Here you go, as promised, even if it’s a few months late, the career interview with Kate Foley. She’s a buyer for Opening Ceremony. I’m sure you’ve already heard about the OC (that’s how you gotta call it). It’s THE boutique here in New York.
What I think is so amazing about these shops is how unique their spirit is. You feel like it’s up to the brim with creativity and their traveling less traveled roads. Amazing collaborations (a famous one with Chloé Sevigny), a new book, and a pop-up store in London… It doesn’t stop!
Okay, so how do you become a buyer for Opening Ceremony?
What’s your official title?
What did you study in school? Where did you study?
While I was still at high school, I interned for a stylist who advised me that if styling was what I was passionate about then I should start assisting a stylist, rather than go on to do a degree in styling.
But I went on to Camberwell College of Arts in London to do a foundation degree. I specialized in fashion design but I actually only stayed there for a semester. I got a full-time job offer to assist the stylist Charlotte Stockdale in my first year and I was like: Oh, I don’t know, what makes sense, staying here or taking the job? And it kind of made more sense for me to leave school.
How did you get your foot in the fashion industry door?
When I was in school, during holidays and stuff, I always interned for stylists as much as possible. Just helping out where I could and learning. That really helped me.
Can you tell me about your path from school to Opening Ceremony?
When I left school, I was assisting Charlotte and I went to work for her for two years. After that I worked for a different stylist- Mary Fellowes-just doing freelance projects for a year before she was made fashion director of Turkish Vogue. I assisted her there and stayed until after the launch.
How did you know you wanted to be a buyer?
It was really a spontaneous decision to become a buyer. It got to the point where I’d been styling for a while and always thought it was what I wanted to do. Although it still interests me and is definitely not something I’d rule out, I think I felt that it was time to try my hand at something new and see what worked for me.
How did Opening Ceremony happen?
Buying was interesting to me, so I decided to apply for a couple of places; and I really wanted to come to the States to be in New York. I applied to Opening Ceremony. At the time, they had one buyer doing everything, which was crazy. They were looking for someone, so it just happened. I was really lucky. I was in the right place at the right time.
As a buyer, what exactly is your job?
There’s definitely a misconception that it’s a glamorous job and you go to shows, you get to pick the clothes, and it’s all cool. That’s a tiny percentage of what we do. It’s mainly auditing sales and doing orders. You have to know Excel super well. It’s a lot of admin, a lot of emails. You get like 400 emails a day back and forth. It’s really hard work.
What was the biggest hurdle you faced when you started?
I think it was getting to know the business side. There was so much that I didn’t understand that I felt I should have understood because everybody else seemed to know it. I have always been one of these people that like to get things done. And if I don’t really get something, I might not say so. It’s a flaw of mine and I’ll just keep on going and I’ll let it slide.
Of course I made mistakes, and it took me a while to thoroughly understand lots of things but I think that’s the best way. You have to make mistakes to learn and being thrown in at the deep end meant I had to learn fast.
Can you tell me about how the British sense of style is different from New York?
People say that Londoners are a lot freer and a lot more fun. Maybe because I work at Opening Ceremony and that’s what we are about, I would say that it’s not that different.
Has Opening Ceremony changed your personal style?
In London I was a lot more color-concerned, I wore a lot more black. I don’t know if it’s because I moved here but I am taking more risks. Now, I am definitely a lot more playful and fun. Now, I barely ever wear black.
Do you have a dress code at the office?
No, definitely not. Some days I go in dressed nicely, but generally most days I’m wearing colorful pants and Nike sneakers and a t-shirt. It’s fun because you can just do whatever you want.
How big is your team?
In New York, we have 3 buyers. And our interns.
What’s an average day like for you?
A typical day depends on what time of the year is. If we are in market week [when the buyers see the collections and write their orders for the upcoming season], we literally have appointments back-to-back, then we manage to escape back to the office, and try to get some orders done, then go back out. When it’s quieter, in between those market times, it’s about the inventory; making small orders or reorders, going back and forth with designers, trying to keep track of what’s going on.
And what’s your role during fashion week?
In New York, we go to every show of the brands we carry. And maybe to those that are new or that we’re interested in.
When we are in Paris, it’s literally back-to-back appointments for ten days running around like crazy, wearing sneakers and looking pretty scruffy. In Paris, I am really lucky if I can go to one or two shows. There just isn’t the time to see everything as well as the huge number of showrooms we have to get to.
