The start of ‘selling season’ is suddenly upon me again. We completed the Spring 2014 collection in late August and will take orders from stores over the next couple of months so we can produce the line over the winter and have it ready to ship by February.
Meeting with the store buyers is always interesting, and though I found it extremely stressful in the first few years, it has become easier over time. Many buyers order straight from the catalogues we send out by mail and e-mail and I am not privy to the selection process. Others I see in person here at our studio or at their own boutiques. I’ve learned a lot about the art of buying just through watching so many stores do it!
In the beginning I felt like I was on the opposite side of the fence from the buyers. I thought it was my job to somehow ‘convince’ them to buy from my line. I’ve realized over time that both designers and buyers are essentially storytellers, and that you need to find someone who likes the kind of story you have to tell and is enthusiastic enough about it to want to pass it on. When you find the right match, it’s joyful and effortless for everyone involved.
In this business, it’s easy to succumb to the pressure to tell a story that will appeal to the most people possible, even if it’s not the tale you really want to tell. I have to be conscious of current trends when designing a collection, but it’s much more important to me to tell my own story than it is to provide something that will appeal to as broad an audience as possible. Essentially, I design a wardrobe for the same girl every season. She is me, in a time and place beyond adult concerns, fear and cynicism. She is able to delight and revel in all the places she finds beauty, without fear of judgement.
The buyer is also trying to tell a story though their store. The stores in which Birds of North America works best are those that have a story to tell that is joyful, whimsical, and during the summer months often evokes a seaside vacation in the 1930s or 50s. Our collection can often provide a missing chapter in the seasonal story they are telling.
In my experience as an observer, I’ve seen buyers work in many different ways. Some base their selections heavily on trend forecasting while others simply go with their personal favourites. Some prefer a more involved sales process in which I hold up each garment and describe its qualities and features while others seem to prefer to see the collection ‘cleanly’ without the distraction of a guided presentation. I try to gauge what the buyer prefers and then either get involved or try to make myself invisible.
Buyers are very much like designers. The good ones are able to go into their heads and visualize the overall effect they are trying to create for their store and then break it down into a practical plan for buying. All of this while maintaining a strong connection to the spontaneous delight that drew them to Birds of North America in the first place. Through their stores, they have a statement to make about the world just as any designer or artist does and they communicate it through a thoughtful curation of clothing.