Becoming a Fashion Designer Careers & Salary Outlook

What Is a Fashion Designer?


A fashion designer creates clothing, accessories, jewelry, footwear, costumes, and more. These can be wearable items for men, women, children, teens, dogs, cats, and even dolls and action figures. This is a highly competitive field; however, if you specialize in a niche area, you can improve your chances for success. Most people who enter this field are highly passionate about fashion and draw inspiration from numerous personal experiences and influences.

Some fashion designers will create their own pieces to sell; whereas, other fashion designers will be hired to make the sketches of others a reality by creating patterns, or design clothes for an already established brand anonymously without any recognition. Very few fashion designers will ever have their clothes featured on the catwalks of Milan or New York. It is far more realistic that, if your dream is to design clothing for men or women, your clothes will be worn by everyday people.

Steps to Take


A fashion designer is one of those careers for which you do not require a degree to become successful. You will require exceptional natural talent if you do decide to skip the degree; however, many companies prefer candidates with a degree and exceptional talent. A degree can help teach you the industry jargon and provide you with a more detailed understanding of textiles, colors, fashion history, and more.

It can also help you with the latest technology, pattern making, and tips to improve your sewing and tailoring capabilities. If you plan to start your own business one day, a fashion degree is an essential resource to help you learn the business side of fashion. It will also help land you an internship and lead to greater employment opportunities and better pay.

  • Step 1: Get a Bachelor’s Degree

  • Step 2: Internships and Work Experience

  • Step 3: Learn Advanced Design Technology - Certificate Programs?

  • Step 4: Develop a Desirable Skill Set

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Step 1: Get a Bachelor’s Degree

The most popular degree for fashion designers is fashion merchandising. This degrees will focus on both academics and hands-on experience. You will also be required to learn computer-aided design (CAD) technology. This is an essential component of successful designers today. A bachelor’s degree helps students to begin their portfolio of designs from required projects. It also helps student designers learn essential workplace skills, such as how to work on a budget, meet a deadline, and work with limited tools and resources.

Many students will have the opportunity to put on their own fashion show at the end of their program and to submit their work to various amateur and student contests that will help them showcase their skills and talent. A degree program will also help place students with internships to begin gaining invaluable work experience before graduation. You may be required to submit examples and sketches of your work to confirm your artistic ability before you will be accepted into a fashion design program. Also, keep in mind that you can complete design degrees at traditional colleges and universities or at higher learning institutions solely dedicated to artistic or design careers.

Step 2: Internships and Work Experience

The start of a career in fashion design often begins as an intern or an assistant designer. Whether you require a degree or not is entirely up to the employer. An internship through a degree program will provide you with degree credits, industry insights, work experience, skill development, networking connections, and much more.

You might also consider freelance jobs during your undergraduate degree to improve your portfolio and years of work experience to have an edge over the competition for entry-level jobs after graduation. If you do not complete a degree, you should gain work experience in any way possible as early as possible. This might be as a costume designer on a school play in high school, to mend and tailor clothes for cash in your local community, to work in a retail store to learn about the business side, or others. Every bit of experience will help you build your resume, portfolio, and employability.

Step 3: Learn Advanced Design Technology - Certificate Programs?

While you are working to gain work experience that will lead you to career advancement, it is also essential that you learn everything you can pertaining to advanced design technology. The fashion industry is no different to the rest of the industries in the world in that technology is becoming increasingly important. While employers may not require significant technology skills today, they will tomorrow. If you want to advance your skills, make yourself a more desirable candidate, earn more money and possibly work for yourself one day, you should consider taking certificate programs in design technology.

Step 4: Develop a Desirable Skill Set

Once you have a bachelor’s degree and some work experience, you should focus on developing the skills employers find most desirable. In addition to talent and a solid educational background in fashion, most employers are looking for designers who understand the technical aspects of production and those who are highly creative and artistic.

They are also in search of individuals who have strong drawing and visualization skills, are able to work on a team, meet deadlines, pay attention to detail, with an understanding of business, and exceptional interpersonal and communication skills. Many of these skills you can work to develop on your own rather than through formal training or education.

What Does a Fashion Designer Do?


Because most fashion designers work for a company rather than themselves, it is important to understand that you are most likely to be a designer for the concepts and ideas of an established brand or company. You will have some flexibility in your creativity; however, it will have to remain on brand, in line with corporate policies, within budgetary restraints, meet the wishes of the target demographics, and often find ways to reduce design and production costs.

You will spend your days drawing, designing, and developing new sample designs for approval. You will also be required to attend meetings and collaborate with other designers and design professionals on projects. Some days you might work with vendors and manufacturing to solve problems and you will have to complete extensive market research to determine the wants and needs of the target demographics of your business.

Most designers will work for a large apparel company. You might also work in fashion research to predict trends and publish industry statistics. It is also possible to work for pet companies and toy companies. Some designers will work for an established fashion house or start their own fashion houses. Keep in mind that if you are a designer for any brand that is already established, you design under the name of the brand rather than your own name. You work as an anonymous designer on behalf of the brand and organization. It is also possible to work as a freelancer or to become an instructor or professor at a college or university if you complete additional degrees.

