Is becoming an apparel designer right for me?

The first step to choosing a career is to make sure you are actually willing to commit to pursuing the career. You don’t want to waste your time doing something you don’t want to do. If you’re new here, you should read about:

What do apparel designers do?

Still unsure if becoming an apparel designer is the right career path? to find out if this career is right for you. Perhaps you are well-suited to become an apparel designer or another similar career!

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How to become an Apparel Designer

Becoming an apparel designer involves a combination of formal education, technical training, and practical experience. Here is an outline of the pathway to the career:

High School Education
Taking art, design, and home economics classes in high school can provide a solid foundation. Courses in drawing, painting, textiles, and sewing are particularly beneficial. Aim for strong performance in subjects like mathematics, which is useful for pattern making and measurements, and English, which helps in communication and presentation skills.

Develop a Passion for Fashion
Cultivate your interest in fashion and design. Follow fashion trends, read fashion magazines and blogs, and study the works of renowned designers. Sketch your own designs and experiment with creating garments.

Bachelor’s Degree
Most aspiring apparel designers pursue a Bachelor’s Degree in Fashion Design. These programs typically cover various aspects of fashion design, including illustration, textiles, pattern making, sewing, draping, computer-aided design (CAD), and fashion history. Some may choose to major in textiles and apparel design, which focuses on fabric development, textile technology, and garment construction.

A related area of study that some designers may choose is fashion merchandising, which focuses more on the business side of fashion, including developing a solid business plan, marketing, branding, retail management, and consumer behavior. This learning path is a potential option for students who aspire to work as an independent or freelance apparel designer. Self-employment and freelancing require high-level entrepreneurial skills and the ability to manage various aspects of the business, from design to production to sales.

Master’s Degree (Optional)
While not always necessary, some designers pursue a Master’s Degree in Fashion Design or a related field to gain advanced knowledge and specialize further. For a comprehensive list of specializations in the field, please see the What does an Apparel Designer do? section in the career overview.

Associate Degree, Certificate, or Online Learning
For those who prefer not to pursue a bachelor’s or master’s degree, obtaining an associate degree or a certificate in fashion design or a related field from a community college or fashion school can provide essential skills and knowledge. These shorter programs commonly include technical training in computer-aided design (CAD) software, which is crucial for modern apparel design. Courses in CAD for fashion, Adobe Illustrator, and Photoshop are often part of the curriculum.

Online platforms like Coursera, Udemy, Skillshare, and MasterClass also offer courses in these and related areas.

Internships and Workshops
Seek out internships, apprenticeships, or entry-level positions with fashion houses, design studios, or retail brands to learn from mentors, gain real-world experience, and make industry connections. Participate in workshops, short courses, and continuing education programs to stay updated with the latest trends and technologies.

Portfolio Development
Build a strong portfolio that showcases your best work. Include sketches, technical drawings, photographs of finished garments, and any other design projects. A compelling portfolio that highlights your skills, experience, and unique design perspective is essential when applying for jobs or pitching your designs to potential clients or employers.

While there aren't specific certifications required to become an apparel designer, there are several optional certifications and credentials that designers can pursue to enhance their skills, credibility, and marketability in the fashion industry. Here are some examples:

  • Master Sewing and Design Professional (MSDP) – Offered by the Association of Sewing and Design Professionals (ASDP), the MSDP Certification Program tests the knowledge and skills of seven important areas: fabric, design, fashion illustration, fit, garment construction, pattern development, and professional practices.
  • Master Alteration Specialist (MAS) – Also offered by the ASDP, the MAS Certification Program tests the knowledge and skill of five important areas: fabrics, alteration techniques, alteration fit, alteration overview, and professional practices.
  • Technical Design Certifications – Organizations like the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) offer technical design certification programs that focus on garment construction, pattern making, and fit analysis. These certifications validate expertise in the technical aspects of apparel design.
  • Sustainability Certifications – With growing emphasis on sustainability in the fashion industry, certifications related to sustainable fashion and ethical practices can be valuable. Organizations like the Sustainable Apparel Coalition offer certifications and training programs focused on sustainability in apparel design and production.
  • Adobe Certified Expert (ACE) – Adobe offers certifications for its software products, including Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop, which are commonly used by apparel designers for sketching, pattern making, and design development. Becoming an Adobe Certified Expert demonstrates proficiency in these essential design tools.

Professional Organizations
There are several professional organizations and associations that support professionals at all stages of their careers in apparel design and the broader fashion industry. Here are some notable ones:

  • Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) – The CFDA is one of the most prestigious organizations in the fashion industry. It provides support and resources to American fashion designers, including mentorship programs, business development initiatives, and networking events.
  • Fashion Group International (FGI) – FGI is a global network of fashion professionals, including designers, retailers, marketers, and media. It hosts events, panel discussions, and networking opportunities to promote collaboration and innovation in the fashion industry.
  • Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) – FIT is a leading institution for fashion education and offers resources and support to alumni and professionals in the industry. It hosts events, exhibitions, and alumni programs for networking and professional development.
  • American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA) – The AAFA represents and supports apparel, footwear, and accessory companies and provides advocacy, education, and networking opportunities for professionals in the industry.
  • International Textile and Apparel Association (ITAA) – The ITAA is a professional organization focused on advancing education, research, and collaboration in textile and apparel design. It offers conferences, publications, and educational resources for academics and practitioners.
  • The Textile Institute – The Textile Institute is an international organization dedicated to promoting professionalism and excellence in the textile and apparel industry. It offers membership, publications, and events focused on textile science, technology, and design.
  • Surface Design Association (SDA) – SDA is a community of artists, designers, and educators focused on textile-inspired art and design. It offers resources, publications, and exhibitions to support innovation and creativity in textile arts.