how she extended beyond those goals. She always focused on the ways she added value to the company, and made sure to always contribute in a positive way.

Shelby is in a new role now (a little over 6 months at the time of the interview) at VF Corporation, a company that owns North Face, Timberland, Vans, etc. She’s on the Innovation Team as the Senior Product Manager. She works on all of the brands at VF Corp., focusing on leveraging cross-brand projects that take personalization and customization to the next level. She’s loving it, and we couldn’t be more excited for her.

Shelby is full of valuable advice for anyone looking to get ahead in the fashion industry, and really anyone looking to level up their networking and interview skills (not to mention she’s a total inspiration in the work ethic department, too). Can’t wait to see Shelby shine in this new role!

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