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Are you familiar with the names of Nuno Rosa, Barbara D'Arcy, and Marica Gigante and intend to follow in their footsteps? If yes, fashion merchandising may be the right career path for you. Fashion merchandising is the discipline and practice of promoting products to prospective customers at the right time and in the right quantity. It involves developing a concerted strategy, intelligent planning, innovative use of sales promotion, creating enticing interior spaces, developing attractive displays, and overseeing advertising initiatives—all to maximise sales for the fashion brand.
The role of the fashion merchandiser revolves around product development, material sourcing, inventory management, forecasting trends, brand promotion, and the sale of fashion merchandise. Hence, from manufacturing to retail experience, a fashion merchandiser is involved in every step of this process. Broadly, fashion merchandising jobs encompass the following roles and responsibilities:
Recall how often an attractive storefront and visual display have prompted you to walk into the retail store. What makes the shopping experience at brand stores of Nike, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, and Prada delightful? Will the footfall be the same if these brands do not invest in storefront and interior spaces, marketing, or sales promotion? Obviously, not. This is where the role of a fashion merchandiser assumes importance. Today, a prospective customer has a lot of brands to choose from. Investment in fashion merchandising becomes a differentiating factor. It enables the brand to stand out from the crowd, attract customers, build meaningful relationships with customers, and increase sales. It serves as a vital building block for the brand. A fashion merchandiser enables customers to zero in on their purchases, garners increased interest in products and enhances the customer experience.
A formal degree in fashion design or fashion business management is a must if one wishes to pursue full-time fashion merchandising as a full-time vocation. A fashion merchandising degree or a full-time fashion business management course equips aspiring professionals with theoretical knowledge of the fundamentals and principles of the discipline. It also imparts crucial skills such as an eye for detail, problem-solving, interpersonal skills and project management skills, which are sought-after in the fashion merchandising industry.
Demand for design courses, enabling policy landscapes, and digitization have provided a fillip to design education in India. Subsequently, there is no dearth of educational institutes offering design courses in the country. However, one must choose the institute prudently based on a number of parameters, such as career goals, courses offered by the institute, quality of infrastructure, curriculum, faculty, placement avenues, and budget. In an era where design institutes are mushrooming in every nook and cranny of the city, the choice of an institute can make or break your career prospects.
Similarly, the role of curriculum in shaping career paths cannot be underestimated. An effective curriculum entails a good mix of theoretical principles and practical knowledge. Not only should it be updated and reflective of the current trends, but it should also instil new-age skills such as critical analysis, reasoning, and problem-solving among design professionals. Moreover, pedagogy should be interactive and engaging for students to ensure good learning outcomes.
For a career aspirant in fashion merchandising, the sooner they start, the better it is. The minimum eligibility to begin your education in this field is 10+2 in any discipline from a recognised board in India with an aggregate of 50%. Aspirants may be required to qualify for a design entrance test comprising sections on creative thinking, logical reasoning, basic design skills and so on. A four-year undergraduate degree in fashion merchandising, fashion business management, interior design, strategic design management, luxury brand management or fashion design is an entry point to various fashion merchandising jobs. Besides choosing the right design institute, it is equally important to choose the right course which is aligned with the learner's career objective, budget, bandwidth and other factors. These courses offer a holistic understanding of fashion merchandising through a good balance of theoretical knowledge and practical components. Students of the fashion merchandising course study fashion buying and merchandising, supply chain and logistics, consumer behaviour, fashion business management , statistical analysis, business research and much more. An effective fashion merchandising or fashion business management course should also offer assignments, case studies, guest lectures, project work and internships, which play a pivotal role in enhancing the practical knowledge of aspirants.
Besides choosing the right course at the right college, the importance of a solid portfolio cannot be underestimated in design careers. Hence, while enrolled in a fashion merchandising course, design aspirants should be on the lookout to maximise their practical knowledge and exposure by attending seminars, workshops, design competitions and industry events. Such initiatives strengthen network-building abilities and equip learners with suitable skills to make them job-ready. Pursuing internships is also necessary to boost the chances of getting a job early. One must pay special attention to crafting an effective resume, building a strong portfolio on sites such as Behance, Instagram, and Pinterest, and honing soft skills that come in handy for landing the first job easily.
Salary in fashion merchandising is not a constraint for the right candidate. Nevertheless, landing the first fashion merchandising job should not deter aspirants from pursuing lifelong learning. The fashion merchandising industry is dynamic due to the rise of next-generation technology, shift in consumer preferences and the emergence of new trends. Hence, it is imperative that fashion merchandising aspirants should keep themselves up to date to stay relevant in the industry. They must stay thoroughly abreast of recent trends through constant upskilling, attending industry events and seeking mentorship, if required.
Digitisation has profoundly impacted every sector, and the fashion merchandising industry is no exception. The advent of next-generation technologies like Computer-Aided Design (CAD), Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and Metaverse has reimagined the traditional processes and operations in fashion merchandising. For instance, Computer Aided Design (CAD) enables designers to develop comprehensive technical drawings, specifications and patterns for fashion merchandise. It also allows fashion merchandisers to curate virtual fashion shows and showcase their collections to prospective customers. Fashion merchandisers are also exploring the use of 3D printing in this industry. Research has shown that 3D printing has the potential to reduce production-related fabric waste and curate personalised experiences for customers. Similarly, virtual reality is increasingly being leveraged to enhance the customer experience by developing an interactive catalogue and VR-assisted store recreation.