Skills to Acquire


A fashion designer must have a wealth of well-rounded skills both hard and soft, or rather, technical and non-technical. Technical skills will be required in terms of being able to produce designs from sketches and to be able to work with technology and computer software and hardware. Your soft and non-technical skills are just as important. These might include the following to secure the best jobs:

  • Creative and Artistic
  • Superior Communication
  • Detail-Oriented
  • Prioritize
  • Decision-Making
  • Organized
  • Great Time Management
  • Meet Deadlines
  • Stay on Budget

While you might have creative and artistic abilities, you must remember that you will still be working for/with a business, even if you have your own business. It will be essential to be able to work with others. You need more than your ideas for designs to be a success. It is important to understand business and the roles each person plays to make a design become an end product to sell.

Alternative Paths


Some people simply have a natural ability and inclination for this type of career. To others, it is something they have to work hard at to be successful. Have you been sewing since you were a child with your beloved family members or friends? If you are well versed in sewing and tailoring before the age of 18, you might be better served to skip a degree program and begin working straight away. You may require a degree for career advancement; however, you can always take online courses and night and weekend classes to complete your degree while you gain essential work experience and extra money to pay for your education.

Fashion Designer Career & Salary


Where Might You Work?


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The vast majority of fashion designers work for apparel, piece goods, and notions merchant wholesalers. This is followed by self-employment and apparel manufacturing. Designers who work for a wholesaler or manufacturer will design products that will be sold to marketers and retailers for end-user distribution. Other types of employers include the video and motion picture industries and many designers will become management for small companies and large enterprises alike.

If you work for yourself, you might create customized clothing for private clients, or you might sell your designs to manufacturers or brands. Keep in mind that you might be expected to travel to keep up on the latest trends and that most employers are located in New York and California. You will not likely work a traditional eight-hour day job. You will be required to work as many hours as it takes to meet deadlines and client schedules. This has become the industry standard and it is simply understood and expected by many employees and employers alike. If you wish to keep more traditional hours, be sure to find an employer who is dedicated to the work-life balance of their employees.

Potential Career Paths


You can pursue a number of career paths with a degree and work experience as a designer. You can choose to work and excel in one fashion niche, such as clothing, footwear, accessories, or costumes. As a designer, you can work your way up to managerial and leadership roles with significantly more responsibility. You can even end up with your own business one day.

Fashion Designer:
A fashion designer will design any type of clothes, accessories, or footwear including sportswear, casual wear, intimate apparel, handbags, jewelry, maternity clothing, swimsuits, evening wear, costumes, and much more. Those employed by others must stay in line with the brand of the employer.

Graphic Designer:
A graphic designer uses both computer software and their hands to create designs for fashion-related businesses. Such businesses might include ads, websites, magazines, and brochures. This fashion professional must meet the needs of the client of the employer.

Industrial Designer:
An industrial designer is responsible for the concepts and designs for products that are manufactured, such as home appliances, toys, and cars. These individuals work with aesthetics, production costs, usability, functionality, and launch dates through engineering, business, and art.

Fashion Buyer:
A fashion buyer is in charge of the purchasing of products and services on behalf of their organization. These products will then be used for production or resold. These fashion professionals must understand, follow, and predict trends. They must also work with vendors, contracts, and negotiations.

Modeling Agent:
A modeling agent is a natural progression for some designers. As an agent, they will continue working with models as a representative to find work for their clients. They will prepare the models for their projects and negotiate contracts. Agents will require formal education in most cases.

Chief Designer:
A chief designer is one of the highest positions a fashion designer can reach. These high-level fashion professionals are responsible for the direction of the company. This might include ensuring collections are cohesive, determining the direction of the brand, and establishing the right target demographics for each product line.

Fashion Designer Career Salaries


OccupationEntry-LevelMid-CareerLate-Career
Pattern Maker$46,300$55,300$72,100
Product Dev/Fashion Designer$51,200$67,900$91,000
Illustrator$40,600$48,400$60,400
Studio Manager---
Merchandiser$42,500$51,000$51,800

**Salary info provided by PayScale

Career Outlook


Fashion designers, in general, are expected to grow at roughly 3% over 10 years. This is slower than the national average for all careers and occupations. It is important to note that retail designers are expected to grow at a much higher rate of 22% during the same time due to the increasing demand of retailers in search of original everyday fashion ideas for the mass markets. While manufacturing and production continue to be outsourced internationally, US-based fashion designers are still in demand.

The best jobs will go to fashion designers with a degree, an excellent and extensive portfolio, and relevant industry experience. Far more potential designers exist than jobs available; therefore, the competition is quite high. And, many of the best employers are based out of New York and California. This will require most potential candidates to move to these cities. Keep in mind, remote working in all industries is increasingly acceptable and possible. And keep in mind that the median salary of a fashion designer in 2017 was $67,420. If you have a degree, experience, and talent this salary could be higher and you will have greater opportunities for career advancement.

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Advancing from Here


You will have tremendous opportunities for career advancement as a designer, particularly if you have at least a bachelor’s degree. You might begin as a design assistant and work your way up from there. You will have to continue to develop your skill set and technological capabilities each year to reach the highest positions and to be able to run a successful business of your own. It is also essential to be able to work and communicate well with others.

After you have proven your abilities as an assistant, you can advance to an assistant designer or an associate designer. This will depend upon your talent and work experience. Most people then continue on to a technical designer and then a head designer. These positions often require up to 10 years of experience. The next advancement possibilities include chief designer and creative director. After these advancements, you might become an executive or decide to start your own business.

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