What is a Fashion Merchandising Degree?

Fashion merchandisers combine the art of fashion with the business of fashion.

Degree programs in the field cover fashion history, the fashion seasons, and the structure and performance of fabrics. They examine consumer behavior and target markets and look at the processes involved in forecasting trends and product lifecycles, negotiating with manufacturers, determining sales projections, making purchasing decisions, and pricing inventory.

They are also about building brands and marketing and creating visual presentations for both brick-and-mortar and online stores. In short, students of fashion merchandising learn to appreciate budgets and spreadsheets as much as design and style.

Program Options

Certificate in Fashion Merchandising – One Year Duration
Certificate programs in fashion merchandising provide an overview of the field. In many cases, students who earn this certificate go on for further study of fashion merchandising in an associate or bachelor’s program.

Here is a snapshot of the kinds of core courses that are offered at this level:

  • Merchandising Fashion – visual communication, presenting/displaying fashion in wholesale, retail, and e-commerce environments
  • Fashion Styling – conceptualizing, creating, and developing fashion styles
  • Fashion Marketing – fashion brand development and promotion, internet marketing and e-commerce
  • Fashion Retail Management – launching and managing a fashion retail business
  • Fashion Buying – purchasing for a fashion retail business, stock planning, and sales projections
  • Fashion Forecasting – recognizing and interpreting consumer behavior and fashion trends
  • Textiles – properties of fabrics, color, theory, textile innovations, textile industry ethics
  • History of Fashion – the influence of culture, world events, politics, and technology on the evolution of fashion

Associate Degree in Fashion Merchandising – Two Year Duration
Graduates with an Associate Degree in Merchandising typically qualify for entry-level and some mid-level roles in the field.

The associate degree curriculum expands upon the core subjects described in the Certificate in Fashion Merchandising section and also contains general education courses, such as the ones listed below. In addition, many associate programs include an internship.

  • English Composition
  • Business and Technical Writing
  • Cross-cultural Communication
  • Accounting Fundamentals
  • Economics Fundamentals
  • Marketing Fundamentals
  • Merchandising Mathematics
  • Business Spreadsheets

Bachelor’s Degree in Fashion Merchandising – Four Year Duration
The Bachelor’s Degree in Fashion Merchandising provides students with the most comprehensive education in the field. In addition to the topics covered in certificate and associate programs, students take upper-level courses such as the following:

  • Fashion and Culture – the significance and meanings that cultures assign to dress
  • Writing for Fashion – professional writing for the world of fashion, fashion blogging
  • Merchandise Sourcing and Logistics – logistics and allocation in wholesale and retail operations, customer conversion, and global partnerships
  • Internship Preparation – independent researching of and applying for internships, resume writing, interview preparation
  • Internship – program approved career experience outside the classroom
  • Special Topics in Fashion – trend forecasting, the economic impact of fashion, connecting fashion design and fashion merchandising
  • Contemporary Topics in Fashion Merchandising – the global fashion industry, ethical and social responsibilities, emerging technologies
  • Portfolio – students develop materials and presentations that demonstrate their learning and experience
  • Global Retailing – merchandise purchasing, store layouts and locations, customer experience
  • Digital Tools for Fashion Presentations – producing presentations, designing digital posters and storyboards using Adobe Creative Suite
  • Sustainability and the Future of Fashion – the local and global environmental and societal effects of the fashion industry, fashion supply chains
  • Product Development and Merchandising – the creative and technical planning of a seasonal fashion collection
  • Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) – the overall process of creating a style, including color palettes, fabrications, trims and garment specifications, and costing
  • Fashion Merchandising Capstone Project – final project demonstrating fashion merchandising knowledge and skills

Degrees Similar to Fashion Merchandising

Degree programs in advertising are made up of courses that demonstrate how to develop a brand and communicate it through the various advertising channels of print, television, radio, and online media.

Art History
Students of art history study the history and development of drawing, painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, filmmaking, and architecture.

Fashion Design
A degree program in fashion design teaches students how to develop artistic ideas and concepts and transform them into wearable clothing and accessories. The typical curriculum is built around the four basic elements of fashion design: color, silhouette/shape, line, and texture.

Students learn that each of these elements can create identity and meaning, they can convey certain emotions, they can be flattering or unflattering, and they can trick the eye. Classes in fashion design programs cover the history of design, fashion sketching, pattern drafting, and computer-aided fashion design.

Graphic Design
The goal of graphic design is to produce visual concepts to communicate messages. The discipline uses layout, color, and other creative concepts to design logos and branding packages that inspire and captivate consumers.

Illustration degree programs teach students how to tell stories and communicate ideas visually. They cover traditional manual drawing, digital art technologies, and art and illustration history. Some programs may include painting classes or offer concentrations in a specific kind of illustration, such as book illustration, fashion illustration, exhibit drawing, animation and cartoon drawing, and medical illustration.

This degree field is focused on activities undertaken by businesses to promote the buying or selling of products and services. Students study advertising and promotion, marketing communications, international marketing, marketing management, sales and sales management, consumer behavior, marketing research, and marketing strategy.

Photography is communication via images. Photography degree programs teach the technical, creative, and business skills required to be a professional photographer. Typical coursework includes history of photography, black-and-white photography, color photography, lighting techniques, materials and processes, two-dimensional design, and digital photography.

Skills You’ll Learn

Graduates of a fashion merchandising degree program come away with many skills that can be applied in some way to almost any job:

Commercial Awareness
A merchandising degree leaves students with an understanding of commercial markets, consumer behavior, and general business requirements. This understanding is applicable to virtually every industry.

Communications, Teamwork, and Networking
Potential employees who are comfortable interacting and communicating with colleagues, partners, clients, and potential clients will always have an edge on those who lack this capacity.

Computer Literacy
Fashion merchandisers, like many professionals, produce documentation in various formats. This means that they learn how to use computer software applications and tools – a skill that is transferable to many different fields of work.

Confidence, Organization, and Decision Making
The merchandising environment is fast-paced, in which many decisions must often be made quickly, intelligently, and simultaneously.

Creativity and Visualization
Merchandising is a creative blend of design and marketing. Students who study the discipline are called upon to visualize, to imagine how a product, event, or presentation will look.

Numeracy and Budgeting
Fashion merchandising students learn both visual creativity and financial creativity, which includes forecasting, budgeting, managing inventories, and optimizing sales.

What Can You Do with a Fashion Merchandising Degree?

The career options available to fashion merchandising grads are wider than most people think. Potential employers and roles exist in retail, wholesale, advertising, journalism, marketing, manufacturing, and arts and culture:

  • Fashion Retail Stores – store management, retail allocation (effectively distributing and assigning stock to a company’s different retail locations by analyzing shopper behaviors and preferences in each location), store layout, visual displays, and fashion events
  • Fashion Buying – wholesale and retail
  • Fashion Import / Export
  • Fashion Advertising – creating fashion sector advertising campaigns
  • Fashion Design Firms
  • Fashion Journalism and Media – writing, copywriting, editing, and social media
  • Fashion Marketing / Market Research – fashion trend forecasting
  • Fashion Media Sales – for newspapers, magazines, online publications, radio and television, outdoor billboard and digital screen suppliers
  • Fashion Photography
  • Fashion Public Relations
  • Textile and Clothing Manufacturers – design, testing, and merchandising of products
  • Boutique Owner / Manager
  • Personal Shopper
  • Personal Stylist
  • Theater and Dance Companies – costuming
  • Museums – curator assisting, museum exhibits and displays
  • Self-employment


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