For Mairead Murphy, Buying Controller of the Ladieswear department at Primark (or Penneys, as we know it), her current position is what she considers to be the dream job. Here, she shares her career story and the importance of doing something you truly love.
Did you always know you wanted to be a buyer?
I've always been creative and loved fashion and clothing from an early age. When I was doing my Leaving Cert, it wasn’t exactly a career that I felt was easily attainable, so I decided to focus on business as a starting point. Once I had my degree from the University of Limerick, I carved my own career path in fashion buying. I would highly recommend this path to others as I am currently a buying controller in the ladieswear department in one of the fastest growing and exciting retailers in the industry.
I also have a cousin who works in the fashion industry in London and she gave me some great advice and tips on how to break into the fashion world at the beginning of my career. Fashion buying, for me, is the dream job. It’s a perfect balance as it allows me to use both my creative and entrepreneurial skills.
What undergraduate course did you study?
B.A International Business at the University of Limerick.
Where was your most formative work experience?
I started in Primark in 2004 in the childrenswear department as a buying administrator. The pace was fast but it was so rewarding and I loved every minute of it. I learnt so much from my first few seasons in the buying office. I clearly remember one evening the Buying Director telling me that I needed to apply for a visa for China. I was so green I didn’t even know what to pack! I learnt so much on my first buying trip that I still remember today.
The Primark business has grown significantly since 2004 but it continues to foster a culture of creativity and innovation. In 2004, I was challenged and pushed out of my comfort zone and today in 2019, I’m still learning something new every day.
What was your first ‘real job'?
After finishing my four years in U.L, I was selected to complete a graduate programme at Allianz in Dublin. This was my first real 9-5 job and it was a great year as I was earning my first salary in a new city and living with my university friends. However, it gave me true clarity that I needed to work in a creative environment and shape my own path into the fashion industry. It made me realise I needed to go after my dream job, so I could spend the rest of my career doing something I loved.
What was the most invaluable thing you learned early on in your career?
Always be innovative, dynamic and self-confident in your ability. Be true to yourself, follow your goals and always do the best you can. It’s important to remember you are only as good as the team around you, so work with them closely, communicate clearly and listen to their ideas.
What’s a common misconception about what you do?
I think the most common misconception is that fashion buyers spend all day sketching!
Could you describe an average workday?
Every day is different in the fashion world. At Primark, one day I could be meeting with suppliers, range building with the team and reviewing sales. The next day I could be travelling the world in search of the next trend for the upcoming season. No two days are the same, which makes my role really exciting.
What’s your main responsibility? Do you have team members or juniors to assist and support you?
I oversee the ladieswear collections for Knitwear, Jersey, Sports, and Swim and Beach. I have an amazing, creative team consisting of Trainee Buyers, Assistant Buyers and Buyers. My key responsibility, with the help of my team, is to deliver a commercially viable range that pushes the fashion boundaries and exceeds our customer’s expectation and needs. I spend a lot of my time with my team reviewing, building and signing off ranges. Once signed off, we build colour palette, collection, window and trend room plans.
How stressful would you rate your line of work? What do you do to de-stress after a long work week?
It's challenging and coffee is a must, but I love it and I wouldn’t choose to do anything else. For me, it is so important to have a work/life balance. You need to constantly recognise the importance of downtime so you can perform at your best. The key is to be able to switch off; when I’m at work, I’m at work and when I’m at home, I’m at home. After a long working week, I love to go home for the weekend and spend quality time with my husband and my little boy, cook a lovely meal, have a glass of red wine and enjoy the atmosphere of my home life.
Do you have a career mentor or someone you look up to/seek advice from?
Yes, many! I’ve worked with some of the most talented people in the industry and try to take something from everyone I’ve worked with at all levels. Everyone has a different skill set to offer; if you listen you will learn. My husband Shane is my true sounding board for lots of my career decisions as well. He is always there to give me impartial advice and is supportive in helping me achieve my goals.
Biggest risk you have taken in your career so far?
It depends how you define a career risk. I take very large, calculated risks every day in my role as a buyer. Personally, one of the biggest risks I’ve taken was deciding to take a year out after six years at Primark to travel around Australia, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. I left my role at an extremely volatile time in the economy and at a time when I was progressing quickly in my career. However, the experience was amazing. It allowed me to reevaluate my goals and gave me a different perspective on life.
For people who want to get into your line of work, what’s your parting advice?
It’s a tough industry and it can be demanding but if you love fashion, then it’s worth it. I would recommend gaining retail experience and developing an understanding of customer behaviours and shopping patterns. I would apply for work experience or an internship in a buying office. I would also stay informed, as technology is changing how our customers think and shop. Be flexible, be resilient and embrace change and new challenges.