A Beginner's Guide to Networking for Fashion Merchandisers

By Anna Ortiz on June 5th, 2019

Christine Comaford Lynch, a five-time CEO and NY Times Bestselling Author: SmartTribes, says, “Networking is marketing. Marketing yourself, selling your uniqueness, marketing what you stand for.”

There’s little doubt that in fashion merchandising, as is all areas of the fashion industry, networking for marketing purposes cannot be overlooked. Networking is not always a priority. It takes time and energy, and after a long week at work or school, the last thing you probably want to do is get dressed for success and walk out the door. However, networking is a critical step to advancing your career and gaining contacts. It’s important to talk to people, be upfront about your interests and career goals, and build relationships with individuals in the fashion industry that you may not otherwise meet. But, it can be difficult to walk up to a perfect stranger and start a conversation, no matter how outgoing or confident you are. Even so, if you are intentional, you plan, are open about your goals, and follow-up, you will gain a better appreciation for the effectiveness and value of networking.

Before we delve deeper into exactly what networking is and how it works, let’s review the field of fashion merchandising.

Fashion Merchandiser Job Duties, Skills, & Responsibilities

The job duties and day-to-day responsibilities of fashion merchandisers depend largely on the industry and the chosen specialization. Fashion merchandising is the promotion of fashion sales (whether it be handbags, gloves, shoes, clothes, or accessories) and involves the tasks necessary to meet the needs of both customers and designers. This may entail positioning displays and advertisements and developing campaigns and sales strategies for manufacturing and marketing.

There are some specialties within the fashion industry and many job titles that fall under the role of “fashion merchandise,” including:

Merchandise Coordinator

A person in this position acts as a liaison between the manufacturer and the retailer and is responsible for enhancing visibility to a fashion line (or lines) within stores. The best merchandise coordinators work closely with retailers to maximize product sales, counting inventory, rotating stock, and many other similar duties. They must have an eye for fashion and consistently provide a high level of service to retailers.


In retail, a buyer shops for the latest trends in fashion and selects merchandise that will be sold in stores. Buyers work closely with planners, allocators, sales representatives, and store managers, and often attend trade fairs and fashion shows to observe and understand the rise of new trends in fashion. They too, must have a strong eye for fashion and follow the industry very closely to know what’s in and what’s out.

Account Executive

An account exec oversees multiple retail accounts and introduces them to potential buyers. He or she serves as a liaison between manufacturer and buyer and provides fashion information and promotion tools to store staff. They must stay on top of current trends in the fashion world, understand customers’ needs, and maintain a favorable image of the company they represent.

Merchandise Planner / Allocator

Individuals in this role use best business practices and analytics to support company objectives, as well as forecast future fashion needs to meet sales goals. A firm grasp of both the retail fashion industry and business statistics is vital for someone looking to be successful in this role.

Showroom Manager

A showroom manager supervises and coordinates all activities of retail sales workers in a store or department. Other duties may include displaying designer collections for maximum visibility, organizing collections and showing them to buyers, as well as managing costs, purchasing, and finances.

Retail Manager

This individual is responsible for the day-to-day retail operations of a store. He or she will hire sales associates, be in charge of merchandising and work with merchandise coordinators, and is usually in the middle of all the action that takes place in a retail environment.

Each of these positions requires many core competencies, which include:

  • People and Customer Service skills
  • Sales ability
  • Analytical skills
  • Forecasting ability
  • Intuition
  • Fashion savviness
  • Great communication skills
  • On top of the latest fashion trends
  • Pro-active and passionate

While these skills are necessary to be successful in this field, Fashion merchandisers must network. Why? Because through networking fashion merchandisers will meet industry experts, make connections with their peers, gain a reputation, build relationships, and they will often be considered first for new career opportunities and advancement. Networking is recognized as one of the best ways to stay on top of the latest trends and hottest designers. As such, you become part of the fashion community. Networking provides increased visibility to the fashion brands you oversee and offers the chance to learn and share your expertise. If you are struggling to break into the industry, networking is the best way to get your foot in the door.

