Fashion Designer

Career Information

Designers working together on a project
Two fashion designers collaborate on a project. Cavan Images/Iconica/Getty Images

A fashion designer creates clothing, including dresses, suits, pants, and skirts, and accessories such as shoes, for consumers. One can specialize in clothing, accessory, or jewelry design or may work in more than one of these areas.

Some fashion designers focus on costume design. Those who do create wardrobes for television, movie, and theater productions. A costume designer will research the styles and periods of clothing needed for film or theatrical productions.

Quick Facts

  • Fashion designer's median annual salary was $65,170 in 2016.
  • As of 2014, there were slightly more than 23,000 people employed in this occupation.
  • Most fashion designers work for wholesalers and manufacturers.
  • Full-time jobs are more common than part-time ones.
  • About a quarter of fashion designers are self-employed.
  • The job outlook for this field is poor. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts employment growth that will be slower than the average for all occupations through 2024.

A Day in the Life of a Fashion Designer

What should you expect your work to entail? To find out, we took a look at some job announcements on Indeed.com.

  • "Draw, design, and develop new samples, and create and submit worksheets"
  • "Participate in design meetings for line development. Review and present line and concepts regularly"
  • "Identify consumer relevant product opportunities through market research"
  • "Execute design and fit intent into bulk production while maintaining corporate standards"
  • "Responsible for costing out all garments"
  • "Assist design team with communication to vendors on design issues via email regarding approvals and production issues"

The Truth About a Career in Fashion

Before you commit to becoming a fashion designer, there are some things you should know about this field.

They may make you alter your career direction. If you are hoping to become the next Tommy, Calvin, or Vera, sorry to report that your chances of that happening are slim. Although some designers are household names, most remain unknown to the general public. They anonymously create the designs behind well-known brands and lesser known labels.

Expect to work hard, especially when a fashion show is upcoming or a deadline is approaching. Designers frequently have to work long hours.

If you are attached to your hometown and that hometown isn't a big city, think twice about becoming a designer. If you do, there is a good chance you will have to relocate to find employment. The fashion industry is concentrated in major cities, such as New York and Los Angeles.

You should also anticipate racking up those frequent flyer miles. Travel is part of most fashion designers' jobs. You will have to attend trade and fashion shows, as well as visit the countries in which many factories that produce clothing and accessories are located.

How to Become a Designer

You don't need a college degree to become a fashion designer, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't earn one anyway. While formal education isn't required to enter this field, many of the candidates who will be competing against you for jobs will have an associate or bachelor's degree in fashion design or a related field.

If you choose to earn a degree, your coursework will include color, textiles, sewing and tailoring, pattern making, fashion history, and computer-aided design (CAD). You will also learn about different types of clothing such as menswear or footwear. An internship will be a valuable addition to your classroom education. You can also gain experience by working as an assistant to a fashion designer.

What Soft Skills Do You Need?

In addition to the technical skills you will learn in a classroom or on the design floor as an intern or assistant, there are several characteristics you need in order to succeed in this occupation. We refer to those non-technical skills as soft skills, and they include:

  • Creativity: You must be able to generate ideas for products. 
  • Artistic Ability: A designer must be able to transform a design from an idea into a physical illustration and then, eventually, to a prototype on which the finished product will be based. You will also need a keen sense of style and color.
  • Communication Skills: Designers usually work in teams. They must be great communicators, which means listening, speaking, and interpersonal skills are essential.
  • Attention to Detail: This trait will allow you to notice subtle differences in fabric colors and textures.

How to Advance

As a new designer, you will likely begin your career working for someone with more experience. Pattern maker or sketching assistant are examples of entry-level jobs. In due course, you can become a chief designer or a design department head, but that will be after accumulating many years of experience.

What Will Employers Expect From You?

In addition to training and experience, what other qualifications will make you a competitive job candidate? We turned again to Indeed.com to look at a sampling of job announcements to learn about employers' requirements. Here's what we found:

  • "Desire to learn and collaborate as part of a design team"
  • "Computer literate (Photoshop or Illustrator, MS Office, Internet)"
  • "Desire to learn and collaborate as part of a design team"
  • "Thinks creatively, possesses the ability to identify trends and tracks on-going business"
  • "Flexibility with regards to job responsibilities"
  • "Ability to travel domestically and internationally"

Is This Occupation a Good Fit for You?

Find out if this is a good career for you. Take the Should You Be a Fashion Designer Quiz.

Related Occupations

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Art DirectorOversees the visual style of print materials, movie and tv productions, and product packaging

$89,820

Bachelor's Degree in Art or Design
PhotographerUses photographs to record events and tell stories 

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Associate or Bachelor's Degree in Photography 
Graphic DesignerCommunicates messages using visual elements$47,640

Bachelor's Degree in Graphic Design

Sources:
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 (visited April 17, 2017).
Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, O*NET Online (visited April 18, 2017).

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