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Communication: backbone of merchandising

Over the years of the growth of merchandising as a discipline in the apparel export industry, there have been many changes in the job profile of the apparel merchandiser. It has charges from a simple to a much more complex job transcending almost all departments and functions in an export house. This has led to a change in the skills required for the job and evolution of the discipline of export merchandising. Prime purpose of a merchandiser is to ensure that delivery of the order is made in time. Effective communicationwith buyer and supplier is a very important aspect of this job.

The success of any export order is depends upon the performance of merchandiser, which plays central role in whole process. Global sourcing is the way of doing business today, hence for the production and execution of any order, merchandiser need to communicate with the different people in the world those have different culture, language, attitude and etiquettes to follow. Proper communication with etiquettes will give edge to the merchandiser’s performance.

At the starting of any export order development, the information, queries, and details of export are exchange between the buyer and merchandiser by communication process only. Buyer communicates his requirements/expectations with merchandiser by providing standard manuals and style specific documents like Specification Sheet, Bill of Materials, etc.

The ways of communication in apparel merchandising can be shown as.


Merchandiser  has to communicate with different levels of people – existing buyers for the follow- up for orders in hand, new buyers for potential futurebusiness, the concerned departments like production, quality, purchase, accounts, shipping, etc., for execution of order, suppliers for the procurement of fabric and accessories, and subordinates for giving proper instructions and guidance. Merchandiser should be expert to make effective communication in today’s apparel industry which is beyond the border.

Modes of communication:
There are several modes of communication those are commonly practiced in fashion merchandising to communicate with buyer and suppliers
1. E-mail
2. Telephonic conversation
3. Formal meetings
4. Video conference
5. Courier
6. Virtual prototyping
7. Electronic data interchange (EDI)

1. E-mail:
Electronic mail is very commonly used mode communication not only in apparel industry but everywhere. It is very easy to transfer information, files and documents, pictures with e-mail. But while dealing with international buyer merchandiser must keep in mind the e-mail etiquettes.

Some important e-mail etiquettes

  • Be sure to include a meaningful subject line which includes the Style Number; this helps clarify what your message is about and will also help the buyer to prioritize reading your email.
  • Just like a written letter, be sure to open your email with a greeting like Dear Dr. Jones, or Ms. Smith:
  • Use standard spelling, punctuation, and capitalization.
  • Write clear, short paragraphs and be direct and to the point.
  •  Try to respond within a reasonable time frame
  • Trim back the old messages.
  • Never send an attachment to someone you don’t know the first time you contact them

” Avoid unnecessarily large file sizes. Digital photos especially: most digital photos come                 off the camera much larger than can be viewed on screen.

2. Telephonic conversation:
This is the most effective mode of communication where buyer and merchandiser talk’s formally on telephone, and direct interaction happens between

them. Telephonic conversations happen between buyer and merchandiser quite often. Merchandiser should be aware of telephonic etiquettes which need to follow while talking with international personalities, in order to maintain the good relationship with buyer. The main advantage of telephonic conversation it is used to get quick response from buyer for an emergency case. But the disadvantage is that, merchandiser doesn’t have any proof of conversation, hence it may be risky for merchandiser.

3. Formal meetings:
Merchandiser need to conduct formal meetings with different people, at different stages of order processing. This is the oldest and very reliable source of communication, which ensures the quick response. This is very effective method of communication, the facial expressions, body language, and attitude towards particular situation can be judge on the spot, and decisions can be made at that time. Merchandiser need to communicate with following departments at a time or individually.

4. Video conference:
With explosion of technology in current decade, today it is very easy to communicate with buyer without leaving the office. As in fashion industry outsourcing is very common practice, and normally buyer office may be at a long distance; hence for buyer as it is very difficult to come at manufacturing country every time to meet with people. Videoconferencing uses audio and video telecommunications to bring people at different sites together. Video conferencing helps in eliminating the disadvantages of both telecommunication and actual meeting. Video conferencing can be point-to-point conversation between buyer and garment factory or garment factory and fabric supplier or multipoint conversation, for example, buyer, garment manufacturer and fabric supplier at a time. Besides the audio and visual transmission of meeting activities, allied videoconferencing technologies can be used to share documents and display information on whiteboards which is very reliable and time saving also. Videoconferencing can enable individuals in distant locations to participate in meetings on short notice, with time and money savings.

5. Courier:
The most important aspect of communication, physical samples and documents are sent via courier. Hence there must be effective courier service nationally and internationally available with

6. Virtual prototyping:
Today, apparel manufacturers are under pressure to reduce time to market and optimize products to higher levels of performance and reliability. With technological advancements it is very easy to communicate with buyer at very low cost and within very short period of time even at sampling stage. Proto typing is first stage where only aesthetics are judge in sample; hence virtual prototyping is effective and time saving way to communicate with buyer without sending physical sample.Virtual prototyping is a technique in the process of product development.


