What is a Fashion Buying Agency? – By Ayushi Nath
Learn how a buying agency operates and why brands need them though our interview with Ayushi Nath
Manufacturing abroad is never an easy endeavour. Some like the hands-on approach, other brands prefer to have eyes and ears on the ground.
In the latter scenario, working with a fashion buying agency is often the preferred option, as they have a well-developed local network and can react fast to potential questions and problems, thus saving time and money to busy brands.
We met with Ayushi Nath, a designer at Impulse buying agency in Delhi, India, who shares her experiences and knowledge with us.
Tell us about your fashion background. How did it all start?
I had always been interested in becoming a fashion designer. After graduating from the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) in Delhi, with knitwear design speciality, I started my career at Fashion and You – a fashion eCommerce website, where I was a designer for their private label. I worked there for a year and a half, before moving to work for a fashion buying agency – Impulse. I have now been working here for four and a half years.
Why did you move from client side to fashion buying agency side?
While I was enjoying my work at Fashion And You, working for a fashion buying agency is totally different from working for the client.
When you are working for an agency, you feel the pressure of the buyers. They are very demanding. Their design sensibility is way ahead.
I like to be challenged and wanted to see the working model of Indian fashion manufacturing industry, which I couldn’t do while working on the client side.
A fashion buying agency oversees everything and helps the manufacturers. We don’t produce or manufacture the goods ourselves. We act as a support system for manufacturers and buyers.
A fashion buying agency physically connects buyers to exporters or manufacturers. It simply gets clients and give their orders to factories or vendors.
Tell us about your current company and its role in India’s fashion industry.
Impulse is a fashion buying agency in India. It physically connects buyers to exporters or manufacturers. We simply get clients and give their orders to factories or vendors.
There are over 50 designers across our India Impulse team. We have two main offices in Gurgaon, one in Bangalore, one in Tirupur and a small office in Bangladesh as well.
A fashion buying agency has several departments in its business:
Finance department – that checks the credibility of new clients and manages accounts of current clients.
Marketing and sales department – their primary motive is to get more business, i.e. new clients.
The design department – where many designers like me work on creating new ranges for clients.
Merchandising department – looks after the process of manufacturing after the order has been approved by the client.
Depending on the size of the client, the agency may set up an entire team around them or group a few smaller clients and have one team look after them.
What kind of clientele does a buying agency cater to?
We cater to all kinds of clients – international brands, niche ones or local brands.
We have “catalogue” clients, or in other words businesses that sell fashion via the catalogue distribution model.
And we also work with boutique clients and designer brands for whom we cater to with a special team of designers tailored to their specific needs.
What is your role at Impulse buying agency?
I am the Senior Designer at Impulse. I have an assistant designer who works with me on my clients.
My role is to make new ranges or design developments for my clients.
After the client has approved the designs I have proposed, I make the samples with the help of Spec Packs.
What is the working process of a Designer at a Fashion Buying Agency?
The process of design is mostly the same regardless of the clients we work with. The steps are usually as follows:
- First, the designer will sketch the idea, either digitally by using Photoshop or Illustrator or by hand.
- Then they look at the fashion and forecasting reports. This is available on WGSN where they can see trend stories, colours, information from trade shows, etc.
- Depending on the brief, they may research a competitor work or simply research an idea.
- Next, come the storyboards. The designer will develop the idea into a series of sketches and product ideas.
- After the storyboards are ready, they get fabrics from mills they work with closely.
- They create prototypes and then, trim, button, etc. matching takes place
- Once everything is agreed on, they shall proceed to make the first sample.
- Once the sample is approved, they will document the product in a Spec pack.
- After the final sample is made, the final spec pack is sent to the merchandising team with the reference that the buyer had picked the design from the design team.
- The buyer then asks the merchandising team to do the necessary changes requested by the client and they create a client proto sample. This sample made from the same factory which had made the original sample.
- This proto sample is sent to the buyer again for approval.
- Then comes final order quantity.
The entire process takes approx. 3 months.
How important is the quality control for the buyers?
It is very important. Our Quality Control team keeps travelling to see the progress of the products and samples.
