HOW TO BECOME A VISUAL MERCHANDISER

You know those well-dressed people in shop windows? They don’t dress themselves, you know. It’s down to humans like Pearl Mitchell – a Visual Merchandiser VM) at a global fashion brand – to make them look so fancy pants.

Are you interested in working in fashion or retail but not sure in what capacity? Perhaps this could be the route for you?

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In short, what does a VM actually do? I create a visually inviting store experience for customers with the aim to draw people in and inspire them to spend their money!

Did you always know that you wanted to be a VM? Not at all! I was vaguely aware that the VM job existed, however, I think like most people I never really questioned what that actually entailed and how anyone ended up in such a role.

Did you go to university? I always knew I would go to university and I also knew that I would use those years to do something I really enjoyed regardless of the job prospects at the end of it. I started off with an Art Foundation diploma and then moved up north to Manchester to study Illustration with Animation.

What was your first job after graduating? I was like most graduates. A faint sense of hope that I would fall into a job related to my degree but through a shortage of job opportunities and my own lack of determination this didn’t happen. My first job out of university was working for a charity. I wasn’t doing what I wanted to but I felt I was earning some good karma.

How did you end up in this role? Becoming a VM for one of the biggest fashion retailers in the world was a lot more straight forward than I would have guessed! If I had known after graduating how to get to where I am now I most definitely would have bypassed the bar jobs and late nights! After university and taking a few months out of life to travel, I came back to my hometown and got myself a Christmas temp retail job. I hadn’t worked in retail before and hadn’t expected to genuinely enjoy the hustle and bustle of a busy working day in such a customer facing role. I joined my current company as a Sales Advisor a while later because I needed more hours. Within 6 months I flourished. I enjoyed the customer service aspect of the job and the team work that went into running the store. What got me most was the visual aspect and thought process that went behind the placement of stock and the design of the store. This excited my creative side and got me asking questions, pestering management to help me progress my career in this direction. Within a small amount of time I was sent on my training for 8 weeks in Bath gaining all the skills and knowledge to set me up as a visual merchandiser.

What do you love about your job? My job keeps my mind and body active all day; there is never a moment where I’m not being physically active and mentally problem solving. I love all aspects of window dressing, styling and dressing mannequins and even the more ‘boring’ tasks like ironing and assessing sales figures.

Every job has its downsides – what’s yours? Personally, I am a morning person… however, for those who struggle with waking up, the biggest downside is probably the 6 am and 7 am starts. The silver lining is finishing at 3 pm or 4 pm with a whole evening ahead of you!

Where do you see yourself next? Right now, I’ve just secured a position in a different city, so the excitement of moving in with my partner and learning a new city is currently top of my list! Once I’m settled, I would love to progress as far as I can in this career, hopefully to train a new bunch of hopeful visuals and share everything I have learnt.

What has been the hardest thing about getting to your position? I think what puts a lot of people off retail are the unreliable and somewhat erratic working hours. It’s no 9 to 5 and most sales advisors are expected to work weekends. However, the notable bonus of getting to my position has to be the early finishes and weekends off. It’s no walk in the park but it sure is a good routine and suits me fine.

Has your job turned out to be what you expected? Honestly, yes. I really sussed out what would be required of me before embarking on this route. My managers were super straight forward with me from the get go and didn’t sugar coat the role. I was made aware of everything I would be responsible for and therefore there weren’t any nasty surprises!

Have you faced any obstacles as a woman in the workplace? Fashion is a very female-focused industry. Whether it’s on the catwalk or in shop windows, fashion retail is hugely targeted at women. Due to the nature of working in this field, I’ve never felt any adversity to my gender in the workplace. It is perhaps unusual to work in a career surrounded by so many other women. Fashion retail is, from my experience, hugely diverse in its employment. When I joined the management team as a VM, I was amongst 6 female and 2 male managers, with an age range from 21 to 40 and a whole spectrum of sexual orientations.

What does a typical day at the office look like for you? I usually start the working day at 7 am and work within a team of 3 visuals. We often begin with looking at the previous week’s figures and assessing what’s making the money and where the selling needs to be improved. Housekeeping is a daily task; dusting, polishing, hoovering the windows and all surfaces in the store is essential maintenance. Each week, we work on a different concept in the store, for example Menswear or Ladies, Kids or Accessories, etc. Forward (precise) planning runs my week. We focus a lot on new trends, the next garments and looks that will be popular on the high street. We start with sample picking, which is when we plan outfits for the new trends by gathering one of every item in the department and re-grouping them to form the next trend. From here, we move around the whole department while the store is shut and dress the mannequins and the windows. My most productive hours are between 6 am and 9 am because as soon as the customers come in, the store must be looking clean and ‘shopable’. No two days are the same and for this I am grateful.

What’s the dress code at work? The only rules I have are no heavily branded clothing and no short shorts!

What are your achievable goals? My goals are to keep improving and learning and when I feel like I’ve absorbed all the knowledge I can, to move up a level and progress to a higher position.

If you could do anything other than what you do now, what would it be? I always dreamed of being a ballerina.

What’s the best way to make a good impression? Smile and make eye contact. So much is said before you even open your mouth.

What are two of the most likely interview questions you might get asked when going for your job? Do you have knowledge of current trends? What can you bring to the role?

And finally, what one piece of practical career advice would you give to your younger self? Get a job as soon as you can. Just gain as much experience as possible!

Want to ask Pearl some more questions about her job?

Let me know and I’ll pass them on.