For inventory management, Radio Frequency Identification Technology (RFID) tags help increase inventory accuracy and ensure item availability, thereby eliminating uncertainties in inventory management.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) can prove to be the game-changer for the fashion merchandising industry. AI-powered visual recognition allows people to view and try on clothes virtually. AI can also be used to track consumer behaviour, search history and purchase history and curate personalised recommendations. On the production side, AI-based solutions can be used to optimise supply chain management by ensuring the planning of product deliveries. Moreover, Machine Learning algorithms can aid in forecasting demand and, therefore, prevent overstocking and ensure prudent inventory management. AI can also be used to predict seasonal trends and determine the availability of inventory. This data can help forecast demand, manage inventory better and schedule orders. AI-based solutions can also develop optimal delivery routes than conventional programs.
Leading fashion brands are increasingly investing in online presence besides brick-and-mortar stores. In this digital era, customers are more informed and are more likely to research products online before buying them. E-commerce enables these fashion brands to cater to customers worldwide without any geographical barriers. Moreover, it also allows them to connect with the customers via storytelling through relevant content such as blogs, videos, reviews, recommendations and much more. E-commerce also enables fashion brands to track customers' search and purchase history and send personalised recommendations accordingly. Moreover, technologies such as Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality help brands showcase products in various ways, such as closeup images worn by different models, 3D animation or short video clips. Most fashion websites are completely optimised for mobile shopping.
Hence, e-commerce enables fashion brands to connect with customers through multiple touchpoints. However, it does not mean that customers are willing to completely give up the offline shopping experience since the latter offers a holistic shopping experience. To tackle this challenge, fashion brands have adopted an omnichannel shopping experience and are keeping an eye on innovation with the customer at the centrepiece of all these efforts.
Fashion Merchandising is a booming industry. Since there is stiff competition among fashion retail brands, visual merchandising in modern retail becomes the differentiating factor to maximise their sales. A McKinsey survey highlighted that 98% of fashion professionals prioritised improving go-to-market and merchandising processes after the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a testament to the potential of visual merchandising to bring umpteen benefits to fashion retailers.
Today, customers are discerning and are looking not only to purchase products but also to seek a holistic shopping experience. Customer-centric- brands are increasingly engaging with their customers through immersive storytelling. For example, athleisure brand Nike has made a mark due to its exceptional customer experience initiatives. Besides offering a range of athlete gear meticulously tailored to the needs of sports enthusiasts and professionals, it has undertaken several customer-centric initiatives. Nike’s retail stores exemplify a blend of offline and digital experiences. Its personalised services, such as Nike by You, offer NikePlus members one-on-one customisation sessions with designers, which fosters an emotional connection with the brand. The launch of Nike live stores, beginning with Los Angeles, has brought a paradigm shift in the customer experience. Its state-of-the-art features, such as rotating product arrays, local artwork, and interactive features like the sneaker bar and consultation services, take the customer experience to the next level.
Amid concerns about the fashion industry accounting for 10% of global carbon emissions, sustainability has also become a priority for leading brands. Hugo Boss, for example, has pledged to reduce Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions from primary energy use and electricity supply by at least 50% – from the base year 2019. The brand recently launched its first BOSS polo shirt made of around 90% innovative and fully recyclable AeoniQ yarn. Sports athleisure brand Adidas is committed to reducing plastic waste by recycling products. The brand recently made high-performance yarn from 50% ocean plastic and 50% recycled polyester. Its new initiative, 'Made to be Remade, ' aims to eliminate potential landfill waste by allowing customers to return worn-out Adidas products to the company for recycling.
Fashion brands are also leveraging world-class technology, which helps them reduce inefficiencies on the production side and enhance the user experience from the customers' perspective. For instance, Ralph Lauren has launched a virtual store on Roblox where players can purchase digital fashion inspired by its real-world designs to dress their characters. Designers like Ashley Levnine are also exploring the use of 3D printing by curating limited pieces for Lady Gaga and Grimes. The launch of a startup, 3D-TEX, took place last year, which aims to produce 80,000 seam-free garments annually with the help of 3D knitting technology. Brands like Prada, Yoox and PrettyLittleThing have popularised the use of virtual influencers to connect with their target audience. These virtual influencers are created with the help of AI and mimic human influencers on social media.
The emergence of Metaverse has also unlocked endless possibilities for fashion brands to revolutionise the customer experience. For instance, H&M has taken to Gen Z-populated digital worlds such as Roblox, where it launched its ‘Looptopia Experience’, which allows players to create virtual garments to dress their avatars. Other brands, such as Gucci and Burberry, have also followed suit by launching their shops in Roblox. With the potential to optimise the supply chain, enhance personalisation and reduce operating costs, the future of fashion merchandising is closely entwined with technological innovations.
From the time when retail stores merely served as interior spaces to stock products to the evolution of experiential retail experience zones, the fashion merchandising industry has come a long way. The role of the fashion merchandiser is increasingly being challenged by the need to maintain profitability in uncertain market conditions and with wafer-thin margins. Changes in customer tastes and preferences, the emergence of new-age technologies and initiatives by fashion brands have redefined the role of fashion merchandisers. A digital-first approach, personalisation and integrated omnichannel retail model is the way forward for fashion brands to thrive amid stiff competition and stand out from the crowd.
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