Fashion Designers

Career, Salary and Education Information

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What Fashion Designers Do[About this section] [To Top]

Fashion designers create original clothing, accessories, and footwear. They sketch designs, select fabrics and patterns, and give instructions on how to make the products they designed.

Duties of Fashion Designers

Fashion designers typically do the following:

  • Study fashion trends and anticipate designs that will appeal to consumers
  • Decide on a theme for a collection
  • Use computer-aided design (CAD) programs to create designs
  • Visit manufacturers or trade shows to get samples of fabric
  • Select fabrics, embellishments, colors, or a style for each garment or accessory
  • Work with other designers or team members to create prototype designs
  • Present design ideas to the creative director or showcase them in fashion or trade shows
  • Market designs to clothing retailers or directly to consumers
  • Oversee the final production of their designs

Larger apparel companies typically employ a team of designers headed by a creative designer. Some fashion designers specialize in clothing, footwear, or accessory design; others create designs in all three fashion categories.

For some fashion designers, the first step in creating a new design is researching current fashion and making predictions about future trends using trend reports published by fashion industry trade groups. Other fashion designers create collections from inspirations they get from their regular surroundings, from the cultures they have experienced and places they have visited, or from various art media that inspire them.

After they have an initial idea, fashion designers try out various fabrics and produce a prototype, often with less expensive material than will be used in the final product. They work with models to see how the design will look and adjust the designs as needed.

Although most designers first sketch their designs by hand, many now also sketch their ideas digitally with computer-aided design (CAD) programs. CAD allows designers to see their work on virtual models. They can try out different colors, design, and shapes while making adjustments more easily than they can when working with real fabric on real people.

Designers produce samples with the actual materials that will be used in manufacturing. Samples that get good responses from editors or trade and fashion shows are then manufactured and sold to consumers.

Although the design process may vary by specialty, in general it takes 6 months from initial design concept to final production, when either the spring or fall collection is released. Some companies may release new designs as frequently as every month, in addition to releasing designs during the spring and fall.

The Internet and e-commerce allow fashion designers to offer their products outside of traditional brick-and-mortar stores. These designers can ship directly to the consumer, without having to invest in a physical shop to showcase their product lines.

The following are examples of types of fashion designers:

Clothing designers create and help produce men’s, women’s, and children’s apparel, including casual wear, suits, sportswear, evening wear, outerwear, maternity clothing, and intimate apparel.

Footwear designers create and help produce different styles of shoes and boots. As new materials, such as lightweight synthetic materials used in shoe soles, become available, footwear designers produce new designs that combine comfort, form, and function.

Accessory designers design and produce items such as handbags, suitcases, belts, scarves, hats, hosiery, and eyewear.

Costume designers design costumes for the performing arts and for motion picture and television productions. They research the styles worn during the period in which the performance takes place, or they work with directors to select and create appropriate attire. They also must stay within the costume budget for the particular production.

Work Environment for Fashion Designers[About this section] [To Top]

Fashion designers hold about 23,100 jobs. The industries that employ the most fashion designers are as follows:

Apparel, piece goods, and notions merchant wholesalers 32%
Apparel manufacturing 13
Management of companies and enterprises 10
Specialized design services 6

More fashion designers work for wholesalers or manufacturers than in any other industries. These wholesalers and manufacturers sell lines of apparel and accessories to retailers or other marketers for distribution to individual stores, catalog companies, or online retailers. Many establishments employ in-house designers. Although the brands may be familiar to many consumers, the individual designers are largely unknown.

About 1 in 4 fashion designers are self-employed. They typically design high-fashion garments and one-of-a-kind apparel on an individualized or custom basis. Self-employed fashion designers who are able to set up their own independent clothing lines often already have experience and a strong understanding of the industry. In some cases, a self-employed fashion designer may have a clothing line that bears his or her name.

Most designers travel several times a year to trade and fashion shows to learn about the latest fashion trends. Designers also sometimes travel to other countries to meet suppliers of materials and manufacturers who produce the final products.

Most fashion designers work in New York and California.

Fashion Designer Work Schedules

Most fashion designers work full time. Occasionally, fashion designers work many hours to meet production deadlines or prepare for fashion shows. Designers who freelance generally work under a contract and tend to work longer hours and adjust their workday to their clients’ schedules and deadlines.

How to Become a Fashion Designer[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Fashion Designers near you!

