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Learn the Basics of Fashion Design

Fashion design is an interesting and highly creative career that allows individuals to showcase their eye for fashion and fashion trends. The fashion design industry is highly competitive and requires anyone entering this field to be an extremely hard worker. 

A fashion designer is someone who works as a creative specialist to conceive and produce clothing designs and accessories. Designs can vary from novel styles to those derived from more current trends, and everything in between. With this type of creative career option, designers can specialize in a particular category of apparel or design for a specific demographic, such as sportswear for athletes, or designer handbags for celebrities, or designs can be generalized across multiple categories and demographics. 

The fashion world is multifaceted and to be successful, designers must have a thorough knowledge of the fashion industry, know how to draw and design, how to cut and sew fabrics, how to use specific computer programs like CAT and Adobe software to develop designs digitally, and also have the ability to network, communicate, and gain contacts within the industry. While a degree is not required to become a successful fashion designer, it can help to get your foot in the door after graduation.

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Learn Fashion Concepts, Methods and Technique

To become relevant and successful in the fashion design field, it is necessary for aspiring fashion designers to learn about and continuously develop formal concepts, methods, theory, and of course technique, exclusive to the fashion industry. The fashion design industry is so fast-paced and competitive, often the only way to make an entrance is to earn a degree from an accredited college, university, or private art college. In fact, the field of fashion design is largely reserved for fashion design graduates. A few things you may learn while enrolled in a fashion design program is art and design, graphic design, fashion marketing and buying, clothing technology, and textiles.

When starting out, most fashion designers work as assistants. Then, as they learn and develop advanced skills, they gain more and more responsibility, often going on to create their own line. On the other hand, if you have strong leadership and entrepreneurial skills, and business sense, you may decide to start your own line right away. As a fashion designer, you can learn more about methods through practice and study. Whether you choose to study independently or through an accredited bachelor's degree program is up to you. 

The way people look and feel while wearing clothing and accessories has always carried a great deal of meaning. With formal concepts, fashion designers can come up with unique and individual ideas that will drive their designs. These concepts will serve as the underlying purpose behind each project or collection that a fashion designer presents. With a strong formal concept, you should be able to choose colors, shapes, fabrics, and cut for each of your designs. Formal concepts can also help you develop styling with hair and makeup, music and artwork to accompany your designs on the fashion runway, and add inspiration regarding how to photograph your finished pieces. A fashion designer should have a clear understanding of shapes, colors, lines, textures, movement, and how each of these aspects interacts with the human form, whether that be hands, feet, or the whole human body.

The actual method behind fashion design can vary slightly for each person. The fashion design method can largely be broken down by determining who you're designing for, what they need, when the design will be worn or modeled, where clients will wear your design, and how to execute your designs properly. The design process usually requires plenty of research, ideation, prototyping, and finally, presentation of a collection. However, each step of the creative process can vary greatly depending on your customer, medium (fabric, rubber, metal, etc.), and ultimately the purpose or functionality of the finished design.

In fashion adoption or distribution, there are three main theories that designers should become familiar with: trickle-down, trickle-across, and trickle-up. Within each of these areas, fashion designers can work to explain how and why fashion moves through society. Additionally, color theory is also a very essential, and often the most important part of fashion design. Color theory is a practical guide to mixing colors and the effects of specific combinations of colors, as well as the use of colors to solve spatial problems in your work. A fashion designer should be able to understand color harmony; the way that different colors interact and work with many varied color combinations and qualities.

Technique is all about the "how to" of fashion design. As a fashion designer, you are required to hold a specific set of skills that change rapidly. At the minimum, a fashion designer should be able to understand colors, learn basic cutting and sewing, pattern making, draping techniques, fashion sketching, and flat sketching for garment production.

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Build a Strong Portfolio

In fashion design, it is vital that potential designers build a strong portfolio, a personal brand and industry connections to ensure success. Building your portfolio, whether online, in print, or with physical prototype pieces, is an important first step in a fashion design career. With a strong portfolio, you are more likely to be accepted for an internship and be better able to sell your work and start building your reputation. 

