How to Become an Accessory Designer

01

Learn the Basics of Accessory Design

Accessory designers create the ornaments and accents that complete an outfit or fashion design. This work may include, but is certainly not limited to, shoes, hats, jewelry, handbags, hair accessories, and many other fashion items that aren't considered clothing. Often, the title of accessory designer (in the broadest terms) is someone who designs clothing accents, so choosing a specific area of focus early on in your career may be beneficial. As with clothing design, accessory designers can specialize in a particular category of design that includes a specific accessory type or demographic.

The fashion world is ever changing and multifaceted, making it necessary for accessory designers to have a thorough knowledge of the industry. They should also have the inherent or learned abilities to sketch, cutting and sewing skills, an understanding of color theory and a firm grasp of how to use certain computer software design programs. Accessory designers may work on a part-time or full-time basis, with many choosing self-employment and freelance. While a degree is not necessary to become a successful accessory designer, some artists choose to enroll in design classes to boost their chances of getting a job after graduation.

Although not required, an associate or bachelor’s degree in a related fashion field may be required by certain employers.  There are a few schools that offer a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Accessory Design, specifically for prospective accessory designers.  In addition, earning a degree may give you a leg up on the competition when applying for a job. Although most designers start at the bottom, many who have proven skills and connections in the industry can make upwards of $100,000 per year. The median annual salary in 2013 was just over $63,000.  Most accessory designers are employed by apparel wholesalers who sell their merchandise to retailers. In this case, you will usually work with a team of other professionals, so the ability to work well with others, take criticism, and be open to suggestions is imperative for success. 

02

Continuously Develop New Concepts & Techniques

If you want to become relevant and successful in the accessory design industry, it is important that you learn about, and work to continuously develop new concepts, methods, and techniques.

Many artists and industry insiders would argue that an outfit is not complete without the addition of a few expertly-conceived fashion accessories. Fashion has always carried a great deal of importance in society, and with new and innovative concepts and ideas, you can create highly-regarded and sellable designs to complement fashion. After all, your fashion concepts should serve as the underlying purpose behind each project or collection you present. Strong initial concepts can also help you develop proper styling for each finished piece; what works well with clothing items, hair, and makeup, artwork, and even any music that may accompany your designs in print or on the fashion runway. You should also possess a clear understanding of color theory, shapes, lines, texture, and movement to create work that complements the human form.

Actual design methods will vary for each individual artist, but most often, they should answer a few key questions. You should consider who you are designing for, how they will use each item, where they will be worn, and how you can execute each design properly. Accessory designers should also be prepared for extensive research, sketching, prototype production, and of course, the final presentation of their finished collections. The creative process is one that can greatly differ depending on the medium, the customer, and the purpose or functionality of each accessory.  It is not uncommon for accessory designers to work closely with fashion apparel designers and a team of other artists to come up with concepts that will refine their design. With a great deal of practice and studying, it is possible for an accessory designer to become successful in this competitive industry.

In addition, a great understanding of color theory and how it relates to fashion design is extremely important for anyone entering the accessory design industry. Color theory helps designers use their knowledge of space and color to solve unique spatial problems in their work, as well as create one-of-a-kind pieces that are visually stimulating. An accessory designer should be able to use color theory to explain color harmony, how colors interact, which are popular, what colors mean to different people, and then use the many varied color combinations to create each new design. 

As an accessory designer, technique is all about how you will ultimately fabricate each of your designs. In this demanding artistic field, accessory designers must possess a great deal of knowledge and skill, with standards that are constantly changing. At the very minimum, it is important that you can understand color theory, pattern making, fashion and flat sketching, and that you have basic cutting and sewing skills.

03

Build a Strong Portfolio

To become a successful accessory designer, it is important that beginners do their best to build a strong portfolio, their own personal brand, and industry connections. The best way to showcase what you've accomplished to potential clients and industry experts is to build a strong portfolio. Whether you choose to present a digital portfolio, a standard print option, or highlight physical prototype pieces within your portfolio, you are much more likely to get work, sell your items or land an internship when your portfolio shows variety and your skill level. 

Because the fashion world is so high profile and demanding, it always helps to have a strong sense of your own personal brand when showcasing your work for all the world to see. Accessory designers have a unique opportunity within the fashion world to design pieces that show off your clients’ unique taste or brand, as well as confirm your own brand identity. Having a firm understanding of the importance of your reputation and how that is reflected by your brand can help you stay focused and on the right path to success. 

In fashion, trends come and go, often without much rhyme or reason. Therefore, making connections within the industry can ensure your work is seen and help your work stay relevant. If you are unsure of where to begin, try applying for an apprenticeship or internship to gain experience and make connections with fellow artists and industry insiders. Joining clubs, organizations, associations and using social media to show-off your talents are also great ways to introduce yourself as a professional.

Helpful Resources

  • Interview with Sara Rotman, Creative Director & Fashion Branding Expert

    Tammi Edwards
    Tammi EdwardsJun 16, 2012

    As Sara Rotman was rising through the ranks of corporate America, she quickly learned that if she wanted to reach the pinnacle of her industry she would more than just design talent. She would also need to become business-savvy, something she learned and handled with ap...

  • Interview with Jill Manzara, Jewelry Designer

    Kathryn Pomroy
    Kathryn PomroyJun 18, 2012

    If anyone has packaged and sold optimism, it is Jill Manzara. In this article, you’ll meet Jill and learn from a woman whose success was built on believing in and realizing the uniqueness of each life. Divorced and alone with 2 children to support, Jill discovered her...

  • Interview with Abi Ferrin, Fashion Designer

    Tammi Edwards
    Tammi EdwardsJul 02, 2012

    When you read about the reality of fashion design, from the perspective of our featured artist Abi Ferrin, you may be surprised. To the outsider, the field may appear to be filled with glamour and glitter; but to those who have worked their way to the top—it is seriou...

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