Bachelor's degree programs in both apparel and shoe design are rare and may be difficult to find. While the curriculum for a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Fashion Design might include individual classes in footwear design and one or two schools might offer it as a major, it is more common to find footwear design as part of an accessories design program. Students in these programs will learn the skills necessary to work in the fashion industry, particularly in the fields of consumer or custom design, and often complete internships and senior design projects or portfolios. Individual design departments may offer specializations in children's wear, lingerie, sportswear and clothing for special occasions.
To begin a Bachelor of Fine Arts program, applicants must have a high school diploma or the equivalent; some colleges may require applicants to have completed a foundation art program or have existing credits in a fashion-related area. Some courses and programs are available online.
Bachelor of Fine Arts in Fashion Design
An undergraduate fashion program provides students with the opportunity to acquire the same skills used in the industry under the guidance of working professionals. Upper-level classes taken during the third and fourth years of the program build upon the drawing, pattern development, draping and construction skills students acquired during their lower-level coursework. Those that don't offer a separate degree in accessories or footwear design may provide additional classes in leather goods, jewelry design and millinery. The advanced curriculum for an undergraduate fashion program prepares students to create clothing for the consumer and the custom design markets. Courses may include:
- Sketching or illustration
- Computerized pattern design
- Flat pattern design
Bachelor of Fine Arts in Accessory Design
Shoes and bags can make or break a look, and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Accessories Design trains students for this increasingly important area of the fashion industry. Students learn how to design athletic, theatrical and nontraditional footwear using conventional drawing materials and computer software and to develop a line for a targeted market. New courses in sustainability give undergraduates a chance to experiment with green design. Educational prerequisites are generally the same as those for a fashion design program. From paper drawing to finished products, students learn how to design and make different kinds of fashion accessories and understand their historical importance and place in the clothing industry. Coursework generally includes the following:
- Sketching for accessories and footwear
- Computer-aided design
- Footwear design
- Fashion history
- Collection development
Popular Career Options
The BLS reports that fashion designers will discover the most opportunities for employment with design firms and apparel wholesalers that create mass-market clothing for department stores and retail chains. Designers may also be able to find work as costume researchers and technicians for film, television and theater production companies. New graduates might find it useful to gain experience by working as personal stylists or custom tailors at department stores. The most common entry-level positions in the fashion industry are these:
- Pattern makers
- Sketching assistants
- Assistant buyers or designers
Students who graduate with a specialized degree in accessories or footwear design will find work designing shoes, handbags, belts, luggage, eyewear and bridal accessories. Other positions include these:
- Product-line builder
- Lead pattern maker
- Assistant production and merchandise makers
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
Fashion designers in general earned a mean annual salary of $73,180 in 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). From 2014-2024, jobs in the apparel manufacturing industry are expected to decline rapidly, with a staggering 47% decrease. Jobs for fashion designers in general are expected to increase by 3%, slower than average for most occupations. The best prospects can be expected by designers with degrees in fashion design, strong portfolios and experience in the fashion industry.
Graduate degrees in fashion design are rare. Professionals who would like to teach at the college level or who want to pursue a more in-depth study of clothing and textiles can find programs at universities and professional design schools. Degrees offered include a Master of Fine Arts with specialized coursework in fashion design and a Master of Arts in Fashion and Textile Studies.
A Bachelor of Fine Arts in Fashion Design or Accessory Design can put students on the path to a career in apparel and shoe design. The curriculum for each degree offers the know-how and fundamentals necessary for a successful design career.