How to Become a Fashion Merchandiser

Creative people who have an interest in business may enjoy a fashion merchandising career. Learn the steps to become a fashion merchandising professional.

portrait of Tessa Cooper
by Tessa Cooper

Published August 26, 2022

Edited by Amelia Buckley
Share this Article
How to Become a Fashion Merchandiser
Image Credit: kokouu / E+ / Getty Images


Fashion merchandising blends a variety of unique skills into one job. Creative people with an interest in business are well-suited to a career in fashion merchandising. Aside from a love for fashion, these professionals need math and strategic thinking skills to decide what apparel will sell successfully. They also use their creative thinking and artistic abilities to curate a clothing collection that will inspire potential buyers.

These professionals decide what clothing to purchase for a company. They communicate and negotiate with wholesalers to get the highest quality items at the lowest prices. Keep reading to learn about the job responsibilities and earning potential for this field.

www.bestcolleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Ready to start your journey?

What Does a Fashion Merchandiser Do?

Fashion Merchandiser Responsibilities

  • Evaluate potential clothing suppliers based on price, quality, and design style.
  • Present wholesale options to the leadership team.
  • Study fashion trend forecasts and align inventory based on findings.
  • Determine which items to restock and which to remove from inventory.
  • Work with visual display merchandisers to create appealing displays.

Aspiring fashion merchandisers typically start gaining on-the-job experience as early as high school or college. They may work part-time jobs at local boutiques or chain clothing stores. After learning about the retail side, these professionals may attend school to earn a fashion design or merchandising degree. Some schools combine fashion design and merchandising into one degree.

Recent graduates usually apply for internships or entry-level fashion merchandising jobs. After earning work experience, they may qualify for lead management positions. Work experience allows professionals to build their portfolios.

Fashion Merchandising Not For You? Check Out These Related Careers.

What Are the Steps to Become a Fashion Merchandiser?

Becoming a fashion merchandiser requires money, time, and a passion for the industry. However, there is no exact template aspiring fashion merchandisers need to follow to succeed. This list outlines the common path that many professionals take.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree in Fashion Merchandising or a Related Field

Fashion merchandisers hold bachelor's degrees in varying subjects. Some schools offer a fashion merchandising major, while others offer similar majors, like fashion design. Other common majors include finance, advertising and marketing, and business.

Some schools allow learners to select a concentration or minor. Students can consider the following specializations:

Learners can complete their degrees online, in person, or through hybrid programs. Throughout their studies, learners should complete internships and save projects for their portfolios. In school, students hone their creative skills and hard skills, like how to use purchasing software.

The price for a fashion merchandising degree varies. In 2020-2021, the average cost of tuition and room and board for one year at a four-year school was about $35,551, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

Step 2: Get an Entry-Level Fashion Merchandising Job

After completing a few semesters, learners can start applying for part-time entry-level fashion merchandising jobs. Common entry-level jobs include purchasing agent, assistant buying manager, or assistant visual display merchandiser. People who work as buyers and purchasing agents earned a median income of $63,470 in May 2021, as per the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Recent graduates who have trouble finding a job may need to pursue more credentials or experience. They can complete paid internships, informative mentorships, or bridge programs.

After working for 1-2 years in an entry-level role and finishing a bachelor's degree, these professionals may qualify for management jobs in the fashion merchandising field. As of May 2021, the BLS reports purchasing managers earned a median income of $127,150.

Step 3: Earn Your Master's Degree

Before qualifying for advanced, higher-paying purchasing manager positions, fashion merchandisers may need to earn a master's degree. A master's degree takes about two years to finish. Learners can major in fashion merchandising or pursue a related degree. An MBA or a master's in a business-related topic like economics can give advanced fashion merchandisers specialized knowledge.

According to NCES data, graduate students spent an average of about $19,749 in tuition and fees during the 2020-2021 school year. Some individuals must go into debt to pay for this degree, but learners who do not want to complete an entire degree have alternatives for continuing education. For example, they can join a professional organization or complete a certificate program.

Step 4: Get a Job as a Fashion Merchandiser

After gaining on-the-job experience and an advanced degree, individuals may qualify for fashion merchandising positions at large companies. These jobs may require relocating to cities that are fashion hubs, like New York City or Los Angeles. Before accepting a job, applicants should research the employer's time-off policies, benefits, and company culture.

