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Online Fashion and Retail Management Degree Program Options

Learn about online degree programs in fashion merchandising. Review program requirements, course topics and degree levels, and check out career and continuing education options.

Essential Information

Students looking for programs in fashion and retail management may want to enroll in a fashion merchandising program. These can be found as fully online programs at the associate's and master's degree levels, while bachelor's degree programs will have some in-person components to them, such as required proctored examinations at approved locations, work-study jobs or an internship.

Certain equipment or software may be necessary for this program when studying remotely, such as a multimedia-capable computer or a functioning webcam and microphone. Bachelor's-level students may also need a digital camera and image manipulation software.

Prerequisites vary according to the chosen level of study, with some prior credits possibly required at the associate's degree level. Bachelor's degree program applicants may need to submit a portfolio and/or meet art and design coursework prerequisites. Master's-level applicants may need to have completed a bachelor's degree program in a relevant field, such as retail, textiles, clothing, fashion or design, as well as having some experience in the fashion industry.

Associate's Degree - Fashion Merchandising

The fashion industry is relatively volatile, and the success of a business depends upon the fashion acumen of its management, accurate reading of the marketplace and the overall health of the economy. There are a number of online associate's degree programs in fashion design, marketing and merchandising available for students interested in deepening their understanding of color, textile and fashion, learning the fashion retail trade and developing marketing skills.

Program Information

Distance learning associate's degree programs in fashion merchandising generally offer fully online courses, and completing them should take full-time students between 12 and 24 months. Admission is open to high school graduates, but some programs require applicants to have completed as many as 21 undergraduate credits to fulfill general education requirements.

Students need a computer with multimedia capabilities and a fast Internet connection in order to view lectures, complete assignments and communicate with teachers and fellow students. A webcam and microphone are needed for programs that require student participation in live lectures or forums. Some computerized design, rendering and simulation tools may require either a Windows or Mac computer.

Course Information

All programs offer courses in color, textiles, design and marketing, but the short duration of an associate's program tends to limit management training classes to the basics. Some programs work with students to set up internships with local design firms or retailers. Sample courses include:

Color Theory

Color theory includes the physics behind colors and pigments, and the relationships between the different colors on the color wheel. Students learn industry terminology, principles of color theory and how texture influences the perception of color.

Design Development

This course explores stages of design development from concepts to flats and croquis drawings. Students are given opportunities to experiment with different styles of fashion sketches.

Merchandising Mathematics

Students learn basic accounting and other calculations useful in merchandising and financial planning for the retail environment. Concepts covered include markup reports, sales analyses, seasonal planning and gross margins.

Textile Fundamentals

An understanding of fibers, fabrics and yarns is vital to success in the fashion industry. This course presents an overview of fabrics, construction methods and colors, along with their effect on styles and trends.


Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration - Fashion Merchandising

Online bachelor's degree programs in fashion merchandising are less prevalent than associate's programs. At the bachelor's degree level, online programs add increased depth to the design and marketing coursework covered by associate's degree programs, but the emphasis is on business management as it applies to design and merchandising. Programs are likely to originate from a college's business school rather than its arts or design schools.

Program Information

Students could expect to complete a distance learning bachelor's degree program in four full-time years of study, although some accelerated programs are designed to be completed in three. Courses are generally all-online and students are encouraged, if not required, to arrange work-study jobs or internships in businesses located near their homes. Some programs require a digital camera and related image manipulation software for completing assignments.

Most on-site programs require applicants to have completed several art and design courses, or submit a portfolio of relevant artwork. Distance learning programs are less likely to include these requirements.

Course and Class Information

Courses in fashion, merchandising and business are geared to help students improve critical thinking, communication and decision-making skills. Course subjects include:

Brand Management

Successful management of brands can radically increase a firm's profitability. This course discusses the acquisition and development of brands, and the responsibilities of a brand manager.

Merchandise Planning

Businesses need intelligent ways to manage merchandise. Techniques to plan stock, assess competitive markets and make economically sensible forecasts are presented. Students learn when situations may call for pricing strategies to be aggressive or conservative.

Fashion Event Planning

The fashion industry uses many types of events to promote their products. Topics include selecting an event to complement the product, planning for all contingencies, coordinating the publicity and anticipating potential complications.


Master's Degree - Fashion and Retail Management

Bachelor's degree-holders looking to further develop their retail and business skills could consider pursuing a master's degree in fashion merchandising or retail marketing. Those hoping to deepen their understanding of fashion, design or textiles might pursue a master's in apparel or textiles.

Program Information

The fashion industry's small margins and competitive business climate require a business to coordinate good design, strong business plan, solid marketing strategy and effective management. Applicants should have completed an accredited bachelor's degree program in retail, textiles, clothing, fashion or design, although some programs will consider majors in other subjects with experience or postgraduate coursework in relevant subjects.

Course and Class Information

At the master's level, courses are generally available all-online. Courses cover advanced marketing principles, special considerations for the fashion industry and an analysis of fashion consumer behavior. Specializations include historic costume and textiles, textile science or fashion merchandising.

Product Development

This course offers a review of the development cycle for several fashion products. Students learn about planning, forecasting, developing specifications, estimating prices and choosing sources. Also covered are the ever-evolving relationships between developers, suppliers, manufacturers and retailers.

Apparel Production

Many factors determine the success or failure of apparel items. Topics include sizing and quality standards, selection of fabrics, elements of style and the use of trims.

Textile Science

Textile science deals with the technology of fiber, fabric and yarn manufacture. Topics include processes used to create, color and finish textiles, procedures to ensure quality control and programs to minimize the environmental impact of manufacturing operations.


Career Information

Employment in the fashion industry is cyclical, seasonal and influenced strongly by the overall economy. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected that wage and salary positions in retail sales worker jobs would grow by 7% during the 2014-2024 period, about as fast as the national average. According to the BLS, fashion design jobs were predicted to grow by 3% within the same time frame, and competition is likely to be keen. Workers with at least a bachelor's degree in fashion design or fashion merchandising were likely to have the best job opportunities.

Jobs for workers with an associate's degree include textile designer, fashion designer, retail store associate, assistant fashion buyer, window dresser and manufacturer's representative. The median hourly wage in 2015 for all types of retail sales workers was $10.60 (www.bls.gov).

Graduates of an online bachelor's degree program in fashion merchandising are prepared for fashion or retail jobs such as fashion buyers, retail managers, product promoters, fashion coordinators or visual merchandisers. Earnings vary widely, depending upon the position and the graduate's experience.

The median hourly wages in 2015 of first-line supervisors of retail workers, including those managing clothing or accessory stores, were $18.42, with $25.45 for wholesale and retail buyers and $30.61 for fashion designers, according to the BLS.

Management positions in fashion industry businesses, once occupied by long-time industry veterans without regard to education, are increasingly filled by master's degree graduates. The median annual salary in 2016 for all retail general managers, including those of clothing stores, was $52,419, but earnings are strongly influenced by type of store, store location, and the manager's level of experience, according to PayScale.com.

Continuing Education Information

Most courses in online associate's degree programs may be applied toward a bachelor's degree program in a related fashion, retail or marketing field. However, on-the-job experience continues to be a reliable way to develop a portfolio, build business experience and learn the trade.

Associate's and master's degree programs in fashion and retail management can be found entirely available online, while bachelor's degree programs may feature both online courses and in-person opportunities, like internships. These degree programs teach students many different skills related to the fashion industry, including how to effectively market their own designs.


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