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Fresh from visiting the leading fashion houses in Paris and London, at 28, Georgie Mears arguably has one of the most sought-after jobs in the fashion industry. Having inherited a love of fashion from her mum, Georgie left her hometown of Ashburton after finishing high school and headed to Otago Polytechnic to study a Bachelor of Design majoring in Fashion, and a Diploma of Business. ‘I had always loved fashion. At school, it was just a hobby. I never really thought I could make a job out of it. But I did it anyway.’

With no desire to become a fashion designer yet determined to get ahead in the industry, on graduating Georgie moved to Melbourne, home of all the major fashion head offices for the Australasian market. She started in retail, slogging away on the shop floor, working her way up into management, then into visual merchandising, eventually landing a job with premium Australian retailer Seed Heritage.
Ready for more overseas adventures, Georgie applied for her working holiday visa to the United Kingdom, but after seeing a position advertised for a junior buyer at Ballantynes’ Contemporary Lounge, her plans changed. A favourite shopping destination for her mum, auntie and nana for as long as she could remember, she was delighted to kick off her buying career at the prestigious department store.
She started out working under a senior buyer, and after six months was buying on her own for the Contemporary Lounge. About a year ago Georgie took on buying for the Women’s Footwear Department and The Atrium. She now buys for all three departments, as well as for the Ballantynes Timaru store.

Georgie happily admits she knew little about the role as a fashion buyer when she first started. ‘I knew that someone had to be doing all the purchasing, but I didn’t think about what it really entailed.’ She quickly learnt that behind the glamorous image of a buyer who travels the world selecting the latest pieces off fashion runways, the role actually requires a combination of skills. To be successful, a good buyer is a great observer of consumer behaviour, trends, current events and market demographics, but most importantly, also has an eye for the future.
‘It is so much more than working behind a desk, plugging in orders. It’s not just about buying a pretty dress; we need to plan and negotiate our every purchase for the department – how the collection will be advertised to our market, which customer profile does the brand appeal to. Majority of the time you must rein in your own excitement. You have to balance the reporting with that excitement, but you also have to think about what our customer will see as a “must-have”, that’s going to draw the customer in and get picked up in PR and editorial. Sometimes the data tells you not to invest, but the wow factor speaks louder than numbers,’ she says.

When selecting pieces, Georgie also has to factor in timing. On average, she is buying a minimum of six months in advance, and in some cases it’s as long as 18 months. Each brand has a set allocation for each month. It’s important that Ballantynes has new stock dropping daily. ‘It’s such a fast-paced industry. If you drop a whole collection at once, people don’t see that freshness. We want to inspire our customers’ wardrobes.

‘I love that you are a crucial part of such a fast-paced environment,’ continues Georgie. ‘To have that insight 12 months before anybody else – well before it lands on the shop floor keeps it so exciting to see what’s next for us all.’

Buying for a department store such as Ballantynes is an envious task though. With more than 100 brands across mens, womens, accessories and shoes, Georgie is buying for customers aged 12 to those in their eighties and nineties. ‘I like to think that we have options for everyone – mums, dads, brothers, aunties, uncles, little brothers, little sisters. As a buyer you’re always juggling multiple customer profiles. The customer comes first and is always in the front of your mind. It’s about finding the right balance between choosing some fashionable, on-trend pieces, as well as other staples, such as a classic white T-shirt, which I need to ensure we never run short of.’

But when it comes down to making tough decisions, she says it’s a blend of data and instincts. ‘There is so much data and analytical reporting that goes into every decision. Even though you want to, you can’t buy it all. You have to be objective. It’s about fifty-fifty gut instinct. The data tells you what pieces have sold previously, but you can’t keep it too safe or the customer will become disinterested. The conservative pieces won’t sell the collection by itself. You need that stand-out item but they’re the ones I’m always most nervous about.’

Over time, Georgie has learnt to be critical of her own buys, but equally, not to take it personally when a particular piece doesn’t sell. ‘You have to be quite thick-skinned. It’s not only the shop floor staff commenting, but customers too. I buy thousands of items for each season, and not every piece is going to be a winner. You need to take it on the chin. There’s a myriad of variables as to why something didn’t work.’

When you’ve spent months planning deliveries of each brand, seeing it hit the shop floor is exciting. Georgie relishes any opportunity to get out on the shop floor. She enjoys nothing more than being able to witness her products being sold first-hand. ‘It is an amazing feeling when we take a gamble and include a very directional, unusual look and it takes off and sells well. The highlight is seeing pieces you’ve purchased flying out the door. It’s such a great feeling when you have picked out a product that people love and feel great in. That’s when you know you’ve done a good job.’

As part of her role, Georgie spends a lot of time travelling around the country and offshore to view different collections and attending special events like New Zealand Fashion Week. She visits Auckland regularly, as well as having monthly trips to Sydney and Melbourne, and twice a year she heads to the Northern Hemisphere fashion hubs of London and Paris.

While it sounds glamorous, with buying trips comes a huge amount of extra hours behind the desk. ‘It can be very glamorous meeting leading New Zealand and international designers. Early morning flights and then into showrooms where brand managers take you through the collection style by style. All brands vary, from large retailers – Tommy Hilfiger for example with a concept area to fill, to a 20-piece footwear collection. It can be exhausting, but also really exciting. A day trip to Sydney means an 18-hour day with plenty to catch up on as soon as I get back to the office.’

The role involves a lot of building relationships with suppliers, negotiating shipments and making sure that deliveries of new stock arrive on time. She also works closely with department managers and the merchandising team within the store to build her vision. Part of the role also includes creating the trends and giving direction to the marketing team and helping with Ballantynes magazines.

Georgie is constantly reviewing each season, while also planning the next one. With hundreds of new garments arriving each week, she says Ballantynes remains particularly loyal to local designers. ‘Our strategy continues to bring exclusive leading fashion while being current and relevant to customers’ lifestyles.’

In saying that, she is excited to see customer reactions to Ballantynes’ new international brand offerings arriving in store from January. 

Words Annie Studholme