We know why networking is so important to the career of fashion merchandisers. Here are a few do’s and don’ts to consider before you get started.

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Networking Do’s & Dont’s

Do, Leave Your House or Office

To network, you must meet face-to-face to make real connections with real people. Networking can be difficult for many people, even if you have an outgoing personality. But, meeting someone face-to-face presents an opportunity to connect, even on topics outside of fashion, and gives you a chance to be more memorable. Attend industry events; like trade shows and fashion shows (including paid events), and go to events that highlight other areas in the fashion industry. Doing so will help you gain more knowledge of the fashion industry and make you more marketable to employers. These events can be as small as a fashion show at a local mall, or as grand as a fashion show in Paris or New York City. No matter the scale of the event, each is useful to networking.

Do, Dress to Impress

After all, you are in the fashion industry, so dressing the part shows your professionalism and dedication to your career. Dressing the part also helps create your brand and sets you apart from all other fashion merchandisers. You will be interacting with clients, prospects, co-workers, and others, and a dress code typically shows your professional image and sends a message that you are fashion-conscious and up-to-date with the current trends.

Do, Your Research

Finding out about who will attend an individual event(s) before the event is important. That way you will have a plan about who you want to meet, what you want to say to them. You can game plan and determine whether you’re there representing your company, seeking a new business opportunity or client, or just introducing yourself to people that you don’t’ know as a way to share your organization with them. Learn if you have any common ground with attendees, which you can use as a conversation starter. Planning can prevent missteps and lulls in conversation. Networking requires a lot of giving and taking, be prepared to share aspects of your career or education.

Do, Have a Sales Pitch

During events, on social networks, or when meeting one-on-one, you don’t’ want to come off as too ‘salesy” but instead you want to sound professional, smart, and sharp; not boastful or a know-it-all. It’s also important to be ready to answer some common questions; where you work, what you do in your current role, and where you want to be in five years. Be genuine, and friendly. And, sometimes it pays to stand back and listen and learn until you have something meaningful to contribute to the conversation.

Do, Network with Peers

It’s tempting to only seek out the professional decision-makers at events, but it’s just as important to find your peers. You never know if they’ll know and be willing to introduce you to people in the fashion industry. Your peers can help you get your foot in the door, invite you to other events, or connect you with their network. Besides, you don’t know where they will be in ten years. Start out by building a peer network by looking for people with your job title, or the job title you desire. You can do this through social media (LinkedIn or Facebook groups) or some other industry website. When reaching out, explain who you are, how you found them, and why you are contacting them. This is important even if you’ve met them previously.

Do, Ask for Interviews

Invite your new connection(s) for an informal conversation over coffee and have a prepared list of questions ready regarding what you want to know about them, their position, or the fashion industry in general. Keep it short and sweet, though, and give them something in return by answering questions posed by them about you and your job. Ask for advice about the industry, career growth or about fashion merchandising in particular. They may be willing to share about company culture, tips for entering this field and other useful information, and because it’s an informal meeting, you may feel more relaxed than when sitting across the desk during a formal interview.

Do, Use Social Media

Social media is one of the very best ways to stay up-to-date on the fashion industry. It is also one of the best ways (although face-to-face meetings are imperative) to find out quickly what new trends have been introduced, or who the latest designer is to hit the runway. Keep your LinkedIn profile up-to-date, and create a profile if you don’t already have one. Blog and tweet about fashion, and remember to maintain a professional social media presence. A poor photo or poorly written blog can stop your career before it even gets started.

