Fashion Designer

Education: Associate's or bachelor's degree in Fashion Design (optional)
M:F Ratio: 12:88
Hours Worked Per Week: 40-80; long hours needed to meet deadlines
Median Salary: $64,690
Lowest/Highest 10% Salary: $32,700/$127,820
Growth: None

  1. What do fashion designers do?
  2. How to become a fashion designer
  3. What skills and abilities do I need?
  4. What's the job market like?
  5. What's the pay like?
  6. Where can I get more information?

What do fashion designers do?

Fashion designers create new clothing, accessories and shoes. Most designers lead a whole team to create new collections every season.

Most fashion designers:

  • Develop a theme or concept for new fashion collections
  • Create sketches of the clothing, accessories or other items they want to make
  • Select the materials (fabrics, leathers, zippers, buttons, etc.) for each garment, accessory, handbag, shoe, etc.
  • Create and refine prototype designs
  • Present new collections at fashion or trade shows
  • Research and respond to new trends in the fashion industry
  • Work with patternmakers, sewers, interns and others to create new garments

Fashion designers may found their own clothing brands, or they may work under a creative director. Some fashion designers are creative directors themselves.

Creative directors decide how a brand's business goals––say, reaching a certain demographic, or moving into a new market––can be incorporated into new fashion collections and themes.

Some fashion designers specialize in a specific type of fashion design, like footwear, accessories, menswear, womenswear, maternity, etc.

30% of fashion designers are self-employed. The wholesale garment manufacturing industry also employs many fashion designers.

How to become a fashion designer

Photo by Kathleen Conklin.

There are no formal degree requirements for fashion designers. Some designers begin as apprentices to tailors or dressmakers. Others start out as interns at clothing companies. A few start as assistants to other fashion designers, or as models.

Here's how a few fashion designers started in the industry:

  • Tom Ford graduated with a degree in architecture from the Parsons School of Design. An internship at Chloé, a French fashion house, inspired his love of fashion.
  • Jean Paul Gaultier began as an assistant for Pierre Cardin, a French fashion designer. He never received formal fashion training. He released his first individual collection in 1976, at age 23 or 24.
  • Philip Lim started as a design assistant for Katayone Adeli. He then worked as a creative director for his label "Development" before launching his first individual collection in 2004, at age 31.
  • Alexander McQueen started his career by serving an apprenticeship with several Savile Row tailors. He later received a master's degree in fashion design from CSM, where he launched his debut collection.
  • Zac Posen was mentored by Richard Martin, a curator at The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, for three years. He studied fashion at the Parsons School of Design and CSM.
  • Vivienne Westwood dropped out after one semester at the Harrow School of Art. Later, she and Malcolm McLaren launched a clothing boutique which sold early punk fashions.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost 75% of US-based fashion designers work in New York or California. Getting a fashion internship in a city like LA, NYC, or SF could help you get your foot in the door.

What skills and abilities do I need?

A woman drawing a fashion sketch

Imagination is essential for all fashion designers. How are you going to create new, striking, or original clothes without it?

Experience with sewing, patternmaking, shoemaking, or even makeup application can help you tremendously in your career.

It also helps to know how to draw fashion sketches, either by hand or on the computer, using programs like Photoshop and Illustrator, and tools like a graphic tablet.

You must develop your skills in marketing, public relations and self-promotion. You have to sell your brand if you want to survive as a designer.

What's the job market like?

Employment of fashion designers is not expected to grow at all over the coming decade.

Though specialized design services need more fashion designers, declining employment in the apparel manufacturing industry cancels that out.

Competition for fashion design jobs is, and will be, extremely competitive. There are many more people who want to be fashion designers and a very limited number of jobs.

What's the pay like?

The median fashion designer salary is $64,690 a year.

The top 10% of fashion designers make $127,820 a year or more, while the bottom 10% make $32,700 or less.

Fashion designers in the states of New York and Maine make over $80,000 a year on average. Those employed by the motion picture and video industries make over $100,000 a year on average.

Please see our fashion designer salary information page to learn more.

Where can I get more information?

Start by looking into education and training opportunities. Are there any tailors, dressmakers or fashion designers in your area who will let you serve as an apprentice or intern?

Can you find fashion designers who will agree to do an informational interview? It's important to contact other fashion designers to get a feel for the industry before you commit to working in it.

You should also look into moving to a fashion capital. In the US, the fashion capitals are New York City and Los Angeles. Outside of the US, there are cities like London, Paris, Rome, Sydney and Berlin.

Since most of these cities are very expensive, you may have to take a second, survival job while starting in the industry.

Here are some pages where you can get more information:

Fashion Designer Salary Information shows you how much fashion designers get paid, which industries pay the most, and where the average salary is highest.

Free Fashion Internships offers a list of fashion studios, magazines, brands, etc. looking for interns.

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Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition. "Fashion Designers." Accessed on the internet at on 19-20 December 2012.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2011. "27-1022 Fashion Desingers." Accessed on the internet at on 19-20 December 2012.

"Fashion Director: Design and Manage the Image of a Fashion Magazine or Store." Accessed on the internet at on 19 December 2012.

Larocca, Amy. "Mr. In-Between." New York Magazine, 22 July 2007. Accessed on the internet at on 19 December 2012.

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