how to get into fashion buying by machine-a's stavros karelis

Want to get into fashion, but not sure which path to take? From designers and stylists to writers and directors, we asked a few i-D friends and family how they made their fashion dreams a reality.

by i-D Staff
07 September 2016, 1:40pm

"Every time I'm in central, I go and see Stavros and see the shop," Nasir Mazhar wrote of Machine-A in our London's legendary stores feature. He's not alone. Sandwiched between a massage parlor and a hairdressers, 13 Brewer Street is a destination of discovery. Born from a desire to create a space that celebrates young talent, Machine-A not only sells the wares of talents large and small, emerging and established, it also nurtures them and grows with them. Before hopping on the conveyor belt of shows, presentations, and showroom appointments in search of spring/summer 17 womenswear treasures, Stavros Karelis takes us on a tour of his world, and talks us through how he made his fashion buying dreams a reality.

What I do and why I do it:
I'm the founder and buying director of MACHINE-A and SHOWstudio's online store. My main responsibility is buying and working across the various creative projects we collaborate on with designers and brands. It's a demanding job because you're holding the budget of the business. You need to make all the right choices, pick the right styles for your customers six months in advance. Sales are the only source of income, so it needs a good understanding of market and products, customers, designers, brands, competition, finances, analyzing and reviewing data constantly, and of course, to take all the right risks that will pay off. It can be stressful, but it's very exciting too. We put so much effort in supporting emerging designers, so when these choices become commercially successful, that gives me a great degree of fulfillment.

When I was younger I used to visit amazing stores and look at the merchandizing without ever really thinking about the person who chose the brands and the products. It took me sometime to realize that this is one of the most important jobs in the industry and I only got into it through my store. In a way, buyers are the messengers of the brands and play a pivotal role of what will make it from a show to a store and what customers will ultimately buy and wear. Many other buying directors work for other companies and gain experience first, but I started on my own without any previous experience of the field. My instinct came first, knowledge followed. Of course I was lucky enough to be surrounded by amazing people from the industry and I learned so many things quickly. Anna Trevelyan is one of these people. Nick Knight, one of the industry's biggest icons, became a true form of inspiration for me. But I get my inspiration daily as I spend so much time on the shop floor meeting our customers. I can definitely say our customers are the ones that inspire me most. By nature, I am someone who constantly questions everything around me. Are we going in the right direction? Have we secured the best products? What else we can do? I am grateful for the success that the store has received but I want to constantly evolve and move forward!

A day in my life: 
Ha! If I had to put together a typical day, it would be:

A meeting with our business manager, Mia Poirier, and buyer, Harry Fisher, kicks off the day. We go through the daily buying tasks, from orders and deliveries, to appointments, to see new designers and brands. I'll then liaise with the shop manager, Rei Nadal, and see which products and merchandising is performing well, which are slower, and what can be improved. There needs to be a good rotation and presentation of products in store. I'll then provide feedback to brands and sales agents, and have a meeting with our social media content manager, Akira Morgan, to discuss the sharing schedule. Later, I'll have a meeting with the e-commerce team to discuss the sales of the previous day before giving my directions, updating the delivery schedule, and discussing the reports with our partners. In the early afternoon I start my meetings with designers and brands in regards to exclusive collaborations, creative projects, and limited edition collections. In between I will make sure I spend enough quality time on the shop floor to meet customers and get the feeling of what they like and if there is something they are particularly looking for. This is one of the most important times in my daily routine. Towards the end of the day, we have another meeting to discuss the next day.

Of course, the day I just described changes dramatically over the course of the fashion weeks as most of my time is spent on shows, traveling, showroom visits, and order placement. This particular time is the most exciting one and the one that I need to be most focused on as this is when everything happens. Having analyzed sell through reports, data from retail and online, and finalized our schedule, I see the shows and visit the showrooms where I make selections. What I try not to forget is my instinct and my own personal taste. There is no success story for buying too safe. It becomes predictable and less interesting!

The moment that made me: 
I think that there are three people that I truly owe so many things. One is definitely Nick Knight as he took a chance on a young enterprise as MACHINE-A and a young person like me, when he wanted to partner with us. So many people started paying serious attention to what we were doing after this. Now everyone gets it! But back then, it was very brave and inspirational that Nick made that decision! Another person that I owe so much is Sarah Mower! Of course, everyone knows how important her opinion is in the industry and she enjoys the biggest respect by everyone. When Sarah showed her support to me and the store in a very gentle way, it made me feel I am on the right path and I must be doing something right! Finally Giovanni De Marchi of SLAM JAM is like my big brother — a great business man with so much knowledge and expertise to offer when I call him for advice.

To degree or not to degree, that is the question:
I think that university, regardless of how relevant the subject is to your work, gives you discipline that is needed. For me at least, it gave a different kind of strength and knowledge, in addition to the tools and skills to deal with my work.

That said, actual work experience is as important, if not more! It's a learning process of how you can deal and function in different environments. My advice to anyone who wants to secure a placement is be noble, work hard, and never think that little tasks are a waste of time. Every single thing you learn, you will use countless times in the future. Make sure you respect the environment you work in and the people that take the chance on you! This industry is too small; be nice because you will meet the same people many, many times.

The biggest lesson I have learned is to work hard, be nice to everyone, and have thick skin. Things will not always go as planned, but take the moment to understand what you can learn from this. And don't be hard on yourself. Every disappointment has made me who I am today and given me enough strength to deal with almost anything. Don't let anyone tell you cannot do something!

What I wish I knew then that I know now:
"That smoking wasn't that cool as I thought back when I was 16! A person I care a lot about recently told me that we only have one life but if you live it right, it is enough! 

The advice I'd give anyone wishing to follow in my footsteps:
Don't follow my footsteps! Create your own! Enjoy the moments! Hope for everything, expect nothing And play nice!

I'm excited by tomorrow because:
I'm excited by DELADA. I'm working with them and think it could become an important brand! I'm excited about the endless possibilities of MACHINE-A, there are so many projects that we will release soon. Being creative has no limits, you meet people and create together. This moment in life, we connect and we create something together. That is a great feeling to have and share with people you admire and respect.


Text Stavros Karelis
Images via Instagram

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