Every year hundreds of people working for retail companies both big and small go off on buying trips. And in the clothing industry it is no different; except in the clothing industry we have our own seasons to reflect changes in the weather. This year has been no exception, with a whole raft of trade shows and huge exhibition halls packed with manufacturers selling their wares; many displaying this year’s spring/summer, and scarily enough, a fair amount of autumn/winter clothing!
No such problem with Coline from French France. They always have an amazing range of colourful unique alternative clothing. Lovely, helpful and very professional.
So what’s it all about? Just buying some stuff right…?
I’m going to take you through some of the buying process and lift the lid on a few trade secrets.
Buying, or being a buyer, is one of the most important jobs in a retail environment. It can make or break a business. Once the buyer has committed to a range of clothes, orders are placed and an agreement is made. Once you have taken delivery of the clothes you have no right to send back or change your mind! This is trade, not retail. You might find a friendly supplier who’s willing to help with a few items, but generally you’d be very lucky to find a supplier offering a 100% returns policy.
Suppliers will often sell from samples, meaning they don’t actually have stock of any items on offer, so instead they’ll place the order with their factory after the trade show. But this on the proviso that they actually receive sufficient orders in the first place. This can be a little frustrating as some items you order never turn up due to the fact that they never end up being manufactured, for the aforementioned reason that too few orders have been placed. They never tell you this at the time of ordering.
Lead times are another problem. In the freezing cold days of January you are ordering spring & summer clothes hoping they will turn up in time for a decent summer! For larger companies this can be one of their biggest headaches. There are a lot of clever people who work very hard on this problem but sometimes it still doesn’t go to plan.
How does all this boil down to a colourful funky clothing retailer such as The Hippy Clothing Co.? Well many of the wonderful people we buy from are far and few between at the trade shows. So there can be a lot of hall pounding just to find one supplier. Hall 5 at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham is massive; you can fit 2 football pitches in that hall alone...the NEC has 24 halls in total!
Fair Trade: Everything Fair Trade at the trade fair!
That would be nice, wonderful in fact, but in realty it’s very hard to achieve a full Fair Trade ethical clothing range. Many of our suppliers are already Fair Trade or BAFTS registered. Others work very closely with their factory and have being doing so for years. But nevertheless, as a buyer of unique ethnic clothing it’s very hard to really know. I can only hope that as we are in a small market, being so specialised and with lower order volumes than high street chain stores, that this helps us with our ultimate goal of being a more ethical retailer.
“What is ethical fashion? It's a confusing term. Sometimes it's easier to define by what it isn't – and unfortunately that is most of what can be found on the high street. Unethical fashion means very very little transparency, accountability and knowledge of the supply chain. It means demands of very quick lead times and production turnaround. It means producers played off against each other. It means a wage that doesn't even afford the worker an adequate salary for two meals a day.”
The owner of Gringo is one of the nicest guys you could meet, and he travels to Nepal twice a year to visit his factorys and suppliers. He tells me first hand of the difficult conditions they face making clothing, having to use diesel to power generators to keep the workshops lit. Many of the clothes are made in people’s homes; resulting in slight variations from the original design, so every design is slightly unique.
Buying for yourself or buying for the shop?
It’s something we often say to each other when on buying trips. It’s hard to not get sucked into purchasing clothes because you personally like them. Sounds silly because when you go shopping for clothes this is what you do. However there are probably many items of clothes out there you love but would never wear, but on the flip side many people would love to wear the same item if it’s to their personal taste. This is one of the most exciting things about buying. Understanding your customer and current trends. We love finding unique colourful hippy clothing and it gives us a huge sense of satisfaction when our customers love them.