Style & Beauty

I'm Not A Fashionista, But Fashion Is My Business

I started designing clothing in college. I love accessories. I have a distinctive eye for style.

But, I’ve never posted my “OOTD” (”outfit of the day”) on Instagram. I rarely go shopping. I almost never wear heels anymore.

So when people call me a ‘fashionista,’ it feels strangely disconnected from my identity.

From working in corporate retail for so long, I consider myself a MERCHANT.

“A merchant is a businessperson who trades in commodities produced by other people in order to earn a profit.”

Being a merchant is the ultimate cool job for a person who loves product design and business. It’s a wonderful marriage of being a creative at heart, and having a knack for numbers and patterns. Depending on the company, the merchant is responsible for the entire lifecycle of all the items in their department. Walk into a bedding section of a store, one person is in charge of making sure you see the most beautiful items, at the best price.

Right out of college, I was hired as an assistant merchant at Abercrombie and Fitch. I was taught in their training program that a merchant was like the center of a wheel. All the spokes of the wheel went to the support team functions including planners, allocators, designers, the distribution center... honestly the list was shockingly long. I was told I needed to keep the wheel rolling by constantly communicating with these teams. To develop and sell product, I was the point person. I was 22 and in no position to be any kind of point person in my first job out of college. Luckily, I had a great support team who made sure I didn’t screw it all up.

I quickly learned how FUN being a merchant was. How come no one taught me about this job at the school career fairs? And how come, when I told people in the outside world I was a merchant, that they immediately asked “Which store are you at?”

Does no one know about this enviable role in the world of retail?

When I’m in a store and hear a person say “That’s expensive!” I cringe. My mind races to: “Did you know that fabric had to get made at a mill with cotton that was picked from a field? Then, it was sent to a factory to get cut, sewn, knit, printed. Next it was sent on a boat, train, plane, truck from said factory to a distribution center, and finally, the store. That doesn’t even account for the person who designed it, made sure there was money to buy it, and developed the product with the factory, or the person who made sure it cleared customs, packed it to go out and put it on this shelf?” I lose my breath thinking about how much time, effort and materials go into getting that product to the shelf.

If you enjoy business television, a great example of a brilliant merchant is Marcus Lemonis on The Profit. He goes into product based businesses, whether it’s a t-shirt company or a ice cream shop, and invests his smarts and money. He brings down the cost of items, increasing the margins, cleans up process of creation to customer, and overhauls the visual appeal of any space he works on. He’s helping the business run better, getting the wheel to roll better and faster.

If you’re a fellow merchant, congrats! If you’re a consumer, next time you purchase products, consider appreciating how much work it took to get that product to you. I bet you’ll enjoy it even more!

You can now find Emily teaching others how to follow their creative visions at Stylish and Successful.