Where do you find your inspiration for your buys?
I am inspired by life, things on the street, this cool girl that’s wearing an outfit that’s not high-end, it’s not designer. And different cultures; it’s so interesting for me to be in different countries. We don’t really concentrate on buying into trends. I think that that’s not really an Opening Ceremony thing. I think the way we do things is very spontaneous. It feels maybe a little disorganized but in a kind of fun and exciting way. I think that it’ll be sad if we ever lose that.
Who is the Opening Ceremony girl?
The opening Ceremony girl is the girl that is open to anything.
Where do you look for new designers?
We go to a huge number of appointments and there’s a lot to see; you try to see as much as possible. When we are in Paris, I definitely take time to try to pop into different showrooms. We have a huge number of applications of stuff sent in. It’s amazing but it’s so hard to take time to go through everything. In an ideal world, I would love to sit down and look at everything. We do what we can.
Do you think e-commerce influences the way you buy?
It’s definitely a factor in the industry in a massive, massive way. For us, there are very few collections that we buy specifically for our web store. Everything online is what we bought for the stores. But you do have to be aware in terms of shipping charges, and different markups.
Do you buy for stores in different cities?
Our team buys for the US stores at the moment, and the London store now [their London pop-up opened July 19th]. Japan has a separate buying team but we work closely with them. We generally try to keep the same kind of merchandise. We want our customers to be able to go to the New York store and see the stuff and then they go over to LA and nothing is left out.
What have been a few of your best sellers?
The Opening Ceremony collection always does pretty well. It’s so easy and so fun.
There’s a brand called Marques’Almeida, which is one of my absolute favorites. We saw it in the London showrooms and in Paris and were like, “Oh my God!” We were dying to have it. We were one of the first two stores in the world to pick up that collection, and we loved it so much and we were hoping everyone else would. But we weren’t really sure. It was a little bit of a risk.
I remember I went into the store and I only saw a couple of pieces and thought maybe it was merchandised in another part of the store because there was so little out. Then I spoke to one of the managers and she said, “Actually, we sold out!”
What’s your favorite part of the job?
I love talking to the designers and going back and forth, just working with them to try and help them. Especially the young guys, it is so rewarding when something goes well. When they come to us and they are so new and innocent in a way. And we always say we are here to help you, to work with you, we want you to have a fantastic sell-through. I think that is really it, helping people create their brand. It’s rewarding and that’s how it is day-to-day.
Is there a brand you feel you’ve helped in particular?
Marques’Alemeida was one of those. They really worked with us on things like pricing.
What’s the most difficult part of your job?
I think it’s just really keeping track of everything. It’s so hard because we have 450 designers!
What do you do to relax and unwind?
I try to do nothing to do with work or fashion. I love to get out of the city whenever I can which I actually manage nearly every weekend. It makes such a huge difference to be in the country and to be able to switch off.
Have you had a mentor? What was their best advice?
Carol [Song], definitely. She’s taught me a lot and she’s fantastic to learn from–she explains everything. She’s very, very patient.
And it’s super interesting working with Humberto and Carol. It’s interesting to see that dynamic and see the way they do things.
For advice, the general thing is go with your instinct.
Do you remember your first day in the office? What was it like?
I remember it was snowing and coming from London I thought: Okay, I don’t think anyone goes to work, because in London if it snows nobody goes to work. But in New York they do! I had a little wake-up call; I was like, “Oh, shit, you know, it’s different here.”
One thing I really love about New York is I feel that people are more positive and are more receptive and interested in what you’re doing. It’s hard to put your finger on it and I think that may be an American thing, but I feel people are more open to giving you a chance here which to me is incredibly important.
What are the qualities or qualifications you look for in a new buyer?
It’s funny, because I am going to say exactly what I never had. We really look for is someone who is definitely incredibly proficient in Excel. I’ve always found that any interns or staff who come from a business background, they get it. It’s just being able to have an understanding. It’s important to have someone that’s organized. Someone that’s open, and interested and if you are excited, if you are passionate you can do the rest of the stuff, it’s easy.
What’s an average entry-level salary?
Expect to start with a very basic salary and work very hard for it!
Do you have any advice for aspiring buyers?
If you are young, intern with as many people as you can. Make the most out of any free time that you have. I feel like that’s one thing that I did do and that really helped me. Even working in a store–half of the sales associates have knowledge that I still don’t really have. All of that stuff really, really helps.
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