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My Fashion Career: Martin Roberts, Head of Menswear Buying at Jacamo


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Whether you dream of being a designer, fancy yourself as a photographer, or are made for marketing, we’ve spoken to individuals currently working in various areas of the fashion industry to find out how they made themselves stand out from the crowd in this increasingly competitive industry, and what their job is really like!

Martin Roberts is Head of Menswear Buying at top men’s fashion retailer, Jacamo. He spoke to The National Student about his role within the company, and how he got there…

‘I went to Liverpool John Moores University to study for a BA Hons Business Studies degree. It’s safe to say I enjoyed the social side of university life a little bit too much in my 1st year, which resulted in me having to re-take the year! I subsequently buckled down and walked away with a 2.1 in the end.

‘Buying had interested me since studying the category within my BTEC and Degree courses. I originally liked the idea of being a toy buyer but, after completing my degree, I attended a careers fair at Manchester University and ended up on a stand run by Great Universal Stores (now owned by Very). I started to talk to the girl on the stand and we realised that we used to sit next to each other at primary school! She persuaded me to apply for the graduate scheme for the Men’s & Ladies Buying department, and the rest is history.

‘My first “proper” job was as Assistant Buyer in menswear at GUS. I worked my way through the ranks and, after three years, became a Buyer in my own right. I spent five years at GUS and then joined Adidas as the Menswear Category Manager for the UK and the Benelux countries. However, after a few years, I really missed buying and having the autonomy of creating your own range, and applied for a job at N Brown as Younger Menswear Buyer.

‘Travel was what appealed to me most about fashion buying; I had always wanted to travel, but didn’t have the finance to do it and backpacking never appealed to me, so I saw this as an ideal way to see the world. On top of that, I had always been interested in fashion, even though I had no set education in this field, so I killed two birds with one stone – and got paid for it!

‘Ahead of my interview with Jacamo, I tried to be as proactive as possible in thinking what questions I would be asked. In any interview situation you are often nervous and, as a result, forget points that you would have liked to communicate as to why you are suitable for the job. ‘I prepared a PowerPoint handout (which was not asked for) which I believed would show what I could bring to the job, examples of where I had demonstrated my skill set, and how I had overcome challenges. This allowed me to feel more in control and acted as a prompt for me, as I could refer to it throughout the interview. I believe it gave the impression of being proactive, professional and organised.

‘In fashion buying, you need to demonstrate your business acumen as well as the creative talent that you believe you have. A buyer needs to be a fully-rounded business person with the ability to cover all aspects of the job, whether its number crunching, negotiating or putting your range together. I also look for people who have a real drive about them; you cannot be slow paced, you need to have a passion for product, as that is the one thing that can never be taught!

‘Networking does help, whether that is through friends and family in the business or offering yourself up for work placements over the holidays for a couple of weeks – unfortunately, these are very likely to be unpaid! But this demonstrates your desire and determination to be a buyer.

‘I manage a team of seven buyers and my main focus is making sure that we produce a cohesive, commercial, exciting range that inspires the customer to shop with us. I love product and I really enjoy the buyers presenting their ranges to me. Nothing beats seeing the sales figures come in on a line that the customers buy into.

‘I still get excitement from travel, whether it is getting on a plane to LA to look for ideas for the next season’s range or travelling to Dhaka to sit down with the factories and place the lines. You experience so many positive (and negative) situations, people and places when travelling; it definitely makes you a more rounded person.

‘The biggest challenge is probably managing people. Everyone is different and therefore there is no one set rule as to how to manage people. The old adage of “treat people like you would like to be treated yourself” just doesn’t hold water; you need to adapt your management and communication style dependent on the individual.

On a typical day, I have an early start! I’m always in the office by 7.30am and, after the best cup of tea of the day, I check through the daily sales for the departments and the retail stores. I still get the excitement of seeing what the customers have been buying into. My work really varies from one week to the next, which makes the job very enjoyable. This week, for example, I am more office-based, putting together the initial thoughts for the menswear strategy for next season, but next week the highlight will be flying to LA with the buyers in order to look for new product ideas and trends.

'My real career highlight has been being involved in Jacamo from the initial concept eight years ago. I still have the presentation that I did to the Board outlining what I believed the potential could be for a younger menswear proposition. Thankfully, they agreed and what I believed to be an idea with good potential has been completely blown out of the water in a very positive manner.  Recently, a highlight has been my promotion to Head of Buying; it’s what I’ve been striving for over the years.

If I could give any advice to students considering a career in fashion buying, it would be to be prepared for long hours, boring jobs and hard work. The long hours never seem to go away, but the jobs certainly improve!'

Martin’s tips for fashion buying job interviews…

'Research, research, research the company that you are having an interview with; understand what their unique selling points (USPs) are, who the retailer’s customer is, and who their competitors are. A little knowledge will always go down well in the interview.

'Also demonstrate that you have an understanding of what is happening in the business and fashion world as a whole. Be confident, but not overbearing, as the interviewer is also looking to see how the candidate will fit in with the team dynamic.'

Click here for more careers advice from Jacamo, on everything from getting to the interview stage through to how to dress on the day.

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