PARIS — “Be first, be brave.”
As buying director for online fashion retailer Asos.com, Nikki Tattersall oversees a team of 100 — 50 buyers for brands and 50 for the Asos label — on a mission to define what twentysomethings the world over want to wear, at a pace of 4,000 new styles a week.
When the London College of Fashion graduate first joined Asos as a senior buyer in 2008, the company’s yearly sales were 81 million pounds. Customers were limited to the U.K., where the retailer was founded in 1999 as a celebrity-driven assemblage of products.
Tattersall, who joined from the off-price retailer T.K. Maxx and was previously junior buyer at Etam, was first promoted to head of buying for women’s wear brands before becoming buying director in 2014.
She oversees a talent hunt spanning five continents for what has grown into a 1.4 billion pound business delivering to 240 countries. Here, she shares her approach to a fast-moving science:
My first role as a buyer was the season boho exploded, in 2004, influenced by Sienna Miller and Kate Moss. The gypsy skirt became an essential for everyone and we had to race to keep them in stock, so it was a fantastic lesson in how to trade opportunity and maximize a trend’s potential. The reason the trend exploded was that it was so accessible, everyone was wearing one, but when that happens a trend can also be very quick to die off.
My most memorable buying trip was São Paulo Fashion Week a couple of years ago. We were invited by the Brazilian Association of Fashion Designers to attend. Great brands, really fresh, young talent, an amazing city. As always on sourcing trips, getting to know buyers, stylists and influencers from around the globe was a highlight, like L.A. influencer Julie Sariñana [whose Sincerely Jules account on Instagram has 4.5 million followers]. Visiting stores was another highlight, with luxury brands contrasted against artisan wares. We loved the Vila Madalena neighborhood and its street art.
One of the best aspects of buying for a digital platform is working collaboratively with the styling teams to bring your vision to reality for the customer.
The worst thing about being a buyer is those times that specific lines don’t sell as you’d planned can be disappointing, but you learn lessons and move on. Focusing on newness and the next thing is essential.
My buying claim to fame is the Asos Fashion Discovery competition for young fashion entrepreneurs. My aim was to find raw talent we could scale to the next level. The two winners are exactly that. Elissa is making beautiful lingerie at her mum’s kitchen table, so we’re helping her partner with manufacturers to produce larger quantities. Claire has invested her 50,000 pound prize money in employing someone to oversee production. Both winning brands will be launching on Asos in fall. Supporting fresh talent is something Asos has always focused on; we’ve built a good understanding of the kind of help, nurturing and support they need.
My worst feeling of buyer’s remorse is under-potentializing trends by not buying enough product to satisfy demand. It is always frustrating. That’s why bravery is one of the foundations of how our buyers approach a season, we encourage them to back product with conviction if they truly believe in a product or trend.
One trend I bought but secretly hated is the mermaid blankets we sold last year. My team knew that personally I wasn’t the biggest fan, but our customers loved them!
My buying mantra is be first, be brave. Central to our buying strategy is to be first to market with new season trends.
The single factor that’s most impacted how I buy since I started is globalization. We now sell to over 200 countries, which has dramatically impacted the scale of our offer. We have a laser focus on the twentysomething consumer and believe great fashion transcends globally. However, we ensure we focus on regional opportunities and the impact weather can have.
For me to take a risk on an unknown label today it must have a point of difference. At Asos we stock over 800 brands, it’s essential each one offers something different. We’re casting our net wider than ever before, with over 500 sourcing and inspiration trips a year with a focus on adding diversity and excitement to our offer. This travel is integral to ensuring we think globally in everything we do. Increasingly, we’re going direct to where our customers get their fashion inspiration. Social media is now a key tool in our sourcing strategy.
My customer today is more confident and knowledgeable than ever before. Our customers devour new trends, but interpret and style them in their own way. Focusing purely on twentysomethings allows us to thoroughly analyze their wants and needs and what motivates them. When buying and designing, we focus on over 15 customer segments across women’s wear and men’s wear to identify who our customers are, then layer on end use, considering how our customers live their lives and where and when they’ll be wearing our products. We use this common language from design and buying through to styling, model selection and photography to ensure the vision is clearly communicated to the customer.
My last personal fashion purchase was a pair of kitten heels — not too big a shock to the feet, as we all transition out of our trainers.
EDITOR’S NOTE: In a shifting retail landscape, we ask retailers around the globe to reflect on the art of buying fashion.
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