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A Day in the Life: Fashion Buyer (Fabric)

Karen Lott, Fabric Buyer, BCBG

Karen Lott has over 25 years of experience in the industry. She attended Pasadena City College and graduated with an associate degree in Merchandise Management. She began her career at the May Company as a salesperson and worked her way to Assistant Manager and then Department Manager. At that point, Karen moved from retail to corporate and became an assistant buyer. She moved to a missy company (the missy category usually includes a more womanly, more shapely fit, as opposed to a juniors fit) and started as assistant to the Sales Manager and was eventually promoted to Executive Vice President. After a few years, she decided to take a new job with less responsibility. Since then, she has held several positions as a piece goods buyer.

She has worked at BCBG for several years as the piece goods buyer. The biggest challenge at BCBG was adapting to constant change. "Since the company defines contemporary hip, we have to have the coolest product," Karen says. "For production, you need level-headed people to handle the stress of the job. However, people who are ingrained in their jobs have a tough time with change. What happens in a company like BCBG is that there is huge turnover in personnel in certain areas like design. Kids coming out of F.I.T. think BCBG is the hip, cool place to work and want it on their resume. So they get it on their resume and leave. Turnover is high for pattern makers and design assistants, and you see want ads for those positions all the time. On the other hand, you rarely see ads for production people -- they have been there for a long time."

Over the past 25 years, according to Karen, the most significant change in the fashion industry has been the "dramatic increase in import production." "Years ago, there was more loyalty in the business but fewer options. Now, if you are looking for a particular fabric or trim, the options are endless," she says. "Buying fabric is a truly international and collaborative experience. My job requires me to work with planning (which tells me what yardage to buy of every individual fabric), fabric sourcing (which tells me what vendor to purchase the fabric from), production managers (who advise on delivery status of fabric), L.C. and trafficking (where I submit shipping documents and track fabric through freight forwarder) and accounts payable (so I can check requests and wire transfers).

Karen's Day

9:00 a.m.: Turn computer on and check e-mails. Typically, I have 60 e-mails from vendors in Turkey, Italy, Hong Kong, Hungary or even nearby in New York City. The e-mails usually contain information about fabric delivery and financing. I respond to the e-mails that I have answers to immediately and then move onto to my voice mails. Once the fabrics arrive in Los Angeles, my responsibilities do not end. I have to monitor quality control issues and work with the warehouse manager to manage the inventory.

10:00 a.m.: Meet up with the planners. Part of my job is to work with the planning department. At BCBG, I work with three different planners that buy for the Knit, Woven and Dress departments. At one point, I also bought fabric for swimwear, Nordstrom's and Men's departments. Eventually, those departments closed down.

11:00 a.m.: Run to production meetings. The Knit, Woven and Dress departments each have their own production manager -- which means I often have to go to three different production meetings. Each meeting is one to three hours so some days I am stuck in meetings all day. I ask, "When is fabric shipping? When do you expect it to be in factory? How is it being financed?" I am prepared to answer pattern and trim status on every individual style in production. We must address design challenges and delivery dates of finished garments already in production. We run through the meeting by delivery dates. For example, we cover April deliveries first, May deliveries next, and anything beyond that last. Sometimes we are quite a few months ahead.

2:00 p.m.: Submit documents for opening of Letters of Credit (L.C.). L.C.s are used for international sales. They are drawn up by a bank and are a recognized financial instrument designed to protect the buyer and seller in international dealings. The L.C. describes in detail the items to be purchased (condition and number of items, insurance, inspection etc.) and states the conditions of payment to the seller (when and how the amounts are payable). The L.C. is only honored when all conditions have been met, as checked by both my and the seller's banks. It is my responsibility to ensure the L.C. is open and in place.

3:00 p.m.: Follow through with open L.C.s and payment.

4:00 p.m.: I usually skip lunch to get work done. For our Korean suppliers, we have to show proof of payment before they export. All Korean orders have to have a Korean insurance agency (KEIC -- Korean insurance export company) as well. Our Korean vendors require post-dated checks before the fabric is released from the dock.

4:30 p.m.: Track L.C. requests. For any purchase order, I request a check. Each check requires two signatures (Pre-Production VP and Executive VP) before Accounts Payable would issue the check. Checks could be small or as much as $50,000.

5:00 p.m.: Check with our warehouse to coordinate fabric delivery. Some fabric arrives from Italy for local production. I go over the inspection reports and approve it for production since it looks normal. When there are problems, I go over to the warehouse to inspect the fabric myself. If there is a problem with the fabric, I have to decide how much of it is salvageable. Then I have to deal with the vendor for charge backs and returns. I work with the warehouse manager and quality control on a daily basis.

7:30 p.m.: Go home! Save my new voice mails for tomorrow.