Lane Crawford calls the shots


WHY WOULD SOMEONE spend HK$3,000 on killer, six-inch stiletto heels, or feel an incredible urge to own baggy trousers with eight pockets? Well, if fashion buyers are really good at what they do, such products will walk off the shelf.

Once designers come up with the latest trends and send them down the runaway, it is up to the fashion buyers or merchandise managers to move the brands out of the designers' showrooms and into customers' wardrobes. They select and buy for retail sale to customers.

Customers buy a certain brand to fulfil their fantasies of feeling glamorous, sophisticated or unique. Fashion buyers are aware of this and their job is to create the fantasy by selecting products that will be a hit with customers.

Luxury products and expensive designer items, once bought only by the wealthy, are enticing a younger, and not necessarily wealthy, group of people. With the growing popularity of private-label merchandise and changing demographics of consumers, fashion buyers have seen their responsibilities increase.

They are largely responsible for determining which products their establishment will sell and they must know what will attract costumers. It has become essential for them to keep track of the latest styles - not doing so could endanger profits and their company's reputation.

'Merchandising is not all cocktails and jet-setting to visit fashion shows. It involves a lot of hard work, long hours on the road and dealing with many different kinds of individuals. At the end of the day we want to make sure that business is beneficial to both sides. We try to bring the most exciting and latest trends to Hong Kong to present to our customers,' said Andrew Keith, vice-president - merchandising, for Lane Crawford.

He oversees the operations of six business units: menswear, womenswear, lingerie, home and lifestyle, shoes and accessories, and cosmetics.

'We mix a lot of different brands from different parts of the world to give a global take on what customers want. Today, Hong Kong is considered to be one of the premier fashion capitals in Asia.'

Hong Kong consumers were sophisticated and discerning when shopping for quality brands, and designers were aware of it, Mr Keith said.

He believed that big names were keen to make their presence felt in the city.

Lane Crawford, which repositioned itself from a department store to a speciality fashion store in the past three years, carries an extensive mix of designer labels.

The individual business units have a dedicated team of fashion buyers who are directly involved in their specific area of buying. The merchandising managers, or heads of the business units, work closely with their buying team in the selection process. They handle the day-to-day operations for choosing the products.

'My position is strategic. I do the overview, making sure that key brands are represented in a correct way. I look at new business opportunities and continue to build brand relationships, more like big picture planning then on a divisional level,' Mr Keith said.

Educational qualifications are not enough to ensure a successful career. Fashion buyers also need ambition, talent, style and a keen eye for colour and design. They need to be creative, recognise which products will appeal to customers and they need to be business-minded so that they can do inventory control and cost analysis.

With a degree in fashion design, Mr Keith has worked with design directors and has a strong product background.

'Lane Crawford is all about products and it is very important that the individual seeking to work here is able to identify trends, be flexible, a team player and have the ability and confidence to make snap decisions. Buying 101 [basic educational skills in buying] can be trained, but sometimes we work with our gut instinct and it is important to have that kind of conviction in yourself.'

A combination of experience and training is needed to succeed in fashion merchandising. A profound understanding of consumer psychology and social trends is necessary. Lane Crawford's team members come from different academic backgrounds.

'We have a number of people who are trained in finance or accounting and then decided they needed a career change. Some have started at shop level at Lane Crawford and moved their way upwards and many are fashion college graduates. But the common factor is that they have a passion for fashion.'


Total retail sales in September, provisionally estimated at HK$16.9 billion, increased by 7.5 per cent year on year.

Taking the first nine months of 2006 together, total retail sales rose 6.8 per cent in value and 5.6 per cent in volume over the same period last year.

Analysed by type of retail outlet and comparing September this year with September last year, the volume of sales of footwear, allied products and other clothing accessories increased the most, by 12.9 per cent, apparel by 7.2 per cent and, miscellaneous consumer goods by 6 per cent.

Source: Census and Statistics Department