- In 2004, two-thirds of salaried fashion designers were employed
in either New York or California.
- Employers seek designers with a 2- or 4-year degree who are
knowledgeable about textiles, fabrics, ornamentation, and fashion
- Job competition is expected to be keen as many designers are
attracted to the creativity and glamour associated with the
occupation, while relatively few job openings arise.
- More than 1 out of 4 are self-employed.
Fashion designers help create the billions of clothing
articles, shoes, and accessories purchased every year by consumers.
Designers study fashion trends, sketch designs of clothing and
accessories, select colors and fabrics, and oversee the final
production of their designs. Clothing designers create and help
produce men’s, women’s, and children’s apparel, including casual
wear, suits, sportswear, formalwear, outerwear, maternity, and
intimate apparel. Footwear designers help create and produce
different styles of shoes and boots. Accessory designers
help create and produce items that add the finishing touches to
an outfit, such as handbags, belts, scarves, hats, hosiery, and
eyewear. (The work of jewelers and precious stone and metal workers
is described elsewhere in the Handbook.) Some fashion designers
specialize in clothing, footwear, or accessory design, while others
create designs in all three fashion categories.
The design process from initial design inception to final production
takes between 18 and 24 months. The first step in creating a design
is researching fashion trends and making predictions of future
trends. Some designers conduct their own research, while others
rely on trend reports published by fashion industry trade groups.
Trend reports indicate what styles, colors, and fabrics will be
popular for a particular season in the future. Textile manufacturers
use these trend reports to begin designing fabrics and patterns
while fashion designers begin to sketch preliminary designs. Designers
will then visit manufacturers or trade shows to procure samples
of fabrics and decide which fabrics to use with which designs.
Once designs and fabrics are chosen, a prototype of the article
using cheaper materials is created and then worn by a model to
see what adjustments to the design need to be made. During this
time, designers usually will narrow down their choices of which
designs to offer for sale. After the final adjustments and selections
have been made, samples of the article using the actual materials
are sewn, and then marketed to clothing retailers. Many designs
are shown at fashion and trade shows a few times a year. Retailers
will then place orders for certain items, which are then manufactured
and distributed to stores.
Computer-aided design (CAD) is increasingly being used in the
fashion design industry. While most designers initially sketch
designs by hand, a growing number also translate these hand sketches
to the computer. CAD allows designers to view designs of clothing
on virtual models and in various colors and shapes, thus saving
time by requiring fewer adjustments of prototypes and samples
Depending on the size of the design firm and level of experience,
fashion designers may have varying levels of involvement in different
aspects of design and production. In large design firms, fashion
designers often are the lead designers who are responsible for
creating the designs, choosing the colors and fabrics, and overseeing
technical designers who turn the designs into a final product.
They are responsible for creating the prototypes and patterns
and work with the manufacturers and suppliers during the production
stages. Large design houses also employ their own patternmakers,
tailors, and sewers who create the master patterns for the design
and sew the prototypes and samples. Designers working in small
firms, or those new to the job, usually perform most of the technical,
patternmaking, and sewing tasks in addition to designing the clothing.
(The work of pattern makers, hand sewers, and tailors is covered
in the statement on textile, apparel, and furnishings
occupations elsewhere in the Handbook).
Fashion designers working for apparel wholesalers or manufacturers
create designs for the mass market. These designs are manufactured
in various sizes and colors. A small number of high-fashion (haute
couture) designers are self-employed and create custom designs
for individual clients, usually at very high prices. Other high-fashion
designers sell their designs in their own retail stores or cater
to specialty stores or high-fashion department stores. These designers
create a mixture of original garments and those that follow established
Some fashion designers specialize in costume design for performing
arts, motion picture, and television productions. The work of
costume designers is similar to other fashion designers. Costume
designers perform extensive research into the styles worn during
the period in which the performance takes place, or work with
directors to select appropriate attire for performances. They
make sketches of designs, select fabric and other materials, and
oversee the production of the costumes. They also must stay within
the costume budget for the particular production.
Fashion designers employed by manufacturing establishments, wholesalers,
or design firms generally work regular hours in well-lighted and
comfortable settings. Designers who freelance generally work on
a contract, or job, basis. They frequently adjust their workday
to suit their clients’ schedules and deadlines, meeting with the
clients during evening or weekend hours when necessary. Freelance
designers tend to work longer hours and in smaller, more congested,
environments, and are under pressure to please clients and to
find new ones in order to maintain a steady income. Regardless
of their work setting, all fashion designers occasionally work
long hours to meet production deadlines or prepare for fashion
The global nature of the fashion business requires constant communication
with suppliers, manufacturers, and customers all over the United
States and the world. Most fashion designers travel several times
a year to trade and fashion shows in order to learn about the
latest fashion trends. Designers also may travel frequently to
meet with fabric and materials suppliers and with manufacturers
who produce the final apparel products.
|Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
In fashion design, employers seek individuals with a 2-year or
4-year degree who are knowledgeable about textiles, fabrics, ornamentation,
and fashion trends. Designers must have a strong sense of the
esthetic—an eye for color and detail, a sense of balance and proportion,
and an appreciation for beauty. Fashion designers also need excellent
communication and problem-solving skills. Despite the advancement
of computer-aided design, sketching ability remains an important
advantage in fashion design. A good portfolio—a collection of
examples of a person’s best work—often is the deciding factor
in getting a job.
