Apparel Designer Career Information

Research the educational and skill requirements needed to become an apparel designer, as well as the job description and employment and salary outlook. Read on to decide if this career is right for you.

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Career Definition for an Apparel Designer

Apparel designers, also called clothing or fashion designers, conceptualize and create items of clothing. They often specialize in one type of design, such as casual, evening or active wear. Common duties include tracking current fashion trends and predicting future ones, sketching new designs, selecting patterns and fabrics to use in garments and overseeing production. They may then show items to creative directors, clients or retailers, depending on if the garments are to be custom designed or mass produced.

Fashion designers are mostly employed by wholesale or manufacturing outlets, where garments are typically created for mass production; designers can also work for apparel companies, retailers, design firms and theater companies. In these settings, they tend to work as full- or part-time members within a team. At times, long hours are needed to reach deadlines. A number of apparel designers are self- employed; they often create custom clothing and may work unusual hours to meet clients' needs. Fashion designers frequently travel to visit manufacturers, attend trade or fashion shows and gain artistic inspiration.

Education Associate's and bachelor's degree programs available in fashion design
Job Skills Creativity, talent for choosing forms and patterns, business sense, oral and written communication
Median Salary (2015)* $63,670 for fashion designers
Job Growth (2014-2024)* 3% for fashion designers

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Educational Requirements

Employers seek entry-level apparel designers who can make patterns or sketches and have a strong understanding of styles and materials. Students can learn these skills through associate's or bachelor's degree programs in fashion design, which usually include courses in 2- and 3-dimensional design, textiles, pattern construction, fashion history and computer-aided design. Supplementary courses in math, anatomy, psychology and business are also recommended. Postsecondary schools with fashion design programs are accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design. Taking time to develop a portfolio and complete one or more internships while in school can give students an advantage when starting their careers.

Required Skills

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that apparel designers have the following qualities:

  • A talent for choosing colors, forms and patterns that appeal to consumers
  • Detailed, hands-on personalities
  • Creativity and originality
  • Ability to carry out projects independently
  • Well-developed business sense
  • Ability to communicate with other designers when working on a team
  • Knowledge of pattern construction, tailoring and sewing, as well as computer-aided design software

Employment and Salary Outlook

The BLS noted that apparel designers were expected to face keen competition in the coming years and that starting salaries for inexperienced workers were very low; approximately 25% of fashion designers were self-employed in 2014. In 2015, the median annual salary for fashion designers was $63,670. There was a projected 3% job growth in the industry for 2014-2024, although wholesale design jobs may experience a better increase. Formal education, relevant experience and a strong portfolio can give apparel designers the best prospects. Designers overwhelmingly tended to work in the fashion centers of New York City and Los Angeles.

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