Ladybrille Exclusive: Interview with Fashion Buyer, Chioma Amegashie

LB 8Fashion buyers are a critical part of the fashion chain. Without the buyers, it would be hard for you to walk into Saks Fifth, Neiman Marcus or even your local Gap store to purchase the “it” clothing or just unique styles that suit you. They are largely responsible for all purchases for a specific market or in a particular department store.

Fashion buyers can be subdivided to those who purchase fabrics, jewelry, garments, home décor and so forth and so on. In addition, it is their job to forecast trends i.e. know, determine and keep up with current trends. For example, if L-Shandi designs are all the crave among the fashion-forward within and outside Africa, it is the fashion buyer’s job to spot the L-Shandi trend, call the L-Shandi representatives and order units of the latest L-Shandi designs the street craves for.

It is their job to read market reports, liason with potential and current clients, attend fashion shows, negotiate prices and delivery dates with suppliers, complete appropriate paperwork, make sure the visual layout of a store can attract you and very importantly meet their retail department’s sales and profit goals. You want to know how important buyers are? Attend a solid fashion show like Paris, Milan, New York, SA Sanlam fashion week and you will see two key people that occupy the front row seats: the fashion media and the fashion buyers.

Having said all these, spotting designs by your favorite African designers in retail stores across the USA and Europe is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. The non-existence of African designs, particularly apparel, is largely due to the fact that most Western fashion buyers have determined that Africa is not in style! Well, we happen to have a fashion buyer, Chioma Amegashie, who thinks Africa is always in style. Amegashie has just launched her new e-retail store, which is focused on selling unique designs from designers across the globe including Africans.

Prior to the launch of MOSAIC distinctive global chic, Amegashie was a senior buyer at Mervyns in San Francisco. We are delighted to be interviewing Amegashie and we know you will want to get to know this lovely woman as she shares her experience and tips on what you can do to gain attention from buyers in the USA & European markets Hi Chioma! I am delighted you could share your knowledge with our readers! Tell us a bit about your personal background. What ties do you have to Africa, if any?
Hi Uduak, I am really excited to discuss the industry with you. I am a native Liberian, born and raised in Monrovia. My family and I immigrated to the US in 1990, just before the outbreak of the devastating civil war. I am the eldest of three children. Let’s get into your professional background a bit. How did you become a fashion buyer?
In all honesty, I stumbled into a buying career quite by accident. I attended yet another career fair my senior year in college, as a marketing major, to further explore options after graduation. I was not overly enthusiastic about most entry-level marketing jobs that I had encountered. After speaking with executives from various advertising agencies, consumer product companies et al, “the light bulb finally went off” after an in-depth discussion with executives from Hecht’s Department Stores (now Macys).

I wanted a position with a clear career path, which cultivated my love for beautiful product and travel. It offered immediate responsibility managing millions. I could use my strong analytical ability to affect my own business, be creative and further develop my entrepreneurial spirit. I quickly enrolled in a retail management class and have not looked back. I moved to Minneapolis right after graduation to work for Marshall Field’s Department Stores (now Macys). In 2000, I relocated to the Bay Area in my quest to learn vendor operations and worked for global retailer Esprit de Corp in San Francisco. Thereafter, a five year buying stint with Mervyns honed extensive strategic management, product development and global sourcing experience to finally launch my start-up MOSAIC. What are the important skill sets a person must have to become a successful buyer? Is math one of them?
Retailing, like any other business, is results-driven. The bottom line is measurable results, profitability, maximizing trends and exceeding sales. The romantic perception that people generally have about buyers is that all we do is shop and travel. Realistically, that only represents 10-25% of your time, depending on your product category. Retail math is our lifeline. Being analytical is critical, as most of your day is spent deciphering sales data and taking action to drive business goals.

To be a great buyer, you must be a visionary, with a distinctive eye to spot and maximize trends through your product selection. Buying is primarily based on building strategic vendor relationships, and spearheading creativity in advertising and other promotional strategies to fully connect with your customer. you need a college education and how much can you make as a fashion buyer?
In today’s competitive climate, companies do not even consider anyone without a college education. The beauty of retail is that although the focus is on someone with a business related background, many retailers recruit across a multitude of degrees to drive diverse opinions. Most major retailers also offer an extensive 8-12 week training and mentorship program which prepares you for success. Retail can be an extremely lucrative industry, especially for women. 60-75% of any buying office is female and many women are in top layers of management. Salaries in buying offices can start at $50,000 or more at entry-level positions. Executive salaries and bonus packages range from six figures to millions, depending on the retailer, your position level and the size and complexity of your business.