In our modern age, your success in the fashion industry also heavily relies on your own personal brand. While it is important to keep in mind who you are designing for, to get recognized and separate yourself from the pack, brand identity is key. Most often your designs will speak for themselves, but potential employers are not only looking for great designs. They also look for personality, creativity to ensure a long and prosperous future, and willingness to take criticism and creative advice.  Because you will often work within a team of other creative-minded people, you must also be able to work well with others, and communicate about, as well as stand up for your designs.  

And, because fashion design is such a highly competitive field, making connections within the industry is a great way to make sure your work is showcased. But, many new fashion designers aren’t sure where to begin. Securing an internship with a large or small design house, working in retail, or joining fashion industry associations and clubs are all great ways to make connections in the fashion industry.

Get to Know Our Experts

Shelton Wilder

  • Title:
    Designer
  • Company:
    Shemie
  • Where:
    Venice, CA
  • Experience:
    21 years in the industry
  • Quick Look Bio

    I love all the creative parts of my job. Coming up with the Shemie campaigns for social media and the blog. I love interacting with customers. My career as a stylist is what brought me to create the Shemie. I saw the missing piece in everyone’s wardrobe, and I couldn’t find it in any store, so that’s how it was born.

    I studied business marketing at the University of Georgia. I feel this degree helped me in my businesses, but I did not pursue any fashion degrees. I didn’t get formal training, and it would have been great, but I think my path of working in the industry is the best way to learn. I worked at Benetton when I was 16, and Lori and John Lecker taught me how to be the best sales person. Then I worked at Capitol as a stylist/buyer/manager, and I learned the industry. It was invaluable!

    Starting a fashion line takes a lot of money. I was not fiscally savvy at the beginning and made many mistakes. I went through bankruptcy and had a tough time for a while. Also, people need to know that it is not the glamorous business that everyone thinks. It takes years to succeed, and I’m grateful that after I aired the second time on Shark Tank, a partner came along that believes in me and specializes in the things that are my weaknesses.

    Advice

    Persist and work hard

    My suggestion to people trying to break into the fashion industry as a designer is to work in the industry and work very hard! Meet as many people as possible and never burn any bridges. Helping others is the best way to find out what your strengths and weaknesses are, so you can build on doing what you love most. My most important suggestion is to not give up. Stay persistent, there is no such thing as overnight success.

    Brand yourself

    In this day of social media, it’s never too early to start growing an Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, blog and YouTube following. Start creating your own brand, even outside of your work. You are special and unique and people will care about what you have to share.

    Do what you are good at

    Honestly, I do not like the manufacturing process. It is so difficult and frustrating! That’s why I partnered with Raj from ACF Global, and that’s all he does. My advice is to do what you are BEST at and find experts to do the rest.

    Tamara Albu

  • Title:
    Fashion Professor
  • Company:
    Parsons, The New School for Design
  • Where:
    New York City, NY
  • Experience:
    More than I’d like to admit
  • Quick Look Bio

    After earning my master’s degree in Fashion Design and Illustration, I worked for several years in my native country, Romania. Then I came to New York where I worked as a designer in the garment industry.

    The shift towards education in the design field happened gradually. As Associate Professor, among other courses, I have been teaching Fashion Portfolio and Fashion Illustration at Parsons The New School for Design for many years. During the summer, I usually teach an intensive course in Paris called European Fashion: Tradition and Innovation. Until recently I held a leading position as Director of Fashion Studies Program in the School of Fashion. My academic interests are focused on traditional and experimental design processes and textile and fashion sustainability.

    I am glad to say that there are no typical workdays for me. My work is divided between teaching, meeting with students, evaluating projects, contributing to several committees and professional organizations, research, paint, going to fashion shows during the fashion week, maintaining professional exchanges with fellow professors from universities around the world, to name just a few from a multitude of undertakings. Each day might require a different combination of these tasks.