Do, Follow Up

The connections you made online or at an event won’t help you unless you stay in touch. You don’t want to be that person who spoke to dozens of people but who no one remembers. Send everyone a quick note, an interesting article, or an invitation to another event. Even asking them to join you for coffee will help keep a conversation going. And, try to be sure that the content of the note or article offers some value for them. For instance, reference the event and the conversation to spark their memory of you. Mention something specific that was discussed. Include a link to a blog they may find interesting (especially if you wrote it), and close the message or note with next steps, like “let’s meet again next month over coffee?”

John Jannuzzi, Senior Digital Editor for GQ Magazine, advises, “If you are reaching out to like-minded people, always remember that they want the same thing. There’s really nothing to be afraid of.”

Do, Find a Mentor

There are dozens of reasons why mentoring relationships are important to you as a fashion merchandiser. Mentors may be a professor you had in college, a co-worker who has advanced in the company or a boss you got to know through an internship. A mentor is someone you can follow and learn from and can help expand your knowledge and network. They can provide knowledge and information, and can often see where you need to improve or change. Mentors find ways to spark both professional and personal growth by offering encouragement and advice. Mentors are also sounding-boards to shares ideas with and gain unfiltered feedback.

Don’t treat connections you make as job opportunities: Look at networking as a way to meet people, not score a job. Make friends, and they will lead to opportunities.

Melanie Bender, Co-founding Partner, Post & Beam says, “You shouldn’t approach networking as much as what can this person do for me, but as really getting to know a person.”

Don’t, Harass People Online

There is such a thing as being too persistent. If someone doesn’t accept your friend request, say on LinkedIn or Facebook, it might be because they don’t’ want to connect. People are busy and even though they may want to connect, right now may not be a good time. The best advice is to wait a few days and try again. If they still don’t reach out, then move on.

Don’t, EXPECT a Reply

Networking requires a thick skin, and sometimes you won’t get the response you want. Sometimes you won’t get a response at all. Don’t lose heart and don’t fret about it. Not everyone is open to networking or may have had a bad experience and are a bit cautious. Keep trudging along – it will pay off in the long run.

Jeanette Rankin, First Woman Member of Congress, said, “You take people as far as they will go, not as far as you would like them to go.”

Don’t, Use Cookie-Cutter Brands

For your own, personal brand it’s important that you don’t copy everyone else. Be your own person. Have your business cards professionally designed, use a clean-cut digital image of yourself on social media, and dress according to your brand, so that your clothes say something about you. Remember, be professional, your career depends on it.

Don’t, Get Too Comfortable

You are just starting out and still have a lot to learn. Go the extra mile and think about your style, what you want to accomplish, your career goals, and how to network professionally, create mentorships, seek out peers, and so on.

So, now you’re ready to get started and go out there and network, but where do you begin? Just starting out it’s probably best to go small and go local. Join a local meetup group for fashion professionals. Attend local fashion shows. Get a job in retail and learn all you can. Completely immerse yourself in fashion. Go to store openings and university fashion shows, or shows at a local mall. Take classes and workshops related to fashion to meet peers and gain mentorships.

Join online fashion communities. Follow bloggers and read fashion magazines, even foreign fashion magazines. Create your presence on social media to generate a following. Look into joining your state’s fashion industry association. Join the United States Fashion Industry Association (USFIA). Become active in your university alumni group. Invest in playing in the big leagues. Make an annual budget to attend large conferences and reserve your tickets in advance for early bird specials.

Fashion Conferences, Workshops & Additional Resources

Decoded Fashion:  This is a top global event series that connects decision-makers in fashion, beauty, and retail with emerging and established technology companies.

Fashion Week: These events are becoming more and more popular and are great places to meet professionals in the fashion industry. Fashion week events take place in cities around the world, like London, Milan, New York, Paris, and Berlin.

Macy’s Workshops:  Macy’s workshops provide training to minorities and women-led businesses in the fashion industry.

Axis Show: This trade show attracts superstars and fashion bigwigs from all over the world by introducing branded collections by trendsetting young designers.

Simply Stylist:  Brings editors, bloggers, stylists, and fashion designers together who are ready to connect.

Additional Resources