A Fashion Designer creates, or helps to create, the designs for women's, men's, and children's apparel, footwear, and accessories. While many Designers specialize in one of these categories, many others create designs in all three. A career in fashion design encompasses many and varied aspects:
- researching and studying fashion trends
- remaining current on the latest styles
- visiting textile showrooms to keep abreast of the latest fabrics
- selecting fabrics and colors, as well as fabric trimmings
- attending conferences, fashion, and trade shows
- creating design sketches and prototypes (sample garments)
- overseeing and/or working with a design team
- overseeing final production
- marketing (including showings for the press and prospective buyers)
- performing various business tasks
Most Designers hand sketch their designs, and an increasing number of these Designers will then translate these sketches to a computer. Through Computer-aided design (CAD), a Designer sees what their creations look like (in various colors and shapes) while on virtual models. This capability saves time as it diminishes the number of prototype adjustments and samples that might be required further on in the process.
Participation by a Designer in the various aspects and stages of design and production is dependent upon the experience level of the Designer, as well as the size of the design firm (or house). In a large firm, a Designer will typically hold the position of Lead Designer and be responsible for design, prototype, and pattern creations; fabric and color selections; working with manufacturers and suppliers during production stages; and overseeing the technical designers who transform designs into final products.
Designers who are new to this profession, or those who are employed by a small design firm, generally create designs and also perform the majority of both technical patternmaking and sewing tasks.
Designers who are employed by apparel manufacturers and wholesalers tend to focus on adapting the designs that have been created by other Designers for the mass market (typically produced in varying colors and sizes). Designer Assistants in this industry are exposed to many facets of the business. They work with rapid production schedules and gain the knowledge of the specific design creations that will sell profitably in target markets, the prices at which they'll sell, and the seasons in which they'll sell. They also gain a solid understanding of the types of stores that will purchase the merchandise, as well as the store's customer demographics.
Only a small number of self-employed Designers fall under the haute couture (or high fashion) category. These professionals create unique designs (selling at high prices) for individual clients and tend to make fashion news when their creations influence the garments that will be worn during a given season. Other such Designers create designs that cater to high-fashion department stores and/or specialty stores. Or, they may create designs to sell in their own store. These Designers create both original designs, as well as those that conform to the current fashion trends.
Some Designers choose to specialize in designing for film and television productions and the performing arts. These professionals are called Costume Designers and generally work on a contract basis. While their work greatly mirrors that of a Fashion Designer, the areas in which they differ are significant. For example, when working on designs for a performance that takes place during a specific era or period of time, they must perform exhaustive research on the styles worn during that time. They also work closely with directors in the selection and creation of the attire to be created and must adhere to budget limitations. Similar to a fashion Designer, however, they create design sketches, select various fabrics and materials, and oversee costume productions.
The environments in which Designers work are generally well-lit, spacious, and comfortable. Designers who work for wholesale, manufacturing, or design firms typically work a standard 40-hour workweek, but will also work more hours during rush times. Those who freelance, work on a per job or contract basis for clients. Due to the nature of freelancing, they will often modify their workday schedule to respond to their clients' schedules and deadlines, and will tend to meet with clients whenever necessary, including evenings or weekends. Freelancers also tend to work longer hours, in tighter environments, and under much pressure as they must consistently meet the needs and desires of their clients, while simultaneously seeking new clients in order to sustain their business and generate income. Designers, regardless of how they are employed, are tied to budget limits and, when needed, may work under pressure and for long hours to meet production deadlines and/or prepare for fashion shows.
The global fashion business requires consistent communications, many times face-to-face, with clients, manufacturers, and suppliers worldwide. Many Designers, therefore, are frequently required to travel to fashion and trade shows to gain a perspective on the latest trends in fashion, and to also meet with materials and fabric suppliers, as well as manufacturers who produce their final products.
Individuals in this profession must possess the following characteristics and attributes:
- keen eye for esthetics: color, beauty, balance, proportion, details
- creativity and style
- sketching abilities
- interpersonal and communications skills
- problem-solving skills
- presentation and sales abilities
- team player attitude
- ability to work well under pressure
- strong business sense
It is also important that a Designer possess a portfolio of their best collective work. This is, more often than not, the deciding factor on whether they are offered a job by a client or prospective employer.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics (USDL BLS), employment for Fashion Designers is "expected to grow five percent between 2006 to 2016, more slowly than the average for all occupations." Job growth in this profession is expected to stem from the growing population, which, in turn, fuels demand for more clothing, footwear, and accessories. While demand, especially from middle income consumers, increases for more stylish, yet affordable, clothing, "employment declines in cut and sew apparel manufacturing are projected to offset job increases among apparel wholesalers." This is most especially pertinent as the manufacture of apparel increases overseas. Despite these projections, the employment outlook for Designers will not decline as quickly as other occupations due to the fact that firms are/will more than likely retain design work in-house.
Schools and Courses
Those seeking a career in fashion design will achieve a two- or four-year degree offered at several colleges, universities, and private art and fashion design schools. Individuals who aspire to own their own retail store or business tend to seek a degree in fashion design in conjunction with a degree in fashion merchandising, marketing, or business. Basic fashion design program coursework includes, but is not limited to, fashion history, textiles, sewing and tailoring, CAD, and the design of various types of clothing and footwear. Other subjects considered useful include mathematics, psychology, and human anatomy.
Approximately 250 postsecondary institutions that offer programs in art and design (and award degrees in fashion design) are accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD). It is important to note that a strong number of these institutions require applicants to have successfully completed basic art and design coursework as a prerequisite to program entry. To prove their artistic abilities, applicants may also be required to submit sketches and other examples. These skills may be learned through internships with design houses or manufacturing firms, or through employment in retail stores in the capacity of tailor or personal stylist, for example.
Designers who are new in the field generally start out working as sketching assistants to experienced designers, or as pattern makers (before moving up the ladder). Once experienced, a Designer may move on to leadership roles such as Design Department Head or Chief Designer.
- National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD)
- Fashion Group International (FGI)
- Costume Designers Guild (CDG)
- Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA)
Fashion Designers will generally find employment opportunities in geographic regions where fashion centers are located (e.g., New York, California). Opportunities may also be secured with firms that are focused on the design of mass-market clothing typically sold to department and retail chain stores. Because the demand for costly, high-fashion design goods fluctuates relative to luxury goods and services, a very limited number of opportunities are expected to be available with design houses that supply garments, or cater to, specialty boutiques and high-end department stores.
Schools for Fashion Designers are listed in the column to the left.