Fashion merchandisers may qualify for even higher-paying positions if they choose a niche. Common specializations include:

According to the BLS, purchasing managers in the top 10% of earners made more than $206,540 annually in May 2021.

Step 5: Consider Continuing Education or a Specialization

Even after earning a master's degree, fashion merchandisers should stay up to date with industry trends through continuing education. Fashion trends and consumer habits change often, so professionals must stay on top of the changes.

Professional organizations like the American Apparel and Footwear Association offer informative webinars on special interest areas. Professionals can also earn a certificate in a fashion merchandising specialization, like market research.

What to Know Before Becoming a Fashion Merchandiser

Accreditation

Learners should only consider colleges with accreditation. When a school earns accreditation, it means it receives quality assessments. Third-party agencies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education conduct these assessments. Online schools are accredited just like their on-campus counterparts. Programs can also earn accreditation. The Textile and Apparel Programs Accreditation Commission serves as one of the top accrediting agencies for programs in this field.

Cost

Before selecting a program, aspiring students should consider the tuition price. According to NCES data, the average cost for one year of college tuition and fees at four-year schools measured $19,020 in 2020-2021. Learners can apply for scholarships to lower the price.

Other factors besides tuition and scholarships influence the true cost of a program. For example, many fashion merchandising classes charge material fees. For this reason, college students should have extra savings to pay for hidden fees. Some colleges charge different rates for online and on-campus programs.

Salary

According to the BLS, purchasing managers earned a median income of $127,150 in May 2021. Some factors play a role in earning potential, like location. For example, buyers and purchasing agents in New York earned an average income of $79,160. Those in Louisiana earned an average of $58,340 per year. Also, fashion merchandisers with a master's degree may qualify for higher-paying positions than those with just a bachelor's degree.

Frequently Asked Questions About Fashion Merchandising

What qualifications do you need to become a fashion merchandiser?

Fashion merchandisers need strong decision-making and negotiation skills. They must choose clothing and accessories that are most likely to sell based on consumer trends. Once they decide on which items to purchase on behalf of the company, they must negotiate the best price from wholesalers. These professionals also need basic math skills to calculate the profit potential for certain products.

Many fashion merchandising professionals also have fashion designing skills. They possess artistic abilities and creative thinking skills. They have an eye for detail and know how to engage in trend forecasting.

What is the fastest way to become a fashion merchandiser?

Learners can quickly become fashion merchandisers by completing an accelerated program. Students complete these programs in as few as 2.5 years. Some online programs follow a self-paced format so learners can complete them as quickly as they can.

Students can get a head start on professional experience by working as part-time fashion merchandisers at local boutiques or completing internships. Graduating with related work experience may help aspiring fashion merchandisers earn a job faster. However, learners may find it difficult to work while completing an accelerated program.

How do I become a fashion merchandiser without a degree?

Some local small businesses may not require a traditional degree to work as a buying manager. Learners can complete a certificate program to learn fashion merchandising basics while working as sales associates. Then, they can apply for a job as an assistant buying manager. After gaining on-the-job experience, they may hold the knowledge to work as a lead fashion merchandiser at a small company.

Larger corporations often prefer to hire candidates with at least a bachelor's degree. However, building a successful portfolio can help position anyone for a competitive job. Many employers look for candidates with a history of successfully increasing profits through quality inventory.

Can I become a fashion merchandiser with an online degree?

Online degrees from accredited schools are as legitimate as degrees from traditional schools. In fact, earning an online degree shows future employers you can work independently. Many schools that offer fashion merchandising degrees online and in person teach the same curriculum in both formats.

High-quality online programs still offer opportunities to network with peers and professionals through discussion boards. Learners who want more face-to-face contact may pursue a synchronous online program. These online programs feature set class meeting times, usually through the form of video calls. Students who want a mix of in-person and online courses should look into hybrid programs.

How much money can I make as a fashion merchandiser?

Factors like years of experience, location, and employer influence earning potential. According to Payscale August 2022 data, people with a bachelor of arts in fashion merchandising earn an average of $64,000 per year.

The BLS does not track salary information for fashion merchandisers. However, the organization does track data for purchasing managers. These professionals earned between $77,310 and $206,540 in May 2021. The BLS also records salary information for fashion designers. These professionals earned a median salary of $77,450 in May 2021.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Compare your school options.

View the most relevant school for your interests and compare them by tuition, programs, acceptance rate, and other factors important to find your college home.