Written by Betsy Abraham Saturday, 06 April 2013 00:00
Shopping in Paris, London and Milan sounds like a shopaholic’s dream, but for Juanita Fields, it’s all in a day’s work. As the Global Vice President of Merchandising and Fashion Director for Contempo Group, the Westbury resident has made a living of spotting the hottest new trends all over the world and getting them in stores near you.
Fields always knew she wanted to be in the fashion industry. When the Florida native moved to New York City with her husband, she got a job on Wall Street as an assistant to a trader. However, she soon realized that wasn’t where her heart was.
“It was too financial for me, it was too serious. So I started scoping out the stores that I wanted to start a career in,” Fields said.
Bloomingdales immediately stood out to Fields.
“I loved what they stood for and their products. Bloomingdales was the coolest place to shop,” Fields said.
She set out to get an internship at Bloomingdales. She filled out an application for the executive training program five times, before ever getting a call back.
“I knew Bloomingdales was very highly regarded in the industry and it would probably not be easy to get into the training program,” Fields said. “But I’m a firm believer that if you really want something, you should continue to pursue and work to achieve your passion.”
She stayed at Bloomingdales 13 years, rising from manager, to assistant buyer, to associate buyer. She then moved onto a job with buying office Frederick Atkins, then a merchandise director for specialty store Steinmart, and then became Executive Director at Charming Shops. However, after the economy went down in 2008, the entire executive team of Charming Shops, including Fields, was let go. With a year and a half worth of severance pay, she decided to take on some clients of her own and start her own consulting agency, called J.Fields Inc. One of her clients was the Hong Kong based Contempo Group.
Contempo Group, a sourcing and product development company that specializes in clothing, accessories and home goods, became interested in Fields’ expertise. The company was looking for someone to redirect their business and figure out new goals and new trends, which was something Fields had years of experience doing. After three months of working with them, Fields accepted their offer to become a permanent employee.
For the past four years, Fields has been working with clients such as TJ Maxx and QVC to make sure they have the latest trends and products in their stores. She makes regular trips to fashion capitals like Munich, Paris, and Barcelona, identifying upcoming trends. She presents these ideas and samples to her clients, who then choose what products they want, the quantity they want and how much they want to pay for it. She then takes those demands back to Contempo, who work to find the cheapest and best manufacturer.
As anyone who’s looked at a clothing label lately may know, many garments and accessories are made overseas. Fields says that while there is a push to bring production back to the U.S., it’s more cost efficient for her clients to go overseas.
“When stores are looking to do long term or protect their bottom line, it’s cheaper and that’s why they end up going to Asia, because the labor is cheaper and the factories can offer cheaper prices. And that’s the best way for the business to make money,” Fields says.
However, overseas production does have a downside. The planning that has to go into getting a product made and shipped in a factory in Asia is much more extensive.
“It’s a longer lead time, because it takes so long to get things. Everyone’s thinking of how they can get domestic production so they can have quicker turnaround,” Fields said.
Fields is already planning and pitching her clients the trends of Spring 2014. So what’s the secret to knowing the next big thing in style?
“You just have a gut instinct. If you’ve been in the business a long time, you kind of figure it out. And you don’t always know,” Fields said. “But it’s not just about finding the new item, but also going back and updating the old trends if the customer hasn’t given up on it yet.”
Looking to update your wardrobe for the spring? Fields says orange and pops of yellow will be the big colors of the season. Also making a return are printed pants in vibrant colors and florals, bomber jackets, high low hems on dresses and shirts, lace, zippers, and color blocking with unique placements of the color. She also suggests dressing up your wardrobe with simple accessories such as a scarf, colored tanks or bright jewelry.