Bachelor’s of fine arts and associate degree programs in fashion
design are offered at many colleges, universities, and private
art and design schools. Some fashion designers also combine a
fashion design degree with a business, marketing, or fashion merchandising
degree, especially those who want to run their own business or
retail store. Basic coursework includes color, textiles, sewing
and tailoring, pattern making, fashion history, CAD, and design
of different types of clothing such as menswear or footwear. Coursework
in human anatomy, mathematics, and psychology also is useful.
The National Association of Schools of Art and Design accredits
approximately 250 postsecondary institutions with programs in
art and design. Most of these schools award degrees in fashion
design. Many schools do not allow formal entry into a program
until a student has successfully completed basic art and design
courses. Applicants usually have to submit sketches and other
examples of their artistic ability.
In addition to creativity and sketching ability, fashion designers
also need to have sewing and patternmaking skills, even if they
do not perform these tasks themselves. Designers need to be able
to understand these skills so they can give proper instructions
as to how the garment should be constructed. Fashion designers
also need strong sales and presentation skills in order to persuade
clients to purchase their designs. Good teamwork and communication
skills also are necessary because of the increasingly international
nature of the business that requires constant contact with suppliers,
manufacturers, and buyers around the world.
Aspiring fashion designers can learn these necessary skills through
internships with design or manufacturing firms. Some designers
also gain valuable experience working in retail stores, as personal
stylists, or as custom tailors. Such experience can help designers
gain sales and marketing skills while learning what styles and
fabrics look good on different people. Designers also can gain
exposure to potential employers by entering their designs in student
or amateur contests. Because of the global nature of the fashion
industry, experience in one of the international fashion centers,
such as Milan or Paris, can be useful.
Beginning fashion designers usually start out as pattern makers
or sketching assistants for more experienced designers before
they can advance to higher level positions. Experienced designers
may advance to chief designer, design department head, or other
supervisory position. Some designers may start their own design
company, or sell their designs in their own retail stores. A few
of the most successful designers can work for high-fashion design
houses that offer personalized design services to wealthy clients.
Fashion designers held about 17,000 jobs in 2004. More than 1
out of 4 were self-employed. About 25 percent of fashion designers
worked for apparel and piece goods merchant wholesalers. Another
15 percent worked in cut and sew apparel manufacturing. The remainder
worked for corporate offices involved in the management of companies
and enterprises, clothing stores, performing arts companies, specialized
design services firms, textile and textile product mills, and
footwear and accessories manufacturers.
Employment of fashion designers tends to be concentrated in regional
fashion centers. In 2004, two-thirds of salaried fashion designers
were employed in either New York or California.
Job competition is expected be keen as many designers are attracted
to the creativity and glamour associated with the occupation,
while relatively few job openings arise because of low job turnover
and a small number of new openings created every year. Employment
of fashion designers is projected to grow more slowly than average
for all occupations through 2014. Employment declines in cut and
sew apparel manufacturing are projected to offset increases in
Employment growth for fashion designers will stem from a growing
population demanding more clothing, footwear, and accessories.
Demand is increasing for stylish clothing that is affordable,
especially among middle income consumers. The best job opportunities
will be in design firms that design mass market clothing sold
in department stores and retail chain stores, such as apparel
wholesale firms. Few employment opportunities are expected in
design firms that cater to high-end department stores and specialty
boutiques as demand for expensive, high-fashion design declines
relative to other luxury goods and services.
Job opportunities in cut and sew manufacturing will continue
to decline as apparel is increasingly manufactured overseas. However,
employment of fashion designers in this industry will not decline
as fast as other occupations because firms are more likely to
keep design work in-house.
Median annual earnings for fashion designers were $55,840 in
May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $38,800 and $77,580.
The lowest 10 percent earned less than $27,970, and the highest
10 percent earned more than $112,840.
Earnings in fashion design can vary widely based on the employer
and years of experience. Starting salaries in fashion design tend
to be very low until designers are established in the industry.
Salaried fashion designers usually earn higher and more stable
incomes than self-employed or freelance designers. However, a
few of the most successful self-employed fashion designers may
earn many times the salary of the highest paid salaried designers.
Self-employed fashion designers must provide their own benefits
Workers in other art and design occupations include artists and
related workers, commercial and industrial designers, floral designers,
graphic designers, and interior designers. jewelers and precious
stone and metal workers also design wearable accessories. Other
common occupations in the fashion industry include demonstrators,
product promoters, and models; photographers; purchasing managers,
buyers, and purchasing agents; retail salespersons; and textile,
apparel, and furnishings occupations.See the careers
database for more information on these careers.
|Sources of Additional Information
For general information about art and design and a list of accredited
college-level programs, contact:
For general information about careers in fashion design, contact:
- Fashion Group International, 8 West 40th St., 7th Floor, New
York, NY 10018. Internet: http://www.fgi.org/
Source: Bureau of Labor
Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational
Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition,