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. Some designers work in all three areas. Another area of specialization is costume design for those who want to create wardrobes for television, movie and theater productions.
As of 2010, there were approximately 22,000 fashion designers employed in the US. Most work for wholesalers and manufacturers. Other have jobs with retailers, design firms and theater and dance companies. Full-time jobs are typical but part-time ones also exist. Some designers are self-employed. When a fashion show is upcoming or a deadline is approaching, designers have to work long hours whether they have full or part-time jobs or are self-employed.
If you are hoping to become the next Tommy, Calvin or Vera, sorry to report that your chances are slim. Although some designers are household names, most remain unknown to the general public. They anonymously create the designs behind well-known brands.
Since most jobs are found in big cities, such as New York and Los Angeles, expect to relocate if you live elsewhere. 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.
You don't need a college degree to become a fashion designer, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't earn one. 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). Students also learn about different types of clothing such as menswear or footwear.
An internship is a valuable addition to the education one receives in the classroom. One can also gain experience by working as an assistant to a fashion designer.
In addition to the technical skills one learns in a classroom or on the design floor as an intern or assistant, an individual must have several characteristics in order to succeed in this occupation. First and foremost is artistic ability. A designer must be able to transform a design from an idea to a physical illustration and then, eventually, to a prototype on which the finished product will be based. Creativity is also a must for without it he or she would not come up with those ideas in the first place. Designers usually work in teams. That makes strong communication skills a very important trait. Computer aided design is increasingly used in the fashion world and therefore designers must have the ability to use this technology. One must be detail-oriented as this trait is required when it comes to noticing subtle differences in fabric colors and textures.
New designers often begin their careers working for those with more experience. They work as pattern makers or sketching assistants. With increased experience one can move into a supervisory position becoming, for example, a chief designer or a design department head.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics isn't very optimistic about growth in this field. They predict employment of fashion designers will grow very little, if at all, through 2020. There will be keen competition for jobs.
In 2011, fashion designers earned a median annual salary of $64,690 or $31.10 per hour (US), putting it on list of the highest paying occupations that don't require a college degree. However, keep in mind that most people working in the field did, in fact, have a degree.
Use the Salary Wizard at Salary.com to find out how much a Fashion Designer currently earns in your city.
A Day in a Fashion Designer's Life:
On a typical day a fashion designer's tasks might include:
- directing and coordinating workers who draw and cut patterns and construct samples or finished garments
- examining sample garments on and off models and then modifying their designs to achieve desired effects
- sketching rough and detailed drawings of apparel or accessories, and writing specifications such as color schemes, construction, material types and accessory requirements
- conferring with sales and management executives or with clients in order to discuss design ideas
- identifying target markets for designs by looking at factors such as age, gender and socioeconomic status
- attending fashion shows and reviewing trade magazines in order to gather information about fashion trends and consumer preferences
- selecting materials and production techniques to be used for products
A costume designer's tasks will include researching the styles and periods of clothing needed for film or theatrical productions.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Fashion Designer, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Arts-and-Design/Fashion-designers.htm (visited January 2, 2013).
Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, O*NET Online, Fashion Designer, on the Internet at http://www.onetonline.org/link/details/27-1022.00 (visited January 2, 2013).