Job: Assistant Buyer, Neiman Marcus
Location: Dallas, Texas
Binna and I met through one of my best friends from home, Meg Phippin, who also happened to be one of the interviewees last month from Austin, TX. Binna and I got into some great conversation about women in her industry, how you’re just not going to know who you are at the age of 22, and the great Gucci Fiasco of 2017.
Tell us about yourself and how you landed in Dallas.
I am originally from Texas in a suburb called Plano, which is about thirty minutes from Dallas, and I went to the University of Texas at Austin. I really thought I would go out of state and do my own thing, but I ended up staying in Texas and had the most amazing four years there. I’m not one of those people who knew exactly what I wanted to do before leaving school. I ended up applying for the Neiman Marcus Buying internship on a whim because it sounded good, but I didn’t know anything about fashion merchandising or retail. Part of the application process was to take a retail math test, and I literally googled “what is retail math?” before taking it. I ended up getting the internship and I really enjoyed it. After all that, I ended up signing with Neiman after senior year and I have been here for a year now.
What made you want to work for Neiman Marcus?
I can tell you why I didn’t want to work for them. It was really hard for me to commit for a while because I felt like if I joined this company, my career trajectory would only be limited to the fashion industry, which scared me because I didn’t know if that was what I wanted. I ended up choosing Neiman, frankly, because I didn’t get any other offers that interested me, so I took it. I’ve always been the kind of person that believes things happen for a reason, so I signed and didn’t look back. I was going to make the most of it.
Are you happy with your decision to work there?
Yes, and the reasons I am happy I signed with Neiman are that I like getting to use a lot of parts of my brain. The role of a buyer is really fun. My buyer is probably what most people think of when they think of fashion. She flies out to New York, Los Angeles, Paris, London, and Florence, to look at the upcoming season’s assortments from different designers. She takes pictures, chooses her favorite items, and then brings them back to me. I’m in charge of half of the brand in the buying office and I manage helping pick the assortment, put in the orders, and manage pricing. Essentially, this is a product's life cycle. After a year in this role, many of my fears have diminished because I feel like the things I am learning within retail are so much more expansive than just fashion. It’s a great balance of being analytical and creative at the same time, which I really enjoy.
Have you made any mistakes in your career and what have you learned from them?
Yeah, I’ve made a lot of mistakes. In my job, I think the one thing I really had to learn is understanding the hierarchy of a room. You have to respect the fact that if you’re a new hire, you know the least about the company and you have the least experience, regardless. I think just really understanding the different levels of knowledge in a room and knowing there are people in the room who have a very deep understanding of the company is crucial. The specific mistake I made in regards to pricing is what I like to call the famous “Gucci Fiasco of 2017”. I basically messed up on pricing and it was tragic; I thought I was going to die, or better yet, get fired. This all went down on my 23rd birthday. My role is sort of unique in that I joined the office and then my counterpart went on maternity leave one month into my job. She was the person I was supposed to learn from, so you can probably do the math on this one. I had to teach myself everything because of this, and I was full-force drowning in those first few months. I made a pricing error with Gucci. I wasn’t familiar with our systems yet, and so I made an error keying in a sale. Thank goodness I was able to resolve it before the sale went live, but I learned that my responsibility is real and my actions have real-time impact, good or bad. When I’m training new Assistant Buyers, I always tell them about this fiasco because, yes, you’re going to make mistakes. You just learn and resolve them quickly. I had to remember that this was not a life or death situation, and I got over it.
What sort of role has age played in your career thus far?
I honestly think my age has helped me more positively. As Vice President of the student body at UT my senior year, I was placed in a lot of rooms with people much older than me. Because of the position I held, I already had the respect of these people when I walked in the room. Maintaining that respect and communicating well prepared me for the real world, so I thankfully learned that level of professionalism before jumping into my career.
What is it like being a woman in your field?
So I actually think about this a lot. I am Korean, so as an Asian American woman, it is something I’ve been thinking about more recently this past year. I am thankful that our company is majority women and that I have been able to start my first job in an atmosphere like this one. I’d say at least 70% of the people in the buying offices are women. My direct boss is a woman, and my boss’s boss is a woman, so that’s really cool to be surrounded by powerful women all of the time. I am also aware, however, that my boss’s boss is a woman, and her boss is a woman, but then her boss is a man. When I interned here, we had the opportunity to present to the executive board at the company. Throughout my internship, I worked with 75% women day to day, and then when I went to give a presentation to the executive board, eight of the ten people were men. I think there are a lot of components that go into this dynamic. The biggest change is when women start having kids, and that is a whole other thing we could get into. I think there are so many roadblocks for women to have kids and then balance their career too, that I think if we just had more ways to equalize that logistically, then we would have more women in leadership roles at companies.
I also just thought of another story related to this; going back to college when I ran for Vice President, my peers wanted me to flip the ballot, as in, they wanted me to run for President. So I kept telling them that I didn't care about the position. I cared about the work. I think my reasoning behind that was that it’s because a lot of people who go out for the president position go out for the title, not necessarily the work. I believe the guy I ran with, who is a phenomenal guy, was probably a much better president than I could have been at that time. It was a weird whiplash thing a year later when a girl running for Vice President reached out to me. She said that people were saying she should flip the ballot and then she told me that she didn’t care about the position; she cared about the work. So I yelled at her, saying I know how she feels, and that she is trying to overcompensate for those who are not doing this for the right reasons. I told her humility matters, but so do titles. I told her it’s okay to want to be president, that you have to understand that titles do matter in society and for you to discredit that, you’re putting yourself at a disadvantage as well as others who may have been thinking of running for president. I think a lot of women do think this way. Women think “oh I’ll get it done, I don’t need the credit”. But is that really the best way to be?
What do you like about being a young professional?
Work-wise, it is cool being a part of a big company and know that my impact is really spurring that on. I think the balance of free time is also a great perk of being a young professional. In college, it was hard to differentiate work and play, but I think I can differentiate the two now, mostly in part because my job is pretty much your standard nine to six job, so when I leave work, I truly leave work.
Any other advice?
One thing I always say to people who are going through job recruiting is that you think your first job is very important, but it is not going to make or break your career. I think as time passes and you go through different roles, you are surrounded by different people, you are around different industries, and you are going to learn more about yourself and what you want to do. You’re going to learn more about yourself next year than you did last year and the second you step into the working world, you’re going to learn about all of the different paths you had no clue about while in college. When you’re applying for jobs and you see a long list of opportunities, you don’t really get a good grasp of how attainable those things can be. I love the podcast How I Built This With Guy Raz because it is all of these people who achieved their dreams later in life. Most people don't come up with things like Patagonia, Rent the Runway, or Bumble at the age of 23. They might, but this podcast showcases the alternative. People want to know who they are when they’re 22, but they just don’t. You’re going to change and you’re going to learn things about yourself and the world. So I think if we could just alleviate that pressure a little bit, life in our twenties would be a lot better.
The YoPro Know's Takeaways:
- Understand the hierarchy of a room
- Yes, you’re going to make mistakes; you just learn and resolve them quickly
- I am aware that my boss’s boss is a woman, and her boss is a woman, but then her boss is a man
- The balance of free time is also a great perk of being a young professional
- Many of us are taught to think that our first job is very important; but it is not going to make or break your career
- You’re going to learn more about yourself next year than you did last year and the second you step into the working world, you’re going to learn about all of the different paths you had no clue about while in college