IMC student works toward fashion merchandising career

Alayna Cagle
Oxford Stories

STUDENT PROFILE – It has been said that although students may graduate from the University of Mississippi, you are always still a part of the family. Riley Williamson, a buyer for Neilson’s department store and longtime employee, couldn’t agree more. 

From the beginning of high school, Ole Miss has always been Williamson’s top university choice. Williamson graduated from Germantown High School in 2017, just an hour outside of Oxford. Because of the short distance from her home, she drove to the cozy city often with her high school friends.

Williamson’s father is also a UM graduate, and he encouraged her to visit, knowing she would fall in love. She and her father bond over the memories spent watching football games, socializing in the Grove, Greek life and so many other cherished rituals.

“If it weren’t for my family, I would not have considered going to Ole Miss,” Riley said.

Williamson was born in Memphis and is an only child to her parents Erwin and Tammy. She grew up in Germantown with a great support system from her close friends and high school teachers. Her love for fashion was simply an interest until she moved to Oxford for college and realized she could do something she loves every day and get paid for it.

“I would always get compliments from my friends and teachers about my outfit choices,” she said. “She found fashion merchandising was the perfect fit for her. Williamson has always loved working with people and knew she would succeed if she was able to do that.”

Williamson has always loved creative writing, design and fashion. As a freshman, the School of Journalism and New Media appealed to her because it aligned with her interests, although she did not have a specific career path in line.

During her time at Ole Miss, she discovered integrated marketing communications and found that the path offered many opportunities and areas she could explore. During a meeting with her advisor, she discussed exploring public relations and fashion merchandising.

Sophomore year, Williamson began working on the Square at Neilson’s and quickly became a star employee.

“I first began working at Neilson’s for the money until I realized I had a niche for it,” she said.

Williamson said working in the retail industry fit her like a puzzle piece. Her boss noticed her drive and ability to dress and work well with customers and asked her if she has ever been interested in becoming a buyer. 

Through her sophomore, junior and senior years at the university, Williamson was involved in Greek Life. She served as social chair of Phi Mu. She was popular among her sorority sisters, coworkers and professors and learned many business and social skills.

She stayed actively involved in internship opportunities and extracurricular activities. Because Williamson is interested in creative design and fashion merchandising, she manages Neilson’s social media pages and their marketing efforts in the online community. 

Williamson took an average of 15 hours per semester until her last semester, in which she took 18 to be able to graduate early. Her favorite class was internet marketing. In that class, she learned better social media marketing skills and applied them to her position at Nielson’s.

Her professor, Brad Conaway dove into the fundamentals of internet marketing skills. Williamson explained that although she is not an influencer, she is better at working for a business entity page. She knows how to brand herself. She prefers to work with branding a business entity. 

Williamson hopes to expand her horizons and begin searching for a larger buying position in Oxford. She plans to live in Oxford for the next two years and keep working for Nielson’s.

She hopes to travel to large marts in big cities such as Las Vegas and Atlanta. She has plans to accompany her boss at AmericasMart Atlanta, a wholesale trade center located in Downtown Atlanta, Georgia. The exhibition center is one of the largest permanent wholesale trade centers in the world. AmericasMart Atlanta consists of three buildings totaling seven million square feet. 

Being a buyer usually requires long hours, extensive traveling and difficult negotiations. Williamson noted that in order to become a successful buyer, it is important to have a bachelor’s degree in a pertaining field and gain experience in the retail industry.

She said the job entails staying current with fashion trends, sourcing products and developing relationships with product vendors, as well as managing product orders and sales in line with the employer’s margin and profit goals.

She learned from her fashion merchandising professor that it is imperative to have both a business sense and fashion savvy to acquire apparel and accessory merchandise for clothing companies.

“My dream is to become a buyer for Neilson’s,” Riley said. 

Employers look for about 1-5 years of related professional experience. Williamson has two under her belt and is working to further her experience another two years. Entry-level positions in this field often include purchasing clerk, junior buyer or assistant buyer. Williamson is currently working as a junior buyer and is learning the buying process and opportunities to learn about trend forecasting price negotiations, inventory and sales systems. 

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