Fashion Designer Jobs | Fashion Design Careers
Page updated 3/1/2016
Fashion designers create original clothing, accessories, and footwear. They sketch designs, select fabrics and patterns, and give instructions on how to make the products they designed.
Study fashion trends and anticipate designs that appeal to consumers
Larger apparel companies typically employ a team of
designers headed by a creative designer. Some fashion
designers specialize in clothing, footwear, or accessory
design, but others create designs in all three fashion
For some fashion designers, the first step in creating a new design is researching current fashion and making predictions of future trends, using trend reports published by fashion industry trade groups. Other fashion designers create collections from inspirations they get from their regular surroundings, from the cultures they have experienced and places they have visited, or from various art media that inspire them.
After they have an initial idea, fashion designers try out various fabrics and produce a prototype, often with less expensive material than will be used in the final product. They work with models to see how the design will look and adjust the designs as needed.
Although most designers first sketch their designs by
hand, many now also sketch their ideas digitally with
computer-aided design (CAD) programs. CAD allows
designers to see their work on virtual models. They can
try out different colors, design, and shapes while
making adjustments more easily than they can when
working with real fabric on real people.
The designers produce samples with the actual materials that will be used in manufacturing. Samples that get good responses from editors or trade and fashion shows are then manufactured and sold to consumers.
Although the design process may vary by specialty, in general it takes 6 months from initial design concept to final production, when either the spring or fall collection is released. Some companies may release new designs as frequently as every month, in addition to releases during the spring and fall.
The Internet and e-commerce allow fashion designers
to offer their products outside of the traditional
brick-and-mortar stores. Instead they can ship directly
to the consumer, without having to invest in a physical
shop to showcase their products lines.
The following are examples of types of fashion designers including job postings:
Fashion designers held about 22,300 jobs in 2012. Fashion designers work in wholesale or manufacturing establishments, apparel companies, retailers, theater or dance companies, and design firms.
More fashion designers work for wholesalers or manufacturers than for any other industry. The lines of apparel and accessories of these wholesalers and manufacturers are sold to retailers or other marketers for distribution to individual stores, catalog companies, or online retailers. In many cases, these designers are “in-house designers.” Although the brands may be familiar to many consumers, the individual designers are largely unknown.
About 25 percent of fashion designers were self-employed in 2012. They typically design high-fashion garments and one-of-a-kind apparel on an individualized or custom basis. Self-employed fashion designers who are able to set up their own independent clothing lines often already have experience and a strong understanding of the industry. In some cases, a self-employed fashion designer may have a clothing line that bears their name.
The industries that employed the most fashion designers in 2012:
Most designers travel several times a year to trade and fashion shows to learn about the latest fashion trends. Designers also sometimes travel to other countries to meet suppliers of materials and manufacturers who produce the final products. Most fashion designers work in New York and California.
Most fashion designers work full time; however, some work part time. Occasionally, fashion designers work long hours to meet production deadlines or prepare for fashion shows. Designers who freelance generally work under a contract and tend to work longer hours and adjust their workday to their clients’ schedules and deadlines.
Most fashion designers have a bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as fashion design or fashion merchandising. Employers usually seek applicants with creativity, as well as a good technical understanding of the production process for clothing, accessories, or footwear.
Fashion Designer Education Requirements
Most fashion designers have a bachelor’s degree in fashion design or fashion merchandising. In these programs they learn about textiles and fabrics and how to use computer-aided design (CAD) technology. They are also able to work on designs that can be added to their portfolio.
For many artists, including fashion designers, developing a portfolio—a collection of design ideas that demonstrates their styles and abilities—is essential because employers rely heavily on a designer’s portfolio in deciding whether to hire the individual. For employers, it is an opportunity to gauge talent and creativity. Students studying fashion design often have opportunities to enter their designs in student or amateur contests, helping them to develop their portfolios.
The National Association of Schools of Art and Design accredits approximately 300 postsecondary institutions with programs in art and design, and many of these schools award degrees in fashion design. Many schools require students to have completed basic art and design courses before they enter a program. Applicants usually have to submit sketches and other examples of their artistic ability.
Fashion designers often gain their initial experience in the fashion industry through internships or by working as an assistant designer. Internships provide aspiring fashion designers an opportunity to experience the design process, building their knowledge of textiles, colors, and how the industry works.
Advancement in Fashion Design
Experienced designers may advance to chief designer,
design department head, creative director, or another
supervisory position in which they oversee certain
fashion lines or brands by a company.
Some experienced designers may start their own design company or sell their designs in their own retail stores. A few of the most successful designers work for high-fashion design houses that offer personalized design services to their clients.
Qualities of Fashion Designers
The median annual wage for fashion designers was $62,860 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $34,110, and the top 10 percent earned more than $126,290.
Earnings in this occupation can vary widely based on experience, employer, and reputation. Starting salaries in fashion design tend to be very low. Salaried fashion designers usually earn higher and more stable incomes than self-employed, freelance designers. However, a few of the most successful self-employed fashion designers earn many times the salary of the highest paid salaried designers.
In May 2012, the median annual wages for fashion designers in the top five industries in which these designers worked were as follows:
Job Outlook for Fashion Design Jobs
Most fashion designers work full time; however, some work part time. Occasionally, fashion designers work long hours to meet production deadlines or prepare for fashion shows. Designers who freelance generally work under a contract and tend to work longer hours and adjust their workday to their clients’ schedules and deadlines. Employment of fashion designers is projected to decline 3 percent from 2012 to 2022.
Most apparel continues to be produced internationally. As a result, employment of fashion designers in the apparel manufacturing industry is projected to decline 51 percent during the projection period. Declining employment in the apparel manufacturing industry is preventing overall employment of fashion designers from increasing.
However, designers will still be needed to design clothing and accessories for the mass market and everyday wear. In addition, as new clothing technology is developed, fashion designers will be needed to create garments using new fabrics, such as moisture-wicking fabrics.
Those with formal education in fashion design, with excellent portfolios, and with industry experience will have the best job prospects. However, strong competition for jobs is expected because of the large number of people who seek employment as fashion designers and the relatively few positions available. In addition, it may be necessary for some fashion designers to relocate. Employment opportunities for fashion designers are highly concentrated in New York and California.
Citation: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Fashion Designers, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/arts-and-design/fashion-designers.htm