Most experienced buyers make six figure incomes with added bonuses, travel, and other perks. What has always been disappointing is the lack of black and, personally, African faces across all channels of the industry. When I started as an associate buyer in ’96 with Marshall Field’s, I was extremely fortunate to work under the only black senior buyer in the company. Throughout my 12 year career in this industry, that is typically the state of affairs across all major retailers. Not much has changed despite added diversity efforts.

Africans primarily pursue careers in the sciences, law or finance and retail is unchartered territory. I have always been an advocate for black women to seriously consider this career path through personal mentoring and volunteering efforts, as it provides numerous options.I am offering a MOSAIC merchandising internship program in the near future to open doors for other women of African descent. My inspiration has been two younger cousins, who followed in my footsteps and also pursued retail careers. Who are the frequent as well as occasional liaisons a fashion buyer interacts with?
The beauty of retailing is the immediate access and partnerships it offers. It can be a very glamorous business. You gain access to all management levels within your organization and every vendor you do business with. You are “in the know” about hot new products and designers and get invited to major events. Internally, you partner with teams like advertising, as buyers drive all advertising efforts that you see. We partner with transportation and logistics teams to make sure product arrives on time. Sourcing and production teams are key if you have an owned or proprietary brand in your selection, to help you find the best product at the best price. Planogram teams help you strategize the artful presentation of product to create excitement on the selling floor. Walk us through a typical day as Chioma Amegashie, the fashion buyer?
I wish I could tell you I have a typical day as a buyer but it is ever-evolving. Retail demands a flexible attitude for constant change. If you are someone who likes normalcy and wants to sit at your desk everyday and just focus on your work, the buyer job is not for you. As a buyer, you own every function of your business. You are the axis of the circle, as you make all major business decisions. Mondays are typically chaotic, as it is the industry weekly analysis day. In retail, you also receive a daily report card, as we analyze selling information to that level of detail. So let’s say it’s a Monday. I am intently reviewing selling reports for every item in my business.

How many units we sold; where it sold. Did I buy enough? How can I get more of it? Can I get out of orders with a vendor if customers are not reacting to an item? This is where strategic partnerships with vendors are essential, as inventory allocations are prioritized by relationships. After that, I am in a management meeting to discuss business trends, company initiatives and what actions make sense for my business. Next I may be in a vendor meeting to review sales, see their latest product and adjust my selection if needed, and then finalize advertising ideas.

Then I am in an advertising meeting to review Sunday ad inserts for the next three months and come up with my advertising handles. I may meet with my sourcing team for an update on the new owned brand product that I developed and we discuss the right factory to place the order with. Lastly, I review packaging ideas for my owned brand with my creative team and provide direction for photography so the customer understands how to use the product. Whew! Had enough? That is just one day. [Smiles]{Smiles]Let’s sort of parse out some aspects of your job.
In any retail organization, the buyer is the essential link that drives every other function in the company. Retailers are in the business of selling product and buyers drive product. That is the bottom line. Buyers are the negotiators and the decision-makers.

I must have the pulse on my market and my competition. I must pick the entire product selection. I develop pricing and promotional strategies for each item or category. I create all targeted advertising efforts, whether print, TV or radio, in partnership with vendors.

My job is to drive sales and manage risk. All vendor negotiations that affect my business, such as earmarking advertising funds, exclusive products, returns or markdowns for poor sellers among others are orchestrated through me.

To be continued . . .

~by Uduak Oduok

Ladybrille Magazine

Founded in 2007, Ladybrille® Magazine is a California based pioneer digital publication demystifying the image of Africans in the west through contemporary African fashion and celebrating the brilliant woman in business and leadership, with an emphasis on the African woman in the diaspora. Our coverage includes stories on capital, access to markets, expertise, hiring and retention, sales, marketing, and promotions.

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  1. !!Estella!! says:

    Brilliant interview and information from LadyBrille once again! I will say it again Ladybrille, you are a great resource for us fashion designers! U bring information, links, networking etc to the fashion designers!And to Chioma, keep up the good work! I am proud of you! I am praying and hoping we would have more hard working and focused Africans become fashion buyers, thus creating the much needed opening/break for us African Fashion Designers to hit the International fashion scene!African fashion is simply UNIQUE!Happy New Year Ladybrille!

  2. LShandi says:

    Thanks Lady A. Visited one of your blog sites..glad to read that you are doing much better!Take it easy.

  3. Lady A says:

    Loving the pictures! Keep up the good work!

  4. LShandi says:

    Hi Ladybrille,I enjoyed reading this interview posting and it is definately of great resource to me as a designer.Thanks for using me as an example as well :).Look forward to reading part 2 and hopefully working with Ms. Chioma sometime soon!Lara AkinsanyaL~Shandi Designs

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