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I first got to know Bianca Derhy as her guest on the podcast Girl Talk Mondays, which was top 10 across different European countries when it launched in 2019. We spoke about the Meyers-Briggs personality test in relation to our social media careers: do you have the right personality for life online? Since then, I re-entered the world of publication and she embarked on an exciting venture as a fine jewellery buyer at the renowned luxury store, Harrods. For those of you looking to pivot or develop a career in luxury buying, Bianca shares her path on how to become a fine jewellery buyer for a multi-brand retailer.
Let’s start from the beginning. What’s your background?
I come from a multicultural background, my mother is of American-Italian descent and my father is French-Morrocan. Growing up in one of the fashion capitals of the world, Paris, I was lucky enough to be surrounded by inspiration from architecture, to history and fashion.
I moved to London to pursue my Bachelor degree in Fashion Marketing at London College of Fashion, and then I did a Masters at UCL in Management. Both courses offered immense learning through hands-on projects with industry companies, such as a collaborative project with John Lewis to create an innovative marketing strategy for a product expansion line (at LCF). The MSc Management degree on the other hand was designed to produce graduates with the knowledge and contacts to pursue a career in management related fields.
Do you think it’s essential to study a fashion-related subject to be a fashion buyer?
It certainly isn’t essential, the people I work with at Harrods come from a range of backgrounds – from studying History to Latin languages. Or they have diverse work experiences in sales, PR, e-commerce, etc., before breaking into a buying career.
I really enjoyed my experience studying at a fashion school. London College of Fashion is a leading school of the world in this field and a great opportunity was being able to meet with industry professionals throughout the course. You are also being put on industry projects with real-life assignments, in order to come up with creative marketing solutions. If you are already certain on the career you would like to have by the time you apply for university, studying a fashion-related subject to learn about the industry is a great benefit.
What do you think of the expectation to do unpaid internships in order to “prove yourself”?
Gaining relevant work experience is a key part in starting your career. Each internship will be different and it’s usually the part-time work or short-term internships (lasting a few weeks to a few months) that’s often unpaid. If you’re interested in a longer-term internship such as a placement year offered at some universities (those last six to twelve months), you will most certainly be paid.
The opportunity to get real experience is so valuable and I would always recommend interning as much as you can (paid or not). It’s hugely beneficial to you to be able to try out different fields in the fashion industry and be sure you would be interested in pursuing that specific career path.
The question everyone’s here for, tell us how to become a fine jewellery buyer
I interned at Selfridges and Ralph Lauren amongst others, while at university. This was crucial towards getting my first job offer [at a luxury department store]. The trajectory of a (jewellery) buyer starts off with an Assistant position. You’ll find yourself splitting time between admin, number crunching and lots of emails! A few daily key tasks include writing up weekly trade, producing reports for brand meetings, managing orders and conducting competitor analysis. As you progress, work becomes more strategic around building the brand portfolio and curating the right product for your customer.
It’s important to note that there are two buying paths: multi-brand versus single-brand buying. A multi-brand model involves buying products across “multi” brands at wholesale cost (such as retailers like Harrods, Net-a-Porter and ASOS). On the other side a single-brand model is when you work for one brand, such as Bottega Veneta or Cartier. Your role here may be along the lines of product development. You’ll work closely with the design teams to develop the product line.
If you are specifically interested in jewellery, I would gain experience in this area and educate yourself on the different gemstones, diamonds, quality and cut.
How easy is it to transition to different departments or even other fashion related jobs?
Working in buying, you have the benefit of being able to transition across departments relatively easily (especially if internally), due to the similar nature of the job. I’ve personally worked across single-brand buying in Menswear tailoring at Ralph Lauren, ready-to-wear womenswear at The Shop at Bluebird, Accessories at Selfridges and now Jewellery at Harrods.
There are a few career paths you can pursue with a smooth transition, such as merchandising, product development, supply chain management or business development. However, as with any career shift you will have to put in the work to prove you are the right person for the job, and play to your strengths in how you use your experience to show your skill-set is applicable.
What’s a typical day like for you in the office or now that we’re WFH?
A typical day starts with work at 9am sharp (buyers are nothing if not organised and punctual)! Working from home is relatively no different to being in the office at Assistant level. I begin with sharing a summary of daily sales with internal stakeholders, catching up on emails and putting together my to-do list before a team or brand meeting.
My specific role as a part of the Jewellery buying team at Harrods, is to have accountability for each brand’s product life cycle: managing replenishment orders, customer orders, online presence and returns, amongst producing internal reports. The job from one day to the next can be entirely different with a varied workload. I’m currently working with 40 jewellery brands, including Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels and Tiffany & Co, across omni-channels (store, online and airports) and operational models (own-bought and concession) to drive sales for Harrods.
The biggest challenge for buyers working from home is in conducting virtual appointments rather than being able to physically see and touch products in person.
People are concerned about job stability and how secure is the career as a buyer?
The retail industry has been hugely affected by the current situation. In the UK, physical non-essential stores have been closed for around 20 weeks in 2020. This has had a big impact on sales and with limited job roles available, plus hiring freezes, it makes the job search out of university more challenging.
However, there’s increasingly more opportunity for positions in the digital space, such as pure-online fashion retailers within e-commerce, social media or buying. Online purchases were up by 52% compared to the same period last year, according to Business of Fashion (BoF). With relation to buying, I know of some businesses who are actively expanding their teams (mostly due to the individual company’s growth).
What are the job perks?
One of the biggest perks of the job are the discounts you get off designer products, as well as being one of the firsts to preview collections several months before they hit the market!
You run a podcast and have garnered an Instagram community of around 100k. How have these jobs influenced one another?
I started on Instagram in 2015, during university. It began as a way to network and build relationships in the industry, so that by the time I graduated, I would have one foot in the door. My podcast, Girl Talk Mondays, advocates for women in fashion and business. My co-host and I interview women featured in the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, to founders of fashion businesses and brands, psychologists and authors. This experience has hugely helped me throughout my career in building a reputation and in connecting with different people.
If there was one thing you could change about the fashion industry, what would it be?
I would say there is still growth to be done within the digital space, such as increasing the use of AI software and creating leaner teams in certain business structures (through automation of systematic tasks). I’m excited to see where the next generation of business leaders takes this industry!
Interested in ethical fine jewellery? Read our interview with Lark & Berry’s founder, Laura Chavez