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How I got here - Andrew Brines

Perseverance and a passion for designer menswear put etailer Oki-ni’s buying and merchandising assistant on the right path
Written on 3/11/15

What does your typical week involve?

On Mondays I usually run stock and sales reports, compiling  sell-through data, which is analysein Microsoft Excel. Then I’ll meet with ecommerce manager Chris Nawrocki to go through my findings and his site analytics before we present a business analysis to general manager Troy Munns. Tuesdays revolve around a weekly sales meeting, during which we discuss business across the buying, marketing, ecommerce and operations departments. The rest of the week is slightly more fast-paced.  I’ll liaise with our buying director, Laurent Coulier, in Paris, providing any additional data he needs. I also supply data to our content team, which helps them decide which products to focus on for our home page or e-newsletters. If time permits, I also do some competitor shopping online and in store to see what our rivals are selling and  which products work or don’t work Depending on the time of year, I also attend buying appointments, mainly in Paris and Milan, although they are actually just a small part of the job. The groundwork for these meetings is done quite far in advance at our London office, where we analyse sales at both a brand and category level across multiple seasons to identify over or under-bought styles. 

Which meeting are you most looking forward to today?

My buying appointment for Paul Smith’s autumn 15 collection. It’s always exciting looking at new product from brands you admire. Starting with an empty clothes rail and finishing with a selection you have complete conviction in is a very satisfying feeling. Which event do you wish you could postpone? A two-hour tutorial by our logistics manager, Sebastian Braye, comparing our inventory cost from our stock system and our sales and accounts systems in Excel. How did retail work before Excel existed? 

How did you get to where you are today? 

While studying for a BA in Film at Manchester  Metropolitan University, I often visited local designer store Flannels, where I spent lots of time  looking at product and talking to the staff. This fuelled my interest in designer menswear and I also began to realise that, while I was interested in film, it couldn’t offer me a rewarding career. My buying and merchandising journey took off when I saw a job advertisement for a buying administration assistant role at Tommy Hilfiger in London. I decided to go for it and luckily got the position in 2009. Two years later, I became assistant merchandiser at homeware retailer Habitat in Paris, a rewarding career move that enabled me to bolster my CV with international experience. After my stint at Habitat, I moved back to London to work as an assistant merchandiser for accessories brand Smythson in 2013. This got me back involved with seasonal, luxury product, bringing me closer to my original interest in premium men’s fashion. As someone with a zeal for designer menswear, I’ve been aware of Oki-ni for a while and always thought it to be a progressive and relevant premium menswear etailer. In March 2014, I saw the role of buying and merchandising assistant advertised and applied for it directly. My experience in merchandising and my passion for designer product helped me secure the role. 

What has been your career highlight? 

Throughout my career I’ve been repeatedly told that I’d be unsuitable for menswear buying roles because of my time spent within merchandising. Despite this, I was able to move successfully into menswear buying and conquering that obstacle was unforgettable. Who is your mentor? From a career perspective, Akiko Takashima, head of marketing and communications at Smythson. She’s direct and honest, combining business acumen with a real passion for the industry. 

What’s the best piece of advice she’s given you?

She has given me a stronger business mindset in terms of how to project myself. She helped me understand that fashion is a business and that, when you are working, you should have an awareness of how your skills, ability and actions make the company a better place. How do you see your career progressing? 

I’ve spent enough time building an analytical foundation with merchandising-oriented roles and now I see my progression within menswear buying. It’s what I’m doing now and I can only see myself learning and developing in this field. 

What advice would you give to someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?

The sooner you know what you want to do, the stronger your position. Know how to sell yourself and persevere. Having the confidence to say you don’t know something and that you want the know-how to develop is the key to advancing. Read, make notes and subscribe to relevant mailing lists. Have conviction in your beliefs, and use data to back them up. 

If you could work in another area of fashion, what would it be?

Menswear design is something I’d be incredibly interested in pursuing. When I was at university, institutions like Parsons The New School for Design in New York, Central Saint Martins in London and Bunka Fashion College in Tokyo were not part of my vocabulary. Still, if you look at the backgrounds of Raf Simons, Rei Kawakubo and Margaret Howell, I guess that doesn’t have to be a stumbling block after all.

Salaries for this type of position range from £18,000 to £23,000 (estimate provided by Henry Fox Recruitment)