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What is a Fashion Designer?

Designing clothing to bring to market is a more complicated process than some realize and it is not the sole responsibility of the fashion designer to see the process through from start to finish. Fashion designers apply design and art principals to clothing and apparel or accessories in ways that are supposed to make the clothing be both functional and aesthetically beautiful. They usually start by researching consumer tastes and trends in the fashion market and then come up with an initial concept for the design. They then either sketch that concept or they use a mannequin and place the fabric over the mannequin to get an initial sense of what the design will look like and whether it will work well as a finished product.

Fashion designers usually don’t work alone because the process of designing a concept, physically putting the pattern on the article of clothing, and then putting together a finished product and bringing it together is too much responsibility for one person. This is why fashion designers usually work in teams with professional pattern-makers, professional sample-makers, and merchandisers to ensure that the design will look good as clothing but that it will also sell well once it makes it to market. Most assume that fashion designers have any easy job and that fashion design education is all about learning design techniques and studying consumer behavior, but the industry is much more complicated than that and to be a successful fashion designer, you will need a well-rounded education and knowledge of things like science, art history, math, and even business management if you are an independent fashion designer who doesn’t work for a mass apparel company.

The profession is popular because it is also glamorous. Fashion designers are taste-makers for the public and it can be really exciting to see celebrities or everyday citizens wearing clothing or patterns that you designed. But it is also a competitive, arduous, detail-oriented, and difficult industry to be successful in. Becoming a fashion designer is not for the faint of heart and will require plenty of patience and perseverance, but the reward at the end makes it all worth it in most cases.

Work Environment

Working as an independent fashion designer requires incredibly long hours and a lot of patience. That said a lot of fashion designers do like to work for themselves. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 25 percent of fashion designers were self-employed in 2012. There are different ways a self-employed fashion designer can earn a living too. Some fashion designers will sell their work to fashion houses or shops or even clothing manufacturers while other fashion designers start their own labels and are able to market their designs that way and other fashion designers work specifically with one specialty store or department store designing individualized or customized clothing specifically for that one buyer.

Larking out on your own as a fashion designer is difficult and it’s hard to earn a living that way unless you are experienced or extremely talented, plus, most of the fashion design jobs are with wholesalers or large clothing manufacturers like Gap, Inc. or Abercrombie & Fitch. These wholesalers design their clothing to either be sold in stores they own and operate or the designs are sold to independent stores, catalogs, and online businesses to be sold there. The designers who work at these manufacturers are usually referred to as “in-house” designers and they work as part of a larger team that sees the clothing design and marketing process through from start to finish. There are more jobs available in fashion design with the manufacturers and there is less responsibility and expertise required to be an in-house designer. But there is also less recognition when a design becomes particularly possible and the profit margins are smaller as well.

Education Requirement

It is encouraged but not required to have a bachelor’s degree in fashion design or fashion merchandising if you want to become a professional fashion-designer. The extremely talented or extremely dedicated can start off at the bottom of the ladder as a fashion designer and work their way up without a formal degree, but most manufacturers, design firms, and apparel companies look for students with a bachelor’s degree in a fashion-related subject. The reason the degree is important because these programs teach students about art history, textiles and fabrics, design strategies and techniques that include computer-aided design, and business and marketing strategies that help aspiring designers understand the financial side of design as well.

A formal degree program also allows aspiring designers to earn valuable experience before they enter the workforce and it obviously helps them build a well-rounded portfolio of their design work that usually helps showcase the designer’s ability to potential employers. Schools offering specific fashion design programs have increased dramatically as demand has increased and according to the National Association of Schools of Art and Design, there are more than 300 institutions that offer accredited degree programs in art and design and many of these institutions have specific degree programs in fashion design or fashion merchandising.


According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, fashion designers are some of the better paid employees in the design industry although entry-level fashion designers usually don’t make much to start. In May of 2012, the BLS estimated that the median annual salary of fashion designers was $62,860, which is nearly $20,000 more than the median annual salary for the average professional working in an “arts, design, entertainment, sports, and media occupations”.

The lowest 10 percent of fashion designers earned a median annual salary of less than $34,110 while the top 10 percent earned a median annual salary of more than $126,290 as salary and earnings fluctuate depending on the employer and experience of the designer. Designers working at large manufacturing or apparel companies usually earn a larger and more stable salary than freelance designers although some of the most talented freelance and independent designers can get very rich and very well-known working alone.

Job Outlook

Despite the incredible demand and interest amongst young people, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the industry to contract by three percent from 2012 to 2022. The primary reason for the decline is that more and more apparel is being produced internationally. In fact, the apparel industry has become so international that employment of fashion designers in the U.S. apparel manufacturing industry is expected to decline 51 percent from 2012 to 2022. As of May 2012, the BLS estimated there were 22,300 professional fashion designers employed across the country and that number is projected to decrease to 21,700 by 2022.

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