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Wear flair

Apparel management is for those who can thrive in a fast-changing environment and straddle different functions, reports Rahat Bano

education Updated: Mar 31, 2010 10:31 IST
Rahat Bano

You are the one thread that connects the entire gamut of activities from the beginning to end of a style purchase order. You have to elevate your role from being a mere post box, passing information and reporting facts and figures from one end to the other, to that of becoming a sole proprietor of your PO.” Bangalore-based trainer and independent consultant Anjuli Gopalakrishna’s Website sums up the expectations from a merchandiser, or apparel manager, in a world of stiff competition, strict deadlines and rapid change.

Many of these merchants virtually straddle continents to make good the orders. A trading agent or merchandiser sitting in India may be busy working on a US order for shirts which require cotton bought from Australia, woven in Pakistan, dyed and finished in Sri Lanka, and manufacured in Bangladesh.

Sugam Asani, who heads the menswear division at Benetton India, says, “We are the most important part of the back-end (of an apparel brand).” Merchandisers are highly paid in any apparel brand, he says.

If you work for India operations of a foreign retail brand, your work may take you to the parent company’s headquarters, where you select seasonal ranges. All the items have to be customised according to Indian body sizes and only colours suiting Indian skin tones are taken. The local team develops its own range, too, which hits the market with its foreign-origin mates. The product details and quantities are then communicated to the production teams.

A major part of a merchant’s job is costing. “We suggest the MRP to the commercial team and the final price is decided in consultation with the merchandising team,” says Asani. As the work includes a lot of number-crunching, it might be helpful to read maths and accounting before getting into this field, suggests

Gopalakrishna, who has more than a decade’s experience in the apparel industry and has worked in companies such as Li and Fung, Tommy Hilfiger India, and JC Penney Purchasing Corporation.

But it’s not just about buying, selling, crisis management, and price negotiations. Apparel managers need a creative eye as well. Says Asani, “Our work is 80 per cent managerial and 20 per cent creative, though this (ratio) varies from brand to brand.”

Says Darshan Bhat, founder of Creatnet Services, a link between Indian manufacturers and foreign clients for whom it handles designing, product development, sourcing and finished products, “It’s an interesting field, if you like it.” Moreover, top salaries are comparable to A-grade MBAs. However, the pay packages have slimmed down in the past two-three years, he says.

Indeed, India’s apparel and textile sectors suffered during the recent global economic trough. According to the Apparel Export Promotion Council, India’s garment exports were worth US$10.17 billion in 2008-09, with a market share of 2.99 per cent. But it faces tough competition from other Asian countries, including Sri Lanka and Vietnam — and was outstripped by Bangladesh in apparel exports last year. However, what holds promise is India’s evolving domestic market.

What's it about?
A merchandiser, or apparel manager, is the bridge between the design and the production teams. S/he is also deals with the buyers. That's why, any delay or goof-up in the communication to the client, can cost the company a big order and the buck will stop with you, even if another team did it. These managers can work in retail where the role includes inventory control, deciding on what to buy, identifying store locations or in an export house where they decide on production, manufacturing, sourcing, etc. They have to manage fast-changing products, many of which become obsolete after one season. They can work in brands such as Benetton, Levis, Pantaloon; retail chains; export houses or sourcing companies (where they manage the supply chain) and outsourcing firms which are links between foreign clients and Indian manufacturers

Clock Work
9 am: Meet buyers; do sample follow-ups
. 1 pm: Lunch
. 2 pm: Coordinate with vendors, and track the movement of unshipped orders
. 3 pm: Meeting with commercial team
. 6.30 pm: Check arrangements for upcoming trip to Milan

The Payoff
The starting salary of a merchandiser with a Master's from a reputable institute is Rs 20,000 to Rs one lakh a month. Further on, pay depends on performance. A merchant growing to be the CEO of a big apparel brand or retailer can rake in Rs 50 lakh to Rs 1 crore a year

Commercial acumen
. Ability to multi-task, manage change in a fast-changing market and perform under tight deadlines
. Strong interpersonal skills and team spirit
. Quantitative aptitude
. Be detail-oriented
. Be creative
. Be able to handle a crisis calmly

How do i get there?
You may come from any background provided you have talent for this kind of work. Some institutes offer undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in apparel merchandising, fashion marketing and fashion management

Institutes & urls
. National Institute of Fashion Technology, centres in many cities and towns including Delhi
. Pearl Academy of Fashion, Delhi

Pros & Cons

. You work in a dynamic, fast changing market

. It's a global field – you get the chance to travel and gain international exposure. Many Indians have gone to work in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Hong Kong,

Australia and USA


You can reach a leadership positions


If you can't multi-task and manage the work in a multi-team environment, it can cost the company a big order


Long working hours


Work keeps you on your toes

India will need 5 million people in design and merchandising

The head of an industry body outlines the challenges and looks ahead with hope

What key qualities, abilities and skills do employers look for in a good merchandiser/apparel manager?
The industry needs business managers, product professionals and technologists with key areas like in-depth and broad-based knowledge relating to clothing and textile design, innovation and technology. These professionals/students need abilities like firm grounding in commercial concepts, management principles, thorough product knowledge, progressive skill applications, business communications, relevant work exposure and a hands-on attitude.

What’s the starting, average salary of an apparel manager?
The starting salary ranges between Rs 15,000 to 20,000 per month. These professionals work as assistant merchandising managers or junior merchandisers who are able to understand and work within established systems according to the buyer’s requirements.

They should be able to implement procedures and management information systems for merchandise planning, sourcing and order execution and replenishment.

How is the apparel industry in India doing?
In 2008-09, India exported apparel worth $10.9 billion. Due to falling retail sales in western markets, we have seen negative growth of 10.15 per cent during April to January 2009-10 as compared to the corresponding period of the previous financial year. We hope the recovery will start in the next financial year beginning next month.

As Bangladesh has overtaken India in apparel exports, what does the future hold for India’s apparel exporters? What does this situation demand (in terms of skills, competencies etc) from apparel managers?
The future is certainly bright. India has an integrated supply chain with presence of units involved in fibres, spinning, weaving, knitting, processing and garmenting. The industry is fast adopting lean manufacturing practices, improving quality of products to beat bruising competition in markets worldwide and cutting short lead times for faster supplies. Also, the proposed Indo-EU free trade agreement will go a long way to increase our exports to the European markets.

The AEPC is also working towards initiatives to improve productivity and provide guidance to factories in matters of compliance. These efforts will ensure that Indian garment exports reach a target of $15 billion by 2012 and $20 billion by 2020.

Why would you advise young students to consider working in the garments industry?
The economic downturn is a temporary setback. In the long term, the textile and the apparel sectors have a tremendous future in our country. There is a retail revolution taking place and the domestic markets are doing very well. Overall, it is expected that there will be a need for at least five million people in the design/and merchandising areas.

Premal Udani, Chairman, Apparel Export Promotion Council (AEPC) Interviewed by Rahat Bano