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Ethics in practice: Building ethical relationships in wholesale selling

Exploring sales ethics in practice and looking at building ethical relationships in wholesale selling.

Sasha Shultz Reid built her career in jewelry wholesaling, and now holds the position of director of merchandising. In her role, Sasha is responsible for product development for bridge and costume jewelry lines.

She researches trends and translates the key trends identified into saleable and price-pointed products targeted at a variety of mass merchant accounts. She analyzes current sales at various price points, considering style features such as silhouette, color, and size, to develop future products that are tailored to present customer buying trends. She presents the created product lines to the members of their national sales force, who build and maintain relationships with retail buyers. Sasha provides support, particularly regarding all aspects of product inquiries, to the national sales team as they hold customer appointments.

Sasha Shultz Reid
The myriad of responsibilities she holds and the importance of protecting the reputation of a company that has been in existence since the 1970s requires careful attention to maintaining strong relationships with the buyers who depend on the jewelry products she develops and represents. Sasha’s leadership includes oversight of a team of junior merchants who work on customer sample requests, putting together the market lines for presentations, and archival of samples. She works daily with people in the creative and packaging department, the vice president for vendor/sourcing, and the system input manager.
The depth and breadth of Sasha’s duties introduce ethics-based decisions in multicultural, workplace, and interpersonal contexts. She reflects:
“I am in a business that requires direct relationships with overseas vendors. Through communication and travel, I have come to learn personal stories and meet the people behind the detailed manipulation of materials for the American markets. In a highly competitive field, my company’s fair treatment of workers and respect for people is tantamount to building trustworthy relationships across the world.”
Sasha offers an example from a recent trip to Thailand, where she was particularly struck by the effect of one American jewelry trend on the long-term well-being of a community, noting the opportunity for employment, and therefore better quality of life resulting from the location of her company’s factory in that community. She elaborates, “from an ethics point of view, globalism means the market has human implications. As we build relationships in developing countries, the least I can do is operate from a place of respect and gratitude.”
There is a full circle in this relationship because retail buyers want to be assured that the merchandise offered in their stores has been ethically produced, and the developer/wholesaler (Sasha and her company) holds that responsibility. Sasha recognizes both the importance of and challenges of implementing ethics in the fashion jewelry business, noting for example:
“In a competitive industry, materials testing and consistency is an important ethical standard. In order to build and maintain trust with clients and customers, our materials standards cannot slip. In the sterling silver industry, we meet expectations of .925 silver in our metals.”
She draws from a past incident at her company where there was a concern from a customer that the product wasn’t hitting the sterling standard. Sasha describes the way that the company addressed the client’s concern while maintaining strong relational trust with the manufacturing company:
“To break ethical trust with the vendor would have damaged our bottom line, but company leaders also trusted their specifications. The company purchased and installed higher-end testing equipment overseas and in the US in order to more accurately test, and prove, their high materials standards. These costly adjustments were worth maintaining trust and building on sales.”
Sasha confirms that she has been well served by her laser focus on detail. She elaborates:
“When developing and producing jewelry products for the mass market, there are many steps and specifications, often communicated globally, to keep track of. I build trust by exceeding expectations for my team and mass market clients. I also find my work doesn’t exist in a silo in a small company, but I find myself tracking development and orders cross-departmentally. Relationship building is key, especially under deadlines.”

Sasha offers advice to future fashion professionals to try to offer flexibility in thinking when working with clients, which can lead to future business. She continually models trust-building to her staff by showing clients a willingness to take on any project they request, even if the project doesn’t make it to completion due to pricing or material restrictions.

A willingness to take on product development projects from a client perspective affords opportunities for greater creativity, innovation, and ultimately long-term relationships that result from ethical selling practices.

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Sales and Advertising Ethics in the Fashion Industry

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