How I Got my Job as a Luxury Retail Merchandiser: Interview with Rachel Glennie

Something new and exciting is happening on the blog- I’m starting a new series where I speak to some sorted twenty-somethings with cool jobs to find out how they got them.

First up is Rachel Glennie, who works as a retail merchandiser for luxury clothing company, Johnstons of Elgin.

Rachel (23) studied fashion management in Aberdeen and started out at Johnston’s with a summer job in their flagship retail store. Through some interesting twists and turns, including a stint working for them in London, she is now their ladies wear merchandiser. Awesome.

I asked her a bit about her job and how she got there.

Why did you decide to study fashion?
I found it by accident. When I was in fifth year I wanted to do medicine. It was actually one of my friends who was going to do the course. She’d been telling me about this fashion course and it was always something I had been interested in- clothes and reading fashion magazines. I am actually better at the arty things than science so it was cool to find a fashion business course that I wanted to do.

It was quite a risk because I’d never even studied business at school before. I just thought, well it’s something I’m really interested in and it’s maybe more where my talents lie. It’s an exciting industry, something completely different.

A lot of people have this fear when they don’t have a job the day they graduate and they freak out. How did you feel just after graduating?
I think graduation was such an exciting time because 4th year was so tough and you are just so excited for the moment you don’t have to worry about it anymore. It’s such a weird feeling. You feel like you should be doing something but you’re not. It was quite tough to be leaving and not have something lined up. Some people would just beat themselves up about it and I saw a lot of people put themselves under far more pressure than it was worth.

I think I was glad to have a bit of breathing space and a bit of time. You’re never going to have the chance again to do what you want to do that’s not career orientated.

A few of the girls on the course had jobs lined up down in London but I just took a bit of time to myself, came back and worked in the shop at Johnstons, which wasn’t part of my original plan. I think it’s a good time to decide what you want to do. It’s so much easier to take time rather than rush into something and think, ‘no this isn’t what I want to do’.

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Rachel working on a uni final project

How did the London thing come about?
(Having a concession in Selfridges) is something Johnstons have done for the last two years. We work with them anyway and with the whole personalization embroidery thing it’s totally boomed. My manager in the shop had first spoken to me about it. I’d applied for another job in London, in the (Johnstons) sales office as a customer services assistant.

I didn’t get it; the company and I realised that the role wasn’t right for me. Fortunately by having that interview, they realised I would be well suited to the Selfridges role and that’s how that began.  They said to me, we didn’t give you that because we want you to do this- can you be our team leader and go down to Selfridges in Manchester? It was kind of the first opportunity to bring Johnstons into England so it was a big exercise. I had a lot of responsibility so I was happy to do it. Then we moved onto the London store and that was just an amazing experience.

It was worth not getting the grad jobs I’d applied for straight from uni so I had the time to explore and visit London and work there for a short period of time and not feel committed to stay there years and years.

Another thing I’ve learnt is that it’s not only about who you know but who knows you.”

***

Did they then offer you the merchandising job?

There had been a vacancy for the job just as I was about to leave for London. The buyer (at Johnstons) told me to apply for it, and told me I was so capable and now I had the paper behind me. By that point though I was already off to Selfridges. She said apply anyway and put your name out there. I didn’t get that role because I was going away but I’d not long arrived in London and I got a phonecall saying that when I came back they wanted to find a place for me in the buying office. I kept reminding them and keeping in touch. They kept a position for me and I was so lucky to be in a situation like that just out of uni.

It just shows the loyalty, even from you working in the shop
Another thing I’ve learnt is that it’s not only about who you know but who knows you. Whether you’re a shop assistant or work in the mill, if you make an impression they will think of you as the first person and that’s a nice way to think about the whole thing. The job hunt can get so self-centered. People get so consumed on making friends with this person and that person but it reflects better by just doing your best. It’s not something you’re often told or encouraged to do but I’ve grown to see the worth in it.

“At the end of the day no matter how exciting fashion is there’s more to life than work”

***

So obviously you had your time in London and that was great, but your first ‘big’ job relevant to your degree was back home. A lot of people just want to rush somewhere exciting, but how has working where you’re from, in a smaller company, suited you?
I think it’s definitely difficult at first. Especially up here where there just isn’t a fashion industry. When I first applied here as a shop assistant in my second year (at uni), I hadn’t really thought about it as somewhere to stay long term but just a summer job.

You’re not somewhere (in Elgin) where people are fighting for jobs and flats like London. When they see you’re loyal to them they will be loyal to you and reward you for that. You get to know the whole company- the managing director is in the same building! I think with bigger companies you can miss the opportunity to get to know everyone. Everyone knows everyone here and I think that’s not a bad thing.

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Where would you ideally like to be in five years? What’s the dream job?
I would really like to be a buyer. I was always told it’s good to work both sides of the coin, so starting off as an assistant merchandiser is really good and to understand the numbers side of it. Being in that position now I can totally see the value. In a wider industry standard I’m in more of an admin role so it’s good to understand what your job actually involves. If I’m still with the boyfriend I have now he’s a lawyer so we couldn’t move to London.

At the end of the day no matter how exciting fashion is there’s more to life than work and after being down there it seems like such a lonely place. I think it’s a nice place to keep visiting but living there would be so intense. To have my own company would be amazing. If I could choose one thing it would be to have my own company, although I’m not too sure what that would be yet. It’s good to be realistic. There’s jobs now that would never have been around 10 years ago, so who knows what jobs will be available in the future?

You can follow Rachel over at her blog The Honest Type

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