What Does a Fashion Designer Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

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 Image by Derek Abella. © The Balance 2019

A fashion designer creates clothing, including dresses, suits, pants, and skirts, and accessories like shoes and handbags, for consumers. He or she can specialize in clothing, accessory, or jewelry design, or may work in more than one of these areas.

Some fashion designers focus on costume design and create wardrobes for television, movie, and theater productions. A costume designer researches the styles and periods of clothing that make film or theatrical productions look realistic.

If you are hoping to become the next Tommy, Calvin, or Vera, the chances are slim due to the competitiveness of the industry. Although some designers become household names, most remain unknown to the general public and anonymously create the designs behind well-known brands and lesser-known labels.

As a fashion designer, there is a good chance you will have to relocate to find employment. The fashion industry is concentrated in major cities, such as New York and Los Angeles.

As a new designer, you will likely begin your career working for someone with more experience. Pattern makers or sketching assistants are examples of entry-level industry jobs. In due course, you can become a chief designer or a design department head, after accumulating many years of experience.

Fashion Designer Duties & Responsibilities

This job requires candidates to be able to perform duties that include the following:

  • Draw, design, and develop new clothing and accessory samples, and create and turn in documentation worksheets.
  • Participate in meetings to discuss designs and line development, and present and review line and concepts regularly.
  • Identify new opportunities relevant to the firm's customer base through market research.
  • Manage new design and fit styles while also maintaining corporate standards for bulk production.
  • Do the work to cost out all of the components needed for a garment's production.
  • Assist a design team with communicating to vendors on design, production, and other issues.

    Fashion Designer Salary

    A fashion designer's salary varies based on the area of expertise, level of experience, education, certifications, and other factors.

    • Median Annual Salary: $67,420 ($32.41/hour)
    • Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $135,490 ($65.14/hour)
    • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $33,910 ($16.30/hour)

    Education, Training, & Certification

    You don't need a college degree to become a fashion designer, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't get one.

    • Formal education: While not required, many of your competitors will have an associate or bachelor's degree in fashion design or a related field. As a fashion design major, you will take classes in color, textiles, sewing and tailoring, pattern making, fashion history, and computer-aided design (CAD) and learn about different types of clothing such as menswear or footwear.
    • Internships: An internship will be a valuable addition to your classroom education. You can also gain experience by working as an assistant to a fashion designer.

      Fashion Designer Skills & Competencies

      In addition to the technical skills you will learn in a classroom or on the design floor as an intern or assistant, there are several soft and hard skills needed for success in this occupation including:

      • Computer literacy: It's important to be competent in the use of software like Abode Photoshop or Illustrator and Microsoft Office.
      • Creativity: You must be able to generate ideas for products.
      • Artistic ability: A designer must be able to transform a design from an idea into a physical illustration and then, eventually, to a prototype on which the finished product will be based. You will also need a keen sense of style and color.
      • Communication skills: Designers usually work in teams. They must be great communicators, which means listening, speaking, and interpersonal skills are essential.
      • Attention to detail: This trait will allow you to notice subtle differences in fabric colors and textures.
      • Desire: You must be able to learn and collaborate with other members of the design team.
      • Creative thinking: It helps if you can think creatively, and have the ability to identify trends.
      • Flexibility: It's important to have the willingness to be flexible with regard to job responsibilities.
      • Ability to travel: Successful candidates have the desire and ability to travel domestically and internationally.

        Job Outlook

        According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the growth outlook for fashion designers seeking to work with apparel manufacturers over the next decade relative to other occupations and industries is slower than the average for all occupations, driven by the continued manufacturing of clothing internationally. However, fashion design jobs in the retail trade specifically are expected to grow by 22%.

        Employment for fashion designers overall is expected to grow by only about 3% over the next 10 years, which is slower than the average growth projected for all occupations between 2016 and 2026. Growth for other art and design workers is projected to be 4% over the next ten years.

        These growth rates compare to the projected 7% growth for all occupations. Competition is strong because of the number of candidates available as compared to the number of job opportunities. A formal education, an excellent portfolio, and experience in the industry can increase your employment prospects.

        Work Environment

        Most fashion designers work for wholesalers or clothing manufacturers that produce clothing and accessory items for retailers, and employers are concentrated in New York and California. Self-employed fashion designers work in their own location, producing high-fashion items, custom-made or one-of-a-kind clothing, and some self-employed designers produce a line of clothing under their own name.

        Work Schedule

        The largest number of fashion designers, about 32%, work for wholesalers, which typically requires a 40-hour or more work week. Another 20% of fashion designers are self-employed, and the remaining designers work in manufacturing, in the movie or entertainment industry, and in company or enterprise management.

        Expect to work hard and put in many additional hours, especially when a fashion show is upcoming or a deadline is approaching. Additionally, travel is part of most fashion designers' jobs. You will have to attend trade and fashion shows, as well as visit other countries in which many factories that produce clothing and accessories are located.

        How to Get the Job

        APPLY

        Look at job-search resources like Indeed.com, Monster.com, and Glassdoor.com for available positions. You can also visit the websites of clothing and accessory design companies directly to see if they list open job positions. If you attend a design college, visit the school's career center to inquire about possible job leads.

        After setting up some interviews, prepare by rehearsing potential interview questions and by researching the potential employer and the job's duties. You can stand out by preparing a project tailored to the hiring company, such as a seasonal collection, to showcase your initiative.

        FIND A FASHION DESIGNER VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITY

        Look for an opportunity to volunteer as a fashion designer through online sites such as VolunteerMatch.org. You can also contact various non-profit organizations directly and volunteer your fashion-design services. Search the internet for other event-based opportunities, such as volunteering to help at New York's Fashion Week event.  

        FIND AN INTERNSHIP

        Get guidance by working with an experienced fashion designer. You can find fashion design internships through online job search sites. These same sites may also list volunteer opportunities, which may not be quite the same as internships, but they can still help you gain exposure and make contact with potential hiring companies.

        Comparing Similar Jobs

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