“Building your network is key. You have no idea where the people you meet will end up, so it’s incredibly important not to burn ties.”

Have you ever stalked someone on LinkedIn and wondered how the heck they managed to get that incredibly impressive job? While the internet and social media might lead us to believe that our ideal job is a mere pipe dream, the people who have these jobs were, believe it or not, in the same position they once were, fantasizing about someone else’s seemingly unattainable job.

But behind the impressive headlines and imaginative work events is a lot of hard work. So what lessons were learned and what skills proved invaluable in moving them from daydreaming about success to actually being at the top of their industry?

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Welcome to How I Got Here, where we talk to the women who are killing it in their respective fields about how they got their awe-inspiring jobs, exploring the peaks and the pits, the failures and the victories and, above all, the knowledge, the practical tips and advice they’ve picked up along the way.

This week we talk to Roshali Kaul, the womenswear buyer at Australian luxury retailer Harrolds. Fashion and style have always been an obsession with Roshali, so it made perfect sense for her to start her career in the garage. Slowly, she worked her way up and landed retail positions with luxury brands like Prada. Also, she studied public relations and had the chance to intern for high-end brands, but eventually she realized that public relations was not for her.

Recognizing that products have always been her passion, she embarked on a Masters in Fashion Brand Management, which led to an internship with Jimmy Choo’s Purchasing and Merchandising team, marking the beginning of her journey to buying. A role as a buyer with a fast fashion brand and a challenging position in product development helped her refine her understanding of the type of brands and companies she wanted to work for and enabled her to gain invaluable technical knowledge. She recognizes her ability to form strong relationships and her drive to gain experience in a variety of aspects of the fashion industry as key to her success. Here’s what she learned along the way.

What do you do and what is your official job title?

I am the womenswear buyer at Harrolds where I oversee the womenswear portfolio across all categories. In the end it counts, I think [we] work with over 50 brands!

Take us back to when you were just starting out. Did you study your way into your chosen field or did you start with an entry level internship/role and work your way up the ladder? Tell us the story.

I have not studied shopping. I actually have a bachelor’s degree in public relations and marketing and a master’s degree in brand management. Becoming a buyer is a career path that was born [up] very organically for me. I’ve always been obsessed with fashion and style. I am someone who can shop anywhere and everywhere. So of course my first real job was selling shoes. I worked my way up into retail to reach bigger, more luxurious brands. I joined Prada when I was 19, which seemed like a great achievement at the time. I was so in awe of the level of meticulous detail in every aspect of such a luxurious brand and knew that working at this level of fashion would be my goal and my ultimate goal.

While we were at university, we had to intern in our final year and I managed to land a position with the then Gucci Group (now Kering). I did an internship with the PR team dealing with Saint Laurent, Bottega Veneta and Gucci. While it was an incredible experience, I realized as I worked that public relations was not for me. I was more interested in the product than anything else. After graduating from something I now knew I didn’t want to make a career of, I decided to move to London to do my Masters in Fashion Brand Management. I was fascinated by the commercial side of fashion and wanted to educate myself. In London, my eyes were really opened to what upscale retail was like and I was so inspired.

When it came time to decide what type of internship I wanted to apply for, buying seemed like the right fit. Within the sector, purchasing falls between the creative and the operational. I was able to use my years of floor experience with extensive knowledge of fit, fabric and style combined with my business analytical brain. I was selected for an internship in the Purchasing and Merchandising team at Jimmy Choo’s London HQ. I [had] I worked on the floor in a Jimmy Choo store in Melbourne and I believe that’s what gave me an edge over other applicants and made me stand out. This is how my shopping journey began. I literally started in the youngest role available and worked my way up.

What challenges/obstacles did you face to get to where you are now? Tell us about one in particular?

When I moved home to Melbourne after London I started working as a fast fashion buyer’s assistant. Then it came [an] opportunity to go into a product development role and raised my hand for the job. I think I already knew this wasn’t the right role for me, but it was a highly coveted job in the industry and I jumped at the opportunity. To be honest, I wasn’t a great product development assistant. I didn’t have the right background and lacked many technical skills that the role required. I just didn’t have the patience for it and really struggled.

I had to give up or change my mindset and give it all I had. Because I knew it was important to gain experience, I worked very hard to educate myself to better apply to the role in things like garment and accessory construction. It was a huge hurdle for me to overcome, but truly the technical knowledge I gained with that experience helped me immeasurably.

What do you want people to know about your industry/role?

They are terms of my role, I think many are under the illusion that I shop just for a living. But being a shopper involves more than selecting products in a showroom. Much of what we do is very data-driven and involves a lot of planning and numbers and spreadsheets. You also need to develop a strong eye and trust in yourself to back up the next big thing.

What is the best part of your role?

In terms of the fashion that I work in, the best part for me is having insider access to the best that fashion has to offer. I like to know in advance what the market will obsess over. I also had a lot of pinching moments that felt incredibly surreal (and still are!). Sitting on a catwalk in Paris or Milan among myths will never, ever get old.

What would surprise people in your role?

How unglamorous it can be. Don’t get me wrong, there are fashion shows and celebrity parties and all the wonderful things that happen during fashion weeks, however, before we travel we spend months analyzing numbers and sales and planning and forecasting ahead of time.

There is a lot of travel involved and we live without a suitcase for weeks at a time. When we travel, our schedule is jam-packed. We can have up to eight appointments a day and when the day is done it’s often room service and quantifying orders until the wee hours of the morning. I have turned down many invitations to parties and fashion shows in exchange for deadlines: work comes first. Always being on the road also means missing out on something [on] things at home that can be really hard.

What skills have served you well in your industry?

Being a good buyer means having the ability to enter a different mindset when selecting [a] Product. You won’t love every item or brand, but you won’t buy for yourself, it can’t be personal. When you work in a multi-brand environment, this is an especially important skill to have. Being a strong negotiator is also essential. You are consistently working on the best possible margins and having the ability to drive costs down is everything in this role.

What advice would you give to someone who one day wants to fill a role like yours?

I think the most important thing to note is that although global, the fashion industry is very small, especially in the luxury sector. Relationships are everything and building your network is key. You have no idea where the people you meet will end up, so it’s incredibly important not to burn ties.

What about practical advice?

Being a buyer is a highly coveted role and when interviewing candidates, I always look for extensive experience in different areas of fashion. Immerse yourself in anything and develop your own sense of style. There are so many avenues you can take that will give you the skills you need to become a buyer. Take my journey, for example. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone, especially when it comes to a job in fashion. Live, eat and breathe!

Read the rest of the How I Got Here series here.

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