    Advice

    Get an internship

    I always advise my students to extend their learning energy to interning for companies in the fashion field. The real life experience will give them the opportunity to understand and experience firsthand the field they are choosing for their future career. It will not only give them a glimpse into the real world of Fashion Industry but also facilitates building professional contacts and opportunities that may help them enter in the fashion realm.

    Be true to your passion

    It might sound cliché, but I cannot think of any other way to put it. Be informed, but at the same time true to yourself. Design with passion, let your creative mind be free. Give 100% of your talent and a hundred times more of hard work, determination and perseverance.

    Cynthia Jamin

  • Title:
    Girls Clothing
  • Company:
    TwirlyGirl
  • Where:
    Los Angeles, CA
  • Experience:
    7 years in the industry
  • Quick Look Bio

    Owning my own business forces me to wear a lot of hats. Handling my customers always comes first.

    Then my focus turns to production. After that I need to deal with logistics. Of course, I have employees and contractors, but being the owner, I know exactly what is going on with everyone. I also listen to what issues come up, review emails from customers, and take note of what could be done better.

    I love creating new designs, shopping for fabrics, putting together the cuts for production. I love being creative and being connected to that energy. I’m always thinking of my customers when I create, so what I produce will appeal to their needs and desires. Some people may think that a designer should be following their vision alone. I don’t agree. I think there is a balance between what you want to design, and what your audience wants.

    I think one should gain information from many sources. Talking to those who are doing what you want to do is super helpful and valuable. School opens the mind and allows you to explore many paths. I am mostly self-taught, though. I did go to a few classes at OTIS School of Design in Los Angeles, and I’ve never taken a business course, but I do think it would be helpful to explore how to run a business. There is so much information to be found on the internet now. You could teach yourself a multitude of things if you have the passion to find the information.

    Advice

    Meet the right people

    Networking can be so crucial when breaking into any career. Find where that particular community hangs out, via Facebook groups, coffee shops, etc. Ask friends if they know anyone who is doing what you want to do.

    Think of the needs of others

    Hone your ideas so that you can find that balance between what you love to do and what people want and need. Take all the times that you feel discouraged and look at them with a different lens.

    Nicole Giordano

  • Title:
    Founder
  • Company:
    StartUp FASHION
  • Where:
    Global
  • Experience:
    15 years in the industry
  • Quick Look Bio

    I love helping designers build the lives they want. It’s not easy to succeed in this business, but success doesn’t have to be the cover of a major magazine and a fashion empire. My favorite part of what I do is helping designers to figure out what it is that they truly want and teaching them the steps to get there.

    My job varies every single day. I spend time in our membership community advising designers, I work on business development and partnerships, marketing, PR, finance, you name it. This same thing is true for our members. Because the majority of them are new businesses, they are doing a lot of things themselves. One of the things that I hear from almost every emerging designer I know is how surprised they are that so little of their time is actually spent designing. The business side takes up 90% of their time.

    I studied Textile Design at Philadelphia University. If you’re going to study fashion design, I would highly recommend taking electives or outside courses in business; classes like finance, marketing, sales, and operations. And vice-versa, if you plan to study business, then I would recommend taking a few courses at a design school to help polish your approach to design and deepen your understanding of the industry.

    To be completely honest, I don’t believe that you need to go to school for any of these things if you don’t want to; at least not in the formal education way. I believe that you can be disciplined to educate yourself through books, blogs, online courses and workshops, seeking advice from others in the industry, and learning from your own experience.

    Advice

    Create a network

    Meet and connect with fellow designers, mentors, advisers, and other people who are doing amazing things. These people will be your support system.

    Be true to yourself

    If you build a business based on your values and beliefs, and are never scared to share those values and beliefs, your customers will do most of your marketing for you. Keep an open mind and never be scared to alter the plan as you learn new things about yourself, your business, and your customers.

    Read

    My favorite business books include Start with WhyThe E Myth RevisitedContagiousJab Jab Jab, Right Hook, and Raving Fans (just to name a few).

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