Items like zippers, beads, pearls, trims, etc. have approved vendors and our merchandising team ensures that the factory is getting these items from the approved vendors only. After the products are made, the factory ships it directly to the buyer.
Thorough quality checks ensure undue wastage of raw materials is not generated.
The biggest reason for the existence of a buying agency is that the fashion manufacturing industry is very unorganized here. It is very difficult for an outsider to come and get everything done.
How do you decide which factory will work on what?
After the fabric is finalized, we place it in factories. Now let’s say client X has approved 4 factories in India. Then, all of their samples or prototypes will be made by these factories only.
If there are 20 samples, we divide them between the above 4 factories for fair trade. It is unethical to overload one factory with 10 samples. It’s time-consuming and expensive. Accordingly, the final business gets divided as well.
Do all clients come to an agency for design services or can one come with single manufacturing need?
There are some clients who do not need design support, just Quality Control.
Such clients just have manufacturing requirements, i.e. colour, size, quantity, etc. The client usually shares the physical sample with the agency.
The agency will give this sample, the order quantity and other details to the designated factory.
The role a fashion buying agency like us plays is to oversee whether production is happening as per the client’s needs or not. For example, dye matching, trim matching, pattern matching, etc.
The biggest reason for the existence of a fashion buying agency is that the fashion manufacturing industry is very disorganised and distance often is too big between the client and the manufacturing base. It is very difficult for an outsider to come and get everything done by themselves.
The fashion factories you work with, are they in close proximity to your offices? If not, how do you coordinate with them on a regular basis?
All the fashion factories are in India only, if not local. Designers rarely coordinate with these factories. It’s the responsibility of the merchandising team. We tell our needs to them and them in turn coordinate with the factories.
The merchandising team regularly travels to these factories to make sure everything is running smoothly.
If needed, we also join them. Otherwise, only the merchandising team – the buyer – factories, only they are in constant touch.
After the products have been dispatched to the buyer, we ask our merchandising team about any hiccups, and with this, our involvement in the process is over.
What’s the most interesting aspect of your job? How do you inspire yourself?
This, I would say, is the thing I love most about my job. I get to travel to new places, meet people from different culture and participate in international events.
Creating that many designs are, of course, a challenge.
When we travel abroad, our biggest agenda is to cover shops. We do a market survey of the brand and its competitors. Sometimes we also take pictures with permission so that we can show it to our teams in India.
Apart from that, I read blogs, magazines and visit trade shows. I have attended two trade shows so far – Copenhagen International Fashion Fair and Who’s Next in Paris.
From experience, what are the buying habits of your clients, within and outside of India?
In the first meeting, most buyers we see do not want to see sketches or new designs. They want to see what we can offer as a company, what is our capability, background, pitching style, conviction and factory – agency relationship.
When we approach mass-market brands, they are not concerned about quality, they are looking for something unique in fashion.
Talking specifically about a garment, trousers are usually sourced from China because the quality and price are unmatched for a heavy-weight garment.
Denim is usually sourced from Turkey and Bangladesh.
India is best known for good quality cotton, embroidery, sequins and other patchwork.
What are the current challenges you and your agency face constantly?
One of the biggest challenges for a fashion buying agency like ours is retaining the customer beyond a certain point.
Clients often come to us and we spend time developing new collections and styles. But when a style becomes a core product – that is to say, the same item with minimal changes remains in the sales range for continuous seasons as it is a best seller, then the temptation is to go directly to the factory and cut us out. This allows for an improved price for the client, some factories also like the direct relationship, but from our point of view we lose out as we also get paid for our work on the success and continuous production quantities placed.
Unfortunately, this is the nature of the business, especially in today’s day and age when brands are always looking to reduce costs and increase their margins.
What tips will you give to upcoming designers and students?
If you can, intern or work with export houses and buying agencies, that would be the highlight of your learning curve in the career.
I had interned at an export house in my academic career. It was so gruelling but, I learnt so much from the ground up. The work exposure made it easier for me to get hands-on knowledge of
the fashion industry. The international exposure is immense here.
But, if you want to work on the client side, you have to know how the Indian market works and where the vendors for a specific product are based out of.
To connect with Impulse Buying Agency in India, please click on ‘Send Message’ through their Utelier profile.
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