CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become a fashion designer.
Is becoming a fashion 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:
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High school offers opportunities to help students begin preparing for a possible career in fashion design:
• Study art. This is a great way to begin developing an eye for color, shape, proportion, and texture.
• Take home economics classes to learn how to sew and prepare and cut garment patterns.
• Hone your math skills, which are fundamental for measuring and understanding proportion in design.
• Learn how to use visual design software such as Photoshop, CoreLDraw, Xara, SerifDrawPlus.
• Join the school drama club; design and create costumes for school plays.
• Read blogs, books, and magazines about art and fashion design.
No matter how much natural talent they have, aspiring fashion designers often earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Fashion Design.
• Color theory
• Textiles and clothing technology
• Fashion history
• Fashion sketching and drawing
• 3-D design
• Computer-aided design (CAD)
• Portfolio development and presentation
• Sewing and tailoring
• Pattern making
• Haute Couture / Ready-to-Wear / Mass Production methods
• Specializations (men’s fashion / women’s fashion / children’s fashion / accessories)
• Human anatomy / constructs of the human body
• Fashion events
• Managing a fashion house
The National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) maintains an up-to-date list of accredited institutions.
Some very highly regarded schools
• LISSA School of Design, Paris, France
• Istituto Europeo Di Design (IED)
• Cambridge School of Visual & Performing Arts, UK
• Southern New Hampshire University, USA
• Accademia del Lusso, Italy
• London College of Contemporary Arts (LCCA), UK
Other related and relevant undergraduate degree options
• Bachelor’s Degree in Fashion Merchandising – curriculum covers merchandise planning, retails sales promotion, consumer behavior, retail management, and product development
• Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts
• Bachelor’s Degree in Visual Arts – curriculum combines theories and practices from painting, drawing, photography, and digital imaging
• Bachelor’s Degree in Art History
• Bachelor’s Degree in Graphic Design
Internship / Portfolio Development
Internships are invaluable experiences for prospective fashion designers. Exposure to the industry can be gained by working with design houses and manufacturing firms, or in higher-end retail stores as a personal stylist or custom tailor. Internship opportunities in one of the world’s international fashion centers, such as Paris, New York, London, or Milan, are highly sought after, extremely competitive, and particularly esteemed in the field. All internships, however, allow aspiring designers to observe operations in a professional setting and better understand both the artistic and business aspects of the work.
One outstanding benefit of an internship is the opportunity it provides students to further develop a portfolio that demonstrates their skills and creative sensibilities. While it is important to begin working on establishing a portfolio during university, the projects assigned to in-house interns can significantly enhance their visibility and stature with potential employers. And, of course, with impressive performance there exists the possibility of being hired by the firm providing the internship.
The best fashion design portfolios present a personal brand and include:
• Hand-drawn sketches or photographs of these sketches
• Computer-drawn designs
• Mood or concept pages
• Color and textile presentation pages
• Other pieces or prototypes that highlight creativity, skills, and sensibilities (color, detail, balance, proportion, appreciation for beauty)
At the beginning of their careers, most fashion designers work as assistants. The ultimate goal for designers is to create their own line. Creating an independent line or becoming a head designer or design director are undeniably exciting and considered pinnacles of designer success. En route to these goals, however, are several opportunities:
• Artists and sketchers sketch new designs.
• Assistant designers support lead designers.
• Cutters cut out patterns by hand or using computerized equipment.
• Pattern graders adjust patterns for different sizes of clothing.
• Pattern makers make patterns.
• Set and exhibit designers create sets for fashion, runway, or trade shows.
• Spec and fit technicians produce samples.
• Specialty designers design and sew items requiring special production techniques.
• Trend researchers gather data to help designers plan their collections.
• Council of Fashion Designers of America
• Fashion Industry Association
• International Association of Professional Fashion Designers
• Association of Sewing and Design Professionals
• International Association of Clothing Designers and Executives
• United States Fashion Industry Association
• America’s Apparel Producers Network
• Costume Designers Guild
• International Textile and Apparel Association
• American Sewing Guild
• BoF – The Business of Fashion
• WWF – Women’s Wear Daily
• The Emerging Designer
• Fashion Brain Academy
• Becoming a Fashion Designer: Advice from Experts – The Guardian
• The Successful Fashion Designer Podcast – SuccessfulFashionDesign.com
• Dressed: The History of Fashion – Stuff Media LLC
• Fashion Designer Melissa Fleis – Contestant on Project Runway
• How to Break into the Fashion Industry with Alexa Chung – British Vogue
• How to Start a Clothing Label – Marie Claire
• American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA)
• California Fashion Association
• Designers Guild
How to become a Fashion Designer
Although two-year associate degree programs in the field are available, most designers earn a four-year bachelor’s degree from an institution accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design. The most common majors are fashion design and fine arts. Many design schools require that program applicants have a sketch portfolio and have completed some basic training in drawing, painting, sketching, graphic arts, and/or computer graphics.
Bachelor’s Degree programs in fashion design commonly include coursework in colors, lines, textures, movements, and how each of these aspects interacts with the human form; drawing and imaging; textile science; math for designers; digital design and the use of computer-aided design (CAD) software; and fashion history. Programs also include a hands-on component, allowing students to practise pattern making and fabric draping – the process of positioning and pinning fabric on a dress form to develop the structure of a garment design and create the pattern. Curricula may also address the business and marketing aspects of fashion. These subjects, however, are more prominent bachelor’s degree programs in fashion merchandising.
While fashion design curricula vary somewhat from school to school, all programs provide students with significant opportunities to showcase their skills and develop their portfolios and a personal brand through studio classes and development sections. Some institutions partner with manufacturers and industry groups, such as the Council of International Fashion Designers, which sponsor contests for design students. These competitions may be focused on the design of women’s wear, men’s wear, or specific accessories like jewelry and handbags. Schools also often liaise with fashion houses and clothing and accessory companies to arrange internships for students.
In short, a relevant bachelor’s degree, an outstanding portfolio, and an internship with a reputable company in the fashion arena are the education hallmarks for aspiring fashion designers.