It involves using computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided engineering (CAE) software. Virtual prototyping is an emerging technology in today’s rapid changing world; hence merchandiser should aware of this technology and able handle the situations accordingly.

7.  Electronic Data Interchange (EDI):
In today’s challenging and competitiveeconomy, many apparel manufacturing organization struggle tosurvive and grow using paper-basedand manual processes such as phones,faxes, emails and couriers to dobusiness.These methods affect the efficiencyof the business, not to mention thechallenges they pose for record keepingand reconciliation. Supply chains of apparels also relyon a large number of documents beingexchanged when apparels are manufactured,ordered, delivered, received and sold.Millions of trading documents such aspurchase orders, invoices and despatchadvices, also known as Advanced Shipping Notices (ASNs), are exchanged dailybetween buyer, supplierand partners.

Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) is the computer-to-computer exchange of standard electronic business documents, such as purchase orders and invoices, between two organisations. The sending company creates an electronic document and the receiving company processes it – without the need for human intervention. There are two key elements in basic EDI. First, electronic documents replace paper based ones. Second, the exchange of documents takes place in a standardised format.

Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) can help fashion businesses save costs and improve efficiency by replacing manual and time consuming processes that require human intervention and materials suchas paper documents, meetings and faxes. Expenditure on forms, postage, storage and administrative overhead can be reduced or even eliminated by simply cutting the use of paper. This move of replacing paper-based processes with EDI not only offers cost savings and business efficiency but also supports sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives.


Tools of fashion merchandiser:

Communication of information is a most important aspect of any export order process. In fashion merchandising there are various tools used to communicate the technical and colors information to factory in order to proceed further in export order. The communication tools are as:

1. Quality Manuals:
Quality is an integral part of fashion business which provides high degree satisfaction to its valued customers.  Quality manual is an official documentdeveloped by buyer that details how its quality management system operateswhile manufacturing the garments. Buyer will communicate its quality requirements by transfer of quality manuals to manufacturers. A typical quality manual will include the company’s quality policy and goals, quality requirements and expectations about the manufactured garment, manufacturing procedure, environmental conditions, labour compliances and safety precautions. A detailed description of its quality control system that might include staff roles and relationships, procedures, systems and any other resources that relate to producing high quality apparels.This manual describes step by step instructions to conduct garment inspection and thus serves the purpose of training team members.  Many procedures included in this manual have been carefully developed to achieve the desired quality goals. Where necessary, some procedures have been standardized after carefully studying the standards and procedures supplied by international organizations like ISO, ASTM etc.

2. Purchase order:
Purchase order is a document that the buyer issues to supplier for conveying the technical, quantitative and qualitative details of the garmentalong with finalized price. Essential features of a Purchase Order:
Features of the Purchase Order
l Product Specification
l Quantity
l Unit of Measurement
l Agreed cost of garment
l Date of delivery
l Agreed incoterm
l Destination port
l ICD (if applied)
l Agreed Foreign exchange rete
l Detailed address of factory
l Detailed address of buyer

After the initial round of negotiations of costing and quality with the help of sampling,     between buyer and factory, buyer sends the PO to factory and confirms the order with delivery date. POis one of the most important documents, as it is a promise by the buyer that he is ready to purchase the goods mentioned in PO, with specific quality and quantity, at the specific rate and on the particular date and place.

3. Style No.:
The style number is a unique identifier for the merchandise and it may be numeric or alpha-numeric.Style number also helps to indicate the classification or product group to which the product belongs and the season. Style no. refers and sends by the buyer which is one of the most effective ways of communication in apparel merchandising. Style no. indicates the style, year, season, colour and one specific reference no. which show the specific style. The main significance of style no. is, every time it is not necessary to describe the whole garment while writing the mail or telephonic conversation. Only style no. will serve the purpose of both buyer and merchandiser. E.g. MH44SP 1101 depicts MH is the brand name – Mother Hood, SP is the spring Season, 44 will be garment size and 1101 is the identification number for the style.

In addition to identifying the product in the database, a style number can also be used for creating bar codes for identifying products from design idea through distribution and sales and finally in the analysis of sold products. With specifications, the merchandiser is more assured of having a product that meets not only the designer’s original plan but also the consumer’s fondest.

At any point of time buyer or factory merchandiser needs to refer the status of order, on telephonic or e-mail conversation they communicate with only style no. because it is very convenient to identify the particular style from number of orders which are running parallelly.

