If you’ve found yourself wanting to enter the fashion industry, but designing is just not for you…
Then, I’m here to tell you that there’s SO MANY more opportunities in fashion outside of designing.
One of these is working as a fashion merchandiser.
But since merchandising is a role found in many other industries, there are some misconceptions on what working as a fashion merchandiser actually is.
So, in this article, I’ll tell you everything I know about fashion merchandising, from what the role is all about, to clarifying common misconceptions on the job, and guiding you on how you can become one. We’ll also explore freelancing possibilities and just how much money you can make as a fashion merchandiser (with actual $$ figures).
Why am I qualified to write about this stuff? In my 15 years of experience in the fashion industry, I’ve journeyed from being an in-house designer, starting my own brand (yep!), to growing my freelance career to $100,000+. Now, with all the knowledge I’ve learned along the way, I want to help fashion designers (and PDs, TDs, etc.) like you make it in the industry.
Fashion merchandising is the behind-the-scenes work that brings fashion from the drawing board to clothing store racks. It’s the process of understanding what people want to wear and making sure that those preferences align with what designers are creating.
It includes everything from studying trends, predicting what customers will like, making decisions about what clothes should be made, and how much they should cost.
I like to think of it like a high level design role. A fashion merchandiser isn’t designing the individual garments in as much detail as a designer is, but rather designing the collection as a whole. Should it include 2 sweaters, 1 jacket, 1 pants, and 4 tees? Should a dress be part of that assortment too?
Fashion merchandisers act as the middle person between the creative designers and the fashion brand’s customers. Merchandisers are part fashion experts and part business people, helping bring new designs to the market in a way that makes both designers and shoppers happy.
Here’s a list of responsibilities that fashion merchandisers work on:
Fashion merchandising, visual merchandising, and fashion buying – these roles often get tossed around in the same bin, but the reality is that they all play distinct roles in the industry. That said, these three roles often collaborate closely to make sure that the fashion brand’s products sell well.
If you’ve walked in a store with a jaw dropping display – visual merchandisers are the creative experts behind those. They design store layouts, arrange products, and utilize creative techniques to create visually engaging displays. Their primary focus is on presentation and aesthetics, making products visually enticing and enhancing the overall shopping experience.
So while both work closely together to create a seamless shopping experience – fashion merchandisers concentrate on the strategic management of products, visual merchandisers enhance the brand’s visual identity through beautiful displays.
The line between fashion buyers and fashion merchandisers may seem blurry because they both deal with product selection and analyzing market trends.
To clarify the divide between the two jobs – a fashion buyer‘s role is more on the front end, primarily focusing on sourcing and pitching products based on trend forecasts. They negotiate deals and make purchases. On the other hand, fashion merchandisers work on overall product strategy, including selecting products, determining how best to sell them, right down to pricing decisions.
Pro Tip: Fashion brands use the term fashion merchandiser and fashion buyer interchangeably, so be sure to read the job description when you’re applying for the role. The good thing is that because the roles overlap, having experience on either gives you enough background to apply to both.
In summary – while all three roles are interconnected and collaborate closely, they have distinct areas of focus. Fashion merchandisers handle the overall management and strategy of fashion products, visual merchandisers focus on creating appealing product displays, and fashion buyers specialize in selecting products upfront.
Becoming a fashion merchandiser typically requires a combination of education and experience. Many of those aspiring to get fashion merchandising jobs pursue a bachelor’s degree in fashion merchandising, marketing, business, or a related field.
But of course, that’s just the start.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you land a fashion merchandising job:
If you need a dash of motivation, go ahead and listen to my podcast with Shelby Collins, where we talk about her journey in the fashion industry coming up to becoming a fashion merchandiser. In our talk, Shelby also shares some great tips on how to build your fashion merchandising career. So make sure to jot down some notes!
Can you become a fashion merchandiser without a degree? Absolutely!
In this field, having a degree is a great start, but it’s not the only way in. Real-life experience counts big time, even if it’s not directly related to fashion.
And if going back to uni isn’t your thing, you can still kick-start your journey. Look for fashion merchandising internships or short courses to get hands-on experience. Or, consider working in retail – starting from the bottom gives you a solid understanding of how things work.
This is an example of how you would expect a typical job description to look like including important fashion merchandiser skills.
As a Fashion Merchandiser at [Company Name], you will play a pivotal role in curating our product assortments and ensuring a seamless shopping experience for our customers. You will collaborate closely with designers, buyers, and marketing teams to create appealing and marketable collections. Your analytical skills will be crucial in interpreting market trends and consumer behavior to make strategic merchandising decisions.
And if you’re thinking that there are no opportunities out there, you can check platforms like Upwork that often have listings for freelance fashion merchandisers who prefer remote work arrangements over office settings. (And here’s how to send a great UpWork cover letter!)
While salary ranges are not always set in stone, I’m here to give you actual dollar figures and share how much fashion merchandisers working in house vs my freelance fashion merchandiser/ fashion designer grads from FAST make.
And then depending on bonuses and other monetary benefits they might receive, it can vary between $33,000 to $202,000. While there is “data” out there that says merchandisers can make $202k, that is going to be a rare, RARE, RARE(!!!) scenario, and likely only if you’re in a director level or higher!
(If you want to know more about industry ranges in fashion, you can head over to my article talking all about which fashion industry jobs pay well).
Working as a freelance merchandiser can make you MORE money while working remotely at the comfort of your own home.
Side Note: Most of the time, fashion freelancers can find themselves wearing more hats than when working directly as an employee for a fashion brand. I know many freelance “fashion designers” who are also working a merchandising role (amongst other tasks). So, keep that in mind if you’re interested in exploring freelancing full time.
If you’re curious to see if this is ACTUALLY possible, here’s a list of my FAST graduates who are raking up $$$ working freelance as fashion designers slash merchandisers.
Krystal Lewis who’s on track to making a whopping $300k yearly. You can check Krystal’s website here.
As the figures show, freelancing in fashion can earn you MORE but with less stress and more time for yourself.
So if you’re interested in exploring the fashion industry and its many opportunities, don’t be afraid to get your foot out there!
A great place to start is with my guide to becoming a freelance fashion designer (it’s free!).