Most fashion designers have a bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as fashion design or fashion merchandising. Employers usually seek applicants with creativity, as well as a good technical understanding of the production process for clothing, accessories, or footwear.

Fashion Designer Education

Most fashion designers have a bachelor’s degree in fashion design or fashion merchandising. In these programs, they learn about textiles and fabrics and how to use computer-aided design (CAD) technology. They also are able to work on projects that can be added to their portfolio, which showcases their designs.

For many artists, including fashion designers, developing a portfolio—a collection of design ideas that demonstrates their styles and abilities—is essential because employers rely heavily on a designer’s portfolio in deciding whether to hire the individual. For employers, it is an opportunity to gauge talent and creativity. Students studying fashion design often have opportunities to enter their designs in student or amateur contests, helping them to develop their portfolios.

The National Association of Schools of Art and Design accredits approximately 320 postsecondary institutions with programs in art and design, and many of these schools award degrees in fashion design. Many schools require students to have completed basic art and design courses before they enter a program. Applicants usually have to submit sketches and other examples of their artistic ability.

Other Experience

Fashion designers often gain their initial experience in the fashion industry through internships or by working as an assistant designer. Internships provide aspiring fashion designers an opportunity to experience the design process, building their knowledge of textiles and colors and how the industry works.

Advancement for Fashion Designers

Experienced designers may advance to chief designer, design department head, creative director, or another supervisory position in which they oversee certain fashion lines or company brands.

Some experienced designers may start their own design company or sell their designs in their own retail stores. A few of the most successful designers work for high-fashion design houses that offer personalized design services to their clients.

Important Qualities for Fashion Designers

Artistic ability. Fashion designers sketch their initial design ideas, which are used later to create prototypes. Designers must be able to express their vision for the design through illustration.

Communication skills. Fashion designers often work in teams throughout the design process and therefore must be effective in communicating with their team members. For example, they may need to give instructions to sewers regarding how a garment should be constructed.

Computer skills. Fashion designers use technology to design. They must be able to use computer-aided design (CAD) programs and be familiar with graphics editing software.

Creativity. Fashion designers work with a variety of fabrics, shapes, and colors. Their ideas must be unique, functional, and stylish.

Decisionmaking skills. Because they often work in teams, fashion designers are exposed to many ideas. They must be able to decide which ideas to incorporate into their designs.

Detail oriented. Fashion designers must have a good eye for small differences in color and other details that can make a design successful.

Fashion Designer Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for fashion designers is $64,030. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $33,260, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $129,380.

The median annual wages for fashion designers in the top industries in which they worked are as follows:

Management of companies and enterprises $80,470
Apparel manufacturing 67,080
Apparel, piece goods, and notions merchant wholesalers 62,120
Specialized design services 57,020

Earnings in this occupation can vary widely with experience, the employer, and the designer’s reputation. Starting salaries in fashion design tend to be very low. Salaried fashion designers usually earn higher and more stable incomes than self-employed, freelance designers. However, a few of the most successful self-employed fashion designers earn many times the salary of the highest paid salaried designers.

Most fashion designers work full time. Occasionally, fashion designers work many hours to meet production deadlines or prepare for fashion shows. Designers who freelance generally work under a contract and tend to work longer hours and adjust their workday to their clients’ schedules and deadlines.

Job Outlook for Fashion Designers[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of fashion designers is projected to grow 3 percent through 2024, slower than the average for all occupations.

Most apparel continues to be produced internationally. As a result, employment of fashion designers in the apparel manufacturing industry is projected to decline 47 percent over the projection period. Declining employment in the apparel manufacturing industry is slowing the overall employment growth of fashion designers.

However, employment of fashion designers in the wholesale apparel industry is projected to increase 17 percent over the projection period. Retailers are selling more fashion-inspired clothing which increases the demand for fashion designers to design clothing and accessories for the mass market and everyday wear.

Fashion Designers Job Prospects

Those with formal education in fashion design, excellent portfolios, and industry experience will have the best job prospects. However, strong competition for jobs is expected because of the large number of people who seek employment as fashion designers and the relatively few positions available.

In addition, it may be necessary for some fashion designers to relocate because employment opportunities for fashion designers are concentrated in New York and California.

Employment projections data for Fashion Designers, 2014-24
Occupational Title Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24
Percent Numeric
Fashion designers 23,100 23,800 3 700


*Some content used by permission of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

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