Sunday, November 17, 2013

Finding Employment with a Fashion Merchandising Degree

I recently had a conversation with a young college grad. She graduated last May with a degree in fashion merchandising from a prominent private college. Unfortunately, the only job she has been able to secure is as a retail associate – a job she also held while in college. She interviewed for a buyer position with a major retailer here in Milwaukee, but did not get the job. 

To learn how to stand-out and get hired with a fashion merchandising degree I turned to Mandi Noel from The Cardigan Confessions. Mandi is 24 years old and has a Bachelor’s degree in Fashion Design and a Master’s of Business.

Did you work after receiving your undergraduate degree or go straight to grad school?

I did go straight from undergrad to grad school. It’s not very common for fashion design or merchandising grads to get Master’s degrees, but that’s part of the reason I decided to get one. Anything that can set you apart is a good thing. The two careers I am interested in are apparel product developer and starting my own design business. For both of these, an MBA is a good idea. It’s not a requirement for a buyer, but like I said, it would set you apart, and that’s helpful.

Do you think the above grad needs to move to a larger city? She lives in Milwaukee and has her heart set on becoming a buyer.

As far as the retail job goes, pretty much any job in fashion merchandising requires a certain amount of retail experience. If she didn’t work in retail before graduating, she will most likely have to put in a few years before getting a buyer position. It’s basically like “paying your dues.” Plus, the experience and knowledge you gain is really important to any job you will have in the industry later. Also, it is sometimes easier to move up to a designer or buyer position within a company that you already work with at the store level. I have friends who have become managers at stores and then their district managers have helped them transition into higher positions. As for Milwaukee, I don’t know much about the types of fashion jobs that are available there, but generally, the bigger the city, the more opportunities for fashion jobs. Especially for buyers because many times buying is done at the district level. If Milwaukee is not the district headquarters for many stores, you won’t see a lot of buying positions there. I would say that Chicago probably has the most opportunities in that area of the country.

Anyway, I hope all that is somewhat helpful. I’m not currently working in the industry because my husband is part of a unique program with his job and we’re moving a couple times a year. But I specialize in design, so I’m just doing some artistic stuff on my own for now and am hoping to open a business for myself in a few years.

Another grad is hired as a buyer for the very company my above graduate interviewed with:

Interestingly, as an acquaintance was giving me an update on his daughter – she had just moved to Milwaukee to work as a buyer for a major retailer headquartered here – I realized it was with the very company the graduate from above had interviewed with. His daughter had also graduated in May, with a degree in retail entrepreneurship from the U-W Madison.

What did this graduate have that the graduate from above did not?

According to the new-hire’s father, his daughter’s grades were good, but not stellar. What he thought helped her stand-out from the crowd was her internship. She had spent a semester interning for a prominent retailer in Chicago.

The problem with a degree in Fashion Merchandising is there are usually more applicants than jobs, to stand out from the crowd you need to have experience or qualifications that will out-shine your competition. I recommend the graduate in the above example expand her career search to include companies in Chicago or other major cities. After a few years of relevant work experience, she should then have an easier time finding employment in Milwaukee.  

And for all of you Fashion Merchandising students out there, try to secure the best internship you possibly can while you are in college, even if it means living in an expensive city for a semester.

Do you have recommendations for students studying fashion merchandising to help them stand out from the crowd?

Femme Frugality


  1. even though this isn't my field, i definitely found this post fascinating: what helps people stand out from the crowd in terms of securing the job they desire. great background.

  2. This is actually my field. It was many years ago that I graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in Retail Merchandising and Management. Back then, I was able to secure a buyer's position easily, but things have definitely changed today.

    I would recommend that this grad look outside the box and pursue something that may be related to fashion (working with fashion websites, magazines, smaller retailers, etc.)

    After years of being a SAHM, I had to reinvent myself and I ended up starting my own business where I am able to freelance as a visual merchandiser and graphic designer for various retailers.

    Although this can be a very profitable career, you have to be incredibly organized and work on networking with just about everyone you meet!

    In my case I am limited because I have three children to also, take care of, but as a young single person, her choices are endless.

    FYI - most fashion-related jobs will be in the bigger cities and these positions will ask that you can travel.

    Hope this helps!

  3. Great write up, sadly I have no advise because it isn't a field I'm familiar with. Stopped by from SITS Girls.

  4. Great post… well thought out and written.I love when people follow their dreams. Newest follower from the SITSgirls.

  5. I think this is post is great because it talks about the importance of internships. Even though I have nothing to do with fashion/retail, I really regret that no one emphasized the importance of internships to me in college. There are lots of great theaters that offer internships to college students that help them get their foot in the door and I really feel like I dropped the ball in that respect.

  6. My roommate works for Armani. She worked in retail, then as an assistant at Stella McCartney (devil wears prada style), then got an internship at Armani. She worked her ASS off and now a year later, she's been promoted twice and is getting ready for her second trip to Milan with the company.

  7. Super interesting! I have a friend that graduated from a career training program in this field, and that's all she can get, too, is the retail job. I'll have to pass this info along...

  8. Catherine,
    Thanks for the comment.

  9. Suzanne,
    Thank you for your first-hand advice. It is much appreciated.

  10. Kira,
    Thanks for stopping in.

  11. Mama's High Strung,
    Thank-you. Also, I followed you back.

  12. Mel,
    Internships were not common when I was in school. I've always wished I would have had the opportunity too.

  13. This is my twin's dream job, she's a teacher, but she hasn't made any steps to live her dream. I told her to start with a blog and she hasn't done that. I will post this on her FB page so this might help jump start her into think about her goal. Visiting from Financially Savvy Saturdays.

  14. Stefani,
    Based on your friend's story I think you have to live in the right city and be willing to work hard. I wonder what kind of salary your friend gets paid?

  15. Femme,
    That is so discouraging. Please do - my goal is to provide advice.

  16. Sheila,
    Thanks for stopping in. It takes a long time and a lot of work to establish a presence these days, but so rewarding. Good luck to your sister.