Purchasing in the Fashion Industry: Interview with Vivian Rempel

Vivian RempelInsights from Vivian Rempel, London buyer for the London vintage reproduction fashion industry.

Vivian Rempel is an emerging buyer in London’s vintage reproduction fashion industry and has a focus on vintage fashion. Ms. Rempel, originally from Vancouver, Canada, made her way to England to be part of the fashion scene and has not looked back.

We engaged Vivian Rempel to learn about her decision to become a buyer and what she has learned thus far.

When did you know you wanted to become a buyer?

I would say when I received my first pay check from my part time job as a student. Having an income gave me the freedom of spending time by myself to really throw myself in to fashion. Weather I was buying fabric to make myself a piece that was vintage inspired or to treat myself to buy something eye popping. I have always been a peacock, a magpie, fashion was a real freedom for me. Through this new found love of thrill of the hunt. I realized I wasn’t just shopping for myself necessarily, I was always shopping for others. With my knowledge of historical fashion I could tell if an item was of worth. It’s not that I had in mind to buy it to sell it, I just knew that someone had to own it. I’ve just naturally always done it.

What got you involved with the vintage side of fashion?

I grew up having creative parents that are vintage enthusiasts. They both inspired me to learn as much as I could about art, fashion, music and pop culture. All these through history go hand in hand I just naturally gravitated towards fashion first. When it came to working with vintage fashion it came to me organically.

I don’t think people realise when it comes to consumerism there are buying patterns. Historic patterns and influences in fashion trends that come in, come out and ones that are a classic. If you are aware and can see where a trend is going you can expand your products you are selling through this knowledge.

How did you make your way to London?

An opportunity came to me from an acquaintance based on my known knowledge of vintage fashion. This opportunity turned into a role of finding and buying vintage clothing, accessories and home wares. The company was working for was one of largest UK vintage chain stores in England.

Rokit Vintage (based in London) has a really big presence in the vintage scene. I didn’t originally realize I was actually working for them. When I found out, I just started thinking of every way I could manage to get myself over to London. Whether it was working really hard and then getting transferred eventually. I didn’t realize that they had plans to promote me to head buyer.

They liked what I was picking and they knew that I was really conscientious. They felt that my knowledge of vintage clothing would translate really well with the modern trends that were happening in London at the time.

When you’re purchasing something what is the typical workflow?

It changes depending on the organization and how much product is going through. With Rokit Vintage it was a larger organization with four locations, a website and in house brand. I had to look at all the sales reports to be able to see the patterns. Eventually, I knew all the product that was accessible I was able to estimate how much of that product I could get by x amount of time and ship it over as needed.

At a smaller organization there is still process but it requires someone to build the process. Working in a organization where the purchasing process is smaller and being built I have to be more conscientious of my spending. I not able to have such a wide range of product. I need to purchase no risk items and stay with true classics that will sell out. So it’s a little bit different.

What are some major purchasing challenges that you’ve encountered as a buyer?

Timing! All about timing when it comes to deliveries and quality control. That’s why it’s important to build really strong relationships with who you’re buying from. Again if you can keep your suppliers local it makes it that much easier to remain on the same page.

It’s all about timing.

If someone was starting out in the field of purchasing or trying to become a buyer what advice would you give to them?

I guess it would depend on which part and what field that they want to get into. Going to school is a really great start or even takes part time classes to understand the basics. I am a believer in trial and error. That is the best way to learn and not to be afraid to be turned down on an idea.

For someone who is buying right now as a profession right now is a really exciting time because of the market and what’s going on with the recession. It’s not that people don’t want to buy things. It doesn’t mean that they can’t. People are just more self aware of their spending. And because of this, they are going to be more picky as opposed to previous decades. For example, in the 80’s when there was more money, people were just overspending, over consuming.

As opposed to now, because people are being more conscientious you can really narrow in on what people are buying. I think that’s the same trend with anything not just with fashion. It’s the same with furniture, housing, you’re really able to have a fresh start to see what people want and what they are going to spend their money on.

Could you describe to our readers what a day in the life of a buyer looks like from your perspective?

Where do you begin? How do you explain your job? It changes daily, especially since I myself am such a hands on person when it comes to my work.

You’ve worked with organizations with both an online presence and a physical presence, what is your take on the online consumer vs the in store consumer?

They are different.  I consider them two different stores. So when I am buying, I buy for both of them in two different amounts and I buy different things.

With websites you have a much wider range of customers that can find you. You can be more open to what you buy. As to when it comes to buying for a shop there is less customer traffic. Most of the time customers are coming in for specific reason.

How do you decide what kinds of products to procure?

I definitely like to complement what we already have, whether it’s our seperates or our dresses. I always keep in mind what’s coming up next season whether it’s colours or shapes.

I just think of myself as a customer. If I was going to buy this what would I need? I was already a huge fan of the company so I already knew lots about it. There were things I noticed were missing and knew a lot of the competitors were missing. It’s kind of naturally what I do. I’m just interested in everything that relates to to vintage fashion so I already had a lot of ideas to improve what was missing.

Where do you source most of your products?

We really try to make an effort to keep it all UK. We try to keep it local or at least in Europe. Unfortunately, because of certain things that we’ve needed and with demand we have gone overseas for somethings. Usually it’s best for our relationships with our wholesalers to keep it as local as possible. I don’t think it would make that much of a difference in terms of profit to take it overseas. There just always seems to be complications. Whether there’s language barriers or quality control. It just makes sense for us to support local.

Any last tips or insights?

As a buyer, I’m constantly learning all the time. Just from my experience I think it’s really important that if you’re going to do this you need to be really detail oriented and conscientious. You really need to understand who you’re selling to.

When it comes to reading reports, the technology aspect, and having budgets I think that will be really important to come in with that knowledge already. A lot of it is trial and error. If you have a passion for it you’ll do just fine.


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