4 minute read

Fashion Designer Job Description, Career as a Fashion Designer, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: Bachelor's or associate's degree

Salary: Median—$55,840 per year

Employment Outlook: Fair

Definition and Nature of the Work

Every shoe, piece of clothing, and accessory on every hanger and shelf at every store has been designed by a fashion designer. Fashion designers examine trends in the kinds of clothing people are wearing, draw designs based on their ideas, choose colors and fabrics, and supervise the production of their designs. Fashion designers may have a specialty, such as clothing design, footwear design, or accessory design. Accessories are items like handbags, scarves, belts, and hats.

A successful fashion designer must be good at predicting the future. Since it takes between eighteen and twenty-four months for an article of clothing to go from rough sketch to final production, the designer must understand buying trends as they are developing. Therefore, research on fashion trends is an important first step in the design process. Some designers do this research themselves, while others base their designs on research conducted by others, such as industry trade groups. Fashion designers go to trade shows or visit textile manufacturers to select fabrics for their designs.

Once they have picked their fabrics and sketched their designs, fashion designers make prototypes of the clothing using inexpensive materials. These prototypes are tested on fashion models to see if any adjustments are needed. Some designs may be thrown out entirely and the line of clothing narrowed to fewer pieces. Once the designs are finalized, samples of the item are made using the actual materials. These samples are taken to fashion shows or marketed directly to retailers.

In recent years, computers have changed the way many fashion designers do their work. Most designers still make their initial sketches by hand, but more and more are using computer-aided design (CAD) software to create designs that can be easily viewed from different angles in different colors on different virtual models. CAD also makes it easier to make adjustments to the original designs.

The scope of a fashion designer's work varies according to where he or she is employed. Fashion designers who work for large design companies usually take the lead in creating designs and choosing colors and fabrics, but they may then supervise others who transform the designs into finished products. Fashion designers in these firms may also be responsible for working with manufacturers and textile suppliers. Fashion designers who are new to the trade, or who work for smaller companies, must often do their own sewing and patternmaking.

Fashion designers who work for clothing manufacturers or wholesalers design clothing and accessories in many sizes and colors in order to meet the demands of the general market. A smaller number of fashion designers create custom designs for individual customers, specialty boutiques, or their own stores. These high fashion designers are usually self-employed and charge high prices for their designs.

Education and Training Requirements

Most employers expect fashion designers to have a two-year associate's degree or four-year bachelor's degree in fine arts with a focus on design. Fashion designers must have a strong background in textiles and fashion trends, and a keen eye for color and proportion. The most important requirement for many jobs is a good portfolio—samples of one's previous work—to show the employer.

Getting the Job

College placement offices can often provide information about how to find a job in this field. Internships with retailers or design firms may be available in your area. Two-thirds of fashion designers are employed in either New York or California, so relocating to one of those areas may be beneficial in breaking into this line of work.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Because many people view fashion design as a glamorous occupation, competition for available jobs tends to be fierce, and only a small number of new jobs open up each year. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the best job opportunities for fashion designers in the coming years will be at design companies that specialize in mass market clothing to be sold in department stores and other retail chains. However, overall employment of fashion designers is expected to grow more slowly than average through 2014.

Working Conditions

Fashion designers who work for design firms, manufacturers, or wholesalers can expect to work regular hours in a well-lit, comfortable setting. Self-employed designers may work in more variable conditions, which may change from one short-term job to the next. They must also adjust their work hours to meet the client's needs and deadlines.

Where to Go for More Information

Fashion Group International
8 West 40th St., 7th Fl.
New York, NY 10018
(212) 302-5511

National Association of Schools of Art and Design
11250 Roger Bacon Dr., Ste. 21
Reston, VA 20190-5248
(703) 437-0700

Earnings and Benefits

Fashion designers' income varies widely according to experience and the nature of the job. Median annual earnings in 2004 were $55,840. Salaries for those just beginning their careers tend to be quite low. Self-employed fashion designers at the top of the profession earn far more than those in salaried positions; however, most self-employed designers earn less than the average salaried position pays. Fashion designers working for large companies usually receive health insurance, paid vacation, and other benefits, while self-employed designers must provide their own insurance and retirement plans.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesCommunication and the Arts