How I Decided to Become a Fashion Merchandiser – Jia Meng

Rather than discovering my passion for fashion merchandising at an early age, I realized it after a full career.

My husband and I relocated to New York in spring 2016, but I grew up in northeastern China and lived and worked in Japan for many years. I remember how, in the 1980s and 1990s, almost everyone in China used the same face cream, wore the same type of skirt, and bought the same low-quality goods from the limited selection available. Shortly after I moved to Japan for college, I became fascinated by the variety and quality of fashion products available in Tokyo. Thinking back, the different market environmentsin China and Japan first sparked my interest in the retail and fashion business.

Upon graduation, hoping to understand the retail business from managementand operational perspectives, I began my career as a business consultant for one of the world’s largest consulting firms, where I gained experience across a variety of industries and functions, including sales and marketing, and traveled for overseas projects. When I visited one retailing client’s Shanghai branch, I was amazed to see how dynamic frontline business was and how directly it was connected to everyday life when compared to consulting. This made me more determined to pursue a career in the retail business.

Four years later, I joined the Retail Finance team of an American accessible luxury brand, where I worked as an assistant manager and oversaw the retail channel sales planning. By analyzing financial figures and facilitating business development in new stores, I learned the foundations and challenges of establishing brands from a financial perspective. In one case, during the peak season, my daily sales projections were on-plan within a variance of only one handbag’s price for 30 consecutive days. My high level of accuracy was praised by the corporate CEO and executives in the New York headquarters. I felt great achievement in undertaking complex tasks requiring advanced quantitative and analytical skills.

However, finance is a supporting function, not directly contributing to the topline. We dealt with numbers rather than the merchandise. At that time, each new employee had an opportunity to do a 30-minute one-on-one “Meet-and-Greet” with the key persons at each division. Unlike most of the new hires, I seized this opportunity and consulted those industry veterans about my career plans. One of them recommended me to experience merchandising at least once; another told me that merchandisers had much power in the regional market, because they decided what products would go into the stores. Their advice intrigued me to know more about merchandising.

Fortunately, sales planning required close collaboration with merchandising. The more I learned what was merchandising, the more strongly I felt that this was what I really wanted to domixing business and creativity, effort and talent, insight and intuition,logic and magic. The best thing about working in merchandising is to get in touch with the merchandise I love. It is exciting to be surrounded by the products and constantly learn more about them. Therefore, after thorough consideration, I decided to redirect my career within the fashion industry from that of a financial planner to that of a merchandiser. I aspire to leverage my unique background and benefit both consumers and the companyin Asian markets.

I understood that I could still work as a business consultant, or a financial analyst at a fashion or non-fashion company. Either choice would be easier for me than a merchandiser. However, I keep asking myself what I really want. Do I want to do something I am truly passionate about instead of a meaningless job every day for the rest of my life? The answer is YES, YES, and YES!

It is not easy to realize a career change, though, even in the same industry. To achieve my goals, I chose the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) to fill in the gap of my career. I want to equip myself with fundamental knowledge of merchandising and prepare myself for a successful merchandising career. I have fully utilized every resource the school offers, which leads to my latest internship as a merchandising assistant at a prestigious European luxury brand. I believe as a passionate challenger and dream pursuer, I will become a qualified fashion merchandiser in the near future.

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