4. Tech pack:
Tech pack is the most effective way of communication with apparel manufacturer/merchandiser as per as style’s technical details are concern. A Tech pack is informative sheet which encompasses all the specifications of the requirements before embarking on the garment manufacturing process. Contains all the details of any specific style of the garment. It helps in producing accurate samples, which improves turnaround time and simplifies communication during all stages of manufacturing and quality control. This document is usually prepared by the buyer/designer and finalized in consultation with the merchandisers. The tech-pack is communicated with factory merchandiser, once a style is frozen by buyer, the factory must be able to go ahead with the manufacturing process without having to refer back to the buyer for any aspect of production. The merchandisers are thus able to go ahead and ensure that the required material as per the tech-pack is available with to the factory, in the right quantities at the right time.Once a tech Pack is received by the factory merchandiser, it analysis the Tech Pack in terms of:

  • Product Class
  • Size Ranges
  • Season
  • Fabrication
  • Styling
  • Flat Sketch
  • Construction details
  • Colours combos
  • Trim Details
  • Graphic Details
  • Graphic placement details
  • Measurement Spec Sheet
  • Measurement chart

Colour communication
When colours,print patterns and fabric are selected either for a long-term use as a brand image or as a seasonal colour, the selected colour is identified and determined as a colour standard. It is very important that this colour, print patterns and fabric standard must be replicate in bulk production. In order to get the conformation about bulk producibility, fabric supplier ensures the colour communication which includes Lad-dip, desk-loom, print-strike off, thread run, art work. Apparel merchandiser need to keep close eye on all these activities and need to cross check the same. Most of the time merchandiser directly involves in all these activities along with fabric and garmentvendor.

1. Lab dip/yarn-dip/ knit down
Lab-dips are developed in order to get conformation that the colour standard given by buyer is producible in production. Another important thing is, lab-dip is done to provide the visual aid on how colour will look when it is dyed on approved fabric. Lab-dip must be match with given standard. Merchandiser uses lab-dip as communication tool in order to get approval from buyer to precede for bulk production of fabric.

A lab dip is a swatch of fabric test dyed to hit a colour standard. Lab dips are reviewed in two ways either by visual inspection or by using spectro-photometer. For visual inspection “light box” is used. A light box is a machine where the interior is painted a neutral colourless grey (as to not skew the colour of the   dip) and has several options of light under which you can see your dip. The person responsible for reviewing lab dips will then give comments such as “too dark, too red, make lighter, more green” until the standard is achieved. Spectrophotometer is a technology gives values (L, a, b, c, h and delta-E) which gives clear idea that how much Lab-dip is closer to given standard. Some buyer gives approval on visual matching while some follows the spectrophotometer readings. If some yarn is specified then dyed yarn is submitted as Yarn-dip, while for knits, sometimes for dyed yarn merchandiser submits Knit- down which may be developed by hand knit or sample knitting machine.

Unless and until lab-dip is not approved by buyer line development program is not precede further.

2. Desk-loom:
Desk loom basically a fabric made on sample weaving machine, which can be operated by hand. Desk loom submission is necessary in order to get review of the fabric which going to approve. Sometimes desk loom also get dyed in lab to see the appearance of coloured desk loom fabric. Merchandiser need to submit the desk loom to buyer in order to get approval for proceeding for the bulk production. Generally desk loom submitted for yarn dyed fabric. With desk-loom merchandiser communicates with buyer that the fabric is producible in bulk, moreover merchandiser asks approval for bulk production of same fabric.

3. Print strike off:
To communicate the print on fabric apparel merchandiser develops print strike off, to make sure that print given by buyer is producible in bulk. Problems associated while printing and other issues are communicated with buyer.  A test length of fabric specially printed in order to check the pattern registration, pattern repeat and the matching shades in the design.  This includes perfecting the patterns, putting them into a repeat format for printing, choosing colours and colour ways for each pattern, and sending them to the print plant. The print plants then make engravings of the patterns, and create what is called a strike off, or first try, of the print and the colours requested. These colours are then refined to add depth, contrast, proper saturation of colour, and to make sure each piece is as beautiful as it can be. This may take several strike-offs before each piece is perfected.  Strike off s developed by the mill assigned and then it is reviewed by the PD merchant and the production merchant. Various problems with the print and print technique are found and callouts are discussed.  The print strike off is then sent to buyer for approval along with the callouts.

4. Thread run:
Thread is one of the important aspect of production of apparels. Before going for actual production the sewing thread which is going to use must be communicated with buyer by using thread run. And buyer approval is necessary, before placing the order for thread merchandiser sends thread run for approval. Hence before ordering the thread, the sample of thread must get approved by buyer.  In thread run the sample of thread is given along with, thread performance results like strength, fastness properties etc. This must be approved by buyer before actual production starts.

5. Art work:
Art work is another important aspects which need to get approved from buyer. Art work contains the barcode stickers, waistband tag, hand tag designs which is specified by buyer. This need to be submitted physically or picture of them is sufficient depending upon buyer requirement.

Communication in fashion merchandising is totally a different way. It requires not only communication skills but also punctuality, negotiation skills etc. the tools used to communicate by fashion merchandiser are may be physical or intangible. For successful communication fashion merchandiser should understand the requirement of buyer. Proper and timely submission of all aspects of communication will give edge to performance of fashion merchandiser.

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