Selling Style: What Is Fashion Merchandising?

Have an eye for style? Explore a career in fashion merchandising and shape the trends of tomorrow.

portrait of Blake Weil
by Blake Weil

Published September 2, 2022

Edited by Amelia Buckley
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Selling Style: What Is Fashion Merchandising?
Image Credit: Edwin Tan / E+ / Getty Images


Who turns the wheel of fashion? Why did shoulder pads go away with the 1980s, but floral prints are back in? The answer lies in fashion merchandising.

A fashion merchandiser both guides and tracks the trends of fashion, working with designers and manufacturers to keep shelves stocked with up-to-date clothing. Fashion merchandisers can work with designers and brands, helping to guide production, or in fashion purchasing, helping retailers select their stock. Fashion merchandising is a great career for those equally passionate about business and fashion.

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What Does a Fashion Merchandiser Do?

A fashion merchandiser needs skills in both the art and the business of fashion. On the creative side, they need an eye for design and an ability to analyze and understand both form and function in clothing. In business, they must possess the ability to use statistics and data to predict upcoming trends in fashion and advise companies on how to capitalize on them.

Common jobs include fashion buying, visual merchandising, and trend analysis. While salaries vary between positions, they tend to pay in the mid- to upper-five figures. For example, as of July 2022, fashion buyers earned an average salary of $60,500, according to Payscale.

The market for fashion merchandising is competitive, with positions shrinking. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that between 2020 and 2030, there will be a 4% decrease in jobs in the fashion merchandising industry.

Fashion Merchandising Careers

Fashion Buyer

A fashion buyer typically works for a retailer, selecting what items they stock on the showroom floor. You typically need a bachelor's degree to work as a fashion buyer. A buyer needs to analyze what is selling and keep up to date with trends to predict what items will be popular.

Average Annual Salary (July 2022): $60,500


Fashion Trend Analyst

A trend analyst can work either in tandem with a buying team or a production team in order to analyze what fashion trends are coming and going. They use both qualitative and quantitative research, keeping up to date on fashion and also crunching data. A fashion trend analyst typically must have a bachelor's degree.

Average Annual Salary (July 2022): $61,250


Import Manager

An import manager works to bring products across national borders. In the fashion industry, this can apply to both high fashion and mass-market fashion produced in high quantities internationally. Most positions require an associate or bachelor's degree, although some higher management roles may require a master's degree.

Average Annual Salary (July 2022): $69,260

Education

The typical individual pursuing a degree in fashion merchandising holds either an associate or bachelor's degree. While you do not need a bachelor's degree, it can help make you competitive for higher positions in the industry and increase your earning potential.While master's degree programs in fashion merchandising and retail management exist, an MBA could also be useful to those interested in the business side of the fashion industry. A master's is typically necessary for upper management roles for major retailers where you would be working to make national or international decisions.

Is Fashion Merchandising Right for Me?

Fashion merchandising is a great career choice for someone who loves fashion, but whose skills lie in business management and analytics. As such, those with strong math and research skills can excel in this field.For those who love fashion, nothing beats working in your favorite field. However, while fashion merchandising is highly rewarding and the fashion industry is exciting, there are some potential drawbacks to consider. Positions are competitive, and the industry is rapidly changing, making jobs potentially unstable.

Pros and Cons of a Fashion Merchandising Career

Pros

  • Fashion is an exciting industry, combining both business and art
  • Skills needed for careers in fashion merchandising are broadly applicable, and job movement is easy
  • Fashion merchandising has a low barrier to entry; some positions only requiring an associate degree

Cons

  • Fashion merchandising is highly competitive, with automation and big data shrinking available positions
  • Salaries for those with bachelor's and master's degrees are relatively low compared to other sectors
  • Fashion is a volatile industry that reacts quickly to both cultural and economic changes, potentially making jobs unstable

Fashion Merchandising vs. Fashion Design

Fashion Merchandiser Fashion Designer
Key Job Responsibilities
  • Help purchase and select what items are sold at retailers
  • Analyze trends in the fashion industry to inform production and purchasing
  • Design and produce prototypes of new garments
  • Follow and research trends to inform new designs and collections
  • Create patterns to manufacture and produce garments
Median Salary $75,410 $77,450
Typical Education Level Bachelor's Bachelor's
Career Outlook 2020-2030 -4% 0%

Frequently Asked Questions About Fashion Merchandising

What degree do I need to work in fashion merchandising?

Generally speaking, you need a bachelor's degree to work in fashion merchandising. However, some positions are available with just an associate degree. Professionals may also move into the industry with related degrees in subjects like marketing, business, or fashion design.

In a fashion merchandising program, students are introduced to both the creative and business sides of the career. They gain knowledge of fashion as both an art and industry and develop skills in analytics.

How much money does a fashion merchandiser make?

A fashion merchandiser typically makes a salary in the mid- to high-five figures. For example, the BLS reports that purchasing managers, agents, and buyers made a median annual salary of $75,410 in 2021. Salaries for upper-level professionals, such as purchasing managers, can reach six figures.

Those looking to boost their salaries can pursue further education, such as a master's degree or professional certification. Salaries also rise with experience and responsibility.

How do I become a fashion merchandiser?

Generally, you become a fashion merchandiser by pursuing a degree in fashion merchandising. During your time in school, you can pursue internship opportunities in order to gain real-world experience and make your resume more competitive.

After graduation, you have everything you need to pursue an entry-level career. Typically, a fashion manager works for several years before advancing to a higher-level position or pursuing an advanced degree.

Jobs in the industry are available both on the manufacturing and retail sides. Both utilize the same degree, although many fashion merchandising professionals specialize in one sector or another.

Can I get a fashion merchandising degree online?

Yes, fashion merchandising degrees are available through online associate, bachelor's, and master's degree programs. It is important to consider all of your options when selecting a program. Create a financial plan that explores the total cost of the program.

It is also important to make sure your program is from an accredited degree-granting institution. Employers and other colleges may not recognize your degree if it is not from an accredited institution.

You may also want to pursue real-world experience in the fashion industry that you may miss out on by taking a course online. Make sure to investigate jobs and internships that can help supplement your education.

What is the difference between fashion merchandising and fashion design?

A fashion merchandiser focuses on the business side of fashion, while a fashion designer focuses on the art. While both fields require both art and business skills, their focuses tend to be different.

A fashion merchandiser is responsible for ordering and stocking retail stores or analyzing and forecasting trends in the fashion industry. They work with designers to help them create clothes that will sell well.

A fashion designer on the other hand is responsible for directly creating the garments to be sold. They develop patterns, prints, and designs to be scaled up and manufactured. They take input from fashion merchandisers to help guide their creative process.

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