Holly Russell has what we can confidently call every fashion lover's dream job. As senior buyer for ready to wear ("ready to wear" means simply "clothing" in fashion-speak) for London-based online mega-retailer, Net-A-Porter, she's responsible for stocking the shop's virtual shelves, as well as discovering new designers, who often go on to household-name status. "The buying team [occupy] a pivotal role," says Russell. "[What we] buy influences the focus of the rest of the business."
The online store carries luxury fashion and accessory brands like Gucci, Lanvin, and Stella McCartney, as well as under-the-radar insider favorites like Toga and Sibling. A leader in the high-fashion retail space, Net-A-Porter set the model for online-luxury shopping when the site launched in 2000; the company now ships to 170 countries worldwide. "The most challenging part of my job is that we're buying for 170 countries, so it's important to have enough variety that will appeal to all of their needs, lifestyles, and climates where they live," Russell says. "Which can obviously change a lot depending on the region!"
After the fashion shows every spring and fall, Russell and her team spend weeks meeting with designers and visiting showrooms to select which pieces they'll stock online. It's up to the buyers to decide which are the best, most desirable pieces of the season, and then analyze metrics to determine how much of each piece to buy for the store.
"Our buy usually happens a few days after the shows," she says. "When we're at shows and on appointments we're looking for newness, and product that that will excite our customer, but probably the most important element is 'buy now wear now.'"
This idea of "buy now wear now" is currently shaping the fashion world, at least from a retail standpoint. With show imagery being shared more widely than ever in real time via social media (such as Snapchat, for example), fashion enthusiasts want to wear collections as soon as they've seen them on the runways, rather than waiting six months for them to arrive in-store.
With social media powerhouses snapping or posting nearly every look from nearly every collection (with special custom Fashion Week Snapchat filters, naturally) some of the mystery behind the fashion industry is lost, but the industry is also becoming democratized in a way it hasn't been before. With unbridled, global access to runway looks, the role of the buyer as the liaison between designers and consumers has become more crucial than ever.
Now, retailers have to constantly stay one step ahead of each season, and forge new relationships with brands like Burberry to stock items direct off the runway, making the buying process more complex than ever. This season, Proenza Schouler, and Michael Kors are releasing immediately shoppable capsules at the same time as their runway shows, and Rebecca Minkoff chose to show an entire collection that's available to purchase now, rather than showing her fall/winter 2016 collection.
Once the product has been selected and orders placed, Russell and her team ensure that product is delivered from designers and brands on time (and as-ordered) so that the pieces can be photographed (Net-A-Porter has an in-house styling team and photo studio to shoot each item on a model, as part of a complete look), and put onto the site.
Mixing a flawless sense of style with a deep knowledge of the market, not to mention a heavy dose of math, the job of a fashion buyer definitely isn't what you'd think when you hear someone shops for a living. Russell is playing a direct role in the future of fashion retail—one of the most rapidly changing aspects of the industry—and all the while helping ensure some of the world's most stylish women never feel like they have nothing to wear. While it all sounds like a lot of pressure, we think it also sounds like a lot of fun.
To see more, head to netaporter.com.