Glamorous models strutting their stuff on the catwalk look very alluring, but the fact is that today's fashions are realised by teams of merchandisers who transform design ideas into tangible fashion items.
As a global sourcing hub for the apparel industry, Hong Kong offers substantial opportunities for people wishing to take up a career as merchandisers.
"Hong Kong's clothing industry is fully developed, and has accumulated comprehensive knowledge about sourcing and products," says Edmond So, general manager, Bestream Personnel Consultancy Ltd. As such, a merchandiser has to look after almost every step from sourcing to production. There are lots of things to learn and one can develop a holistic view of the business after some time on the job. This is a very different situation from many other jobs which simply require employees to deal with only one particular function of the production process. "Merchandising offers much more job satisfaction," Mr So adds.
The knowledge and experience gained from working as a garment merchandiser in Hong Kong are endowed with international perspectives. Hong Kong's clothing companies are world-famous for ODM (original design manufacturer) and OEM (original equipment manufacturer) production. They can deliver quality items within a short lead time, meeting the high expectations of foreign importers and retailers who require the ordered merchandise to reach the shop floor at the right time. Moreover, Hong Kong's exporters have valuable knowledge of international and national rules and regulations governing clothing exports, for instance, rules of origin, quota restrictions, tariff rates and documentation requirements. A vast array of international buyers carry out sourcing activities in Hong Kong, including department store chains, premium designer labels, discount stores, specialty chains and mail order houses. Such an environment provides an ideal training platform for anyone wanting to begin a career in garment merchandising.
Wages going up
Discussing the current job situation in the industry, Mr So says, "We are seeing promising prospects for job seekers. I would say there is no doubt that demand is greater than supply. Furthermore, the shortage of merchandisers has pushed up salary levels for merchandisers by five to 10 per cent."
In addition to that, the job offers ample opportunity for growth. "It's a career in which you can eventually work your way up", Mr So says. "Progressing step by step, a novice who begins as a merchandising clerk can progress to assistant merchandiser, merchandiser, senior merchandiser, merchandising manager, division merchandising manager and so on. There is tremendous room for advancement."
Since merchandisers are involved in the production process from scratch to when the product goes on sale, they get a thorough understanding of how things are done, and so acquire entrepreneurial skills. Some even go it alone to start a successful business of their own.
While offering such a promising future, a merchandising career requires a certain mix of personal qualities, particularly language skills. As Mr So points out, "The nature of merchandising is very communicative. A merchandiser acts as a bridge between customer and manufacturer. Good language and communication skills put messages across and minimise hiccups. Most importantly, the work should not be seen as a routine job. Rather, it is a career. Once they see it that way, newcomers will not mind the long working hours. Merchandisers must be in regular contact with overseas customers living in different time zones. Obviously this can involve overtime work."
Problem solving and analytical abilities are also valuable. A good sense of style is another plus but the merchandiser must also be able to determine how the different products will fit into a customer's budget and whether they meet the needs. "In other words, the ability to analyse a complex set of issues and find the correct solution is crucial," adds Mr So.
The work of a merchandiser is never boring. Practitioners in Hong Kong are constantly engaged in cross-cultural communication since many customers are from overseas. Also there are many opportunities to travel either to the mainland or overseas.
The clothing industry is a pillar of the Hong Kong economy, and a leading earner in terms of domestic exports, providing 40 per cent of Hong Kong's total income in the first three quarters of 2006.
Mr So emphasises, "A job in merchandising will put you at the intersection of fashion and business. If you have a head for business and an eye for style, a merchandising career may be your best choice."
- Hands-on job from order to product
- Today's demand exceeds supply
- Pay increases average five to 10 per cent
- Go-getters can rise to the very top
- Chance to acquire skills and go it alone