Clothing Industry Career Options and Education Requirements

Sep 11, 2019

Training in the clothing industry typically covers an understanding of different aspects of the production and marketing of clothes. Find out about the requirements of these programs, and learn about career options, job growth and salary info for clothing industry graduates.

A number of career paths are available in the clothing industry. They each have different educational requirements, salaries and outlooks. Learn which one may be right for you.

Essential Information

Numerous career paths are available in the clothing industry, such as the creation of original designs, devising marketing strategies, writing about fashion or managing a boutique. Some clothing careers are very competitive, requiring a college degree; however, each path has its own educational requirements.

Career Fashion Designer Fashion Merchandising Fashion Journalist Fabric and Apparel Pattern-maker
Education Requirements Associate's or Bachelor's degree Associate's or Bachelor's degree Bachelor's degree High school diploma or equivalent
Median Salary (2018)* $72,720 $118,940 (for all purchasing managers) $62,170 (for all writers and authors) $40,560
Job Growth (2018-2028)* 1% 4% (for all purchasing managers) 0% (for all writers and authors) -13%

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Options

Fashion Designer

Fashion designers create apparel for men, women and children. They keep their fingers on the pulse of clothing trends, constantly researching the fashion field to predict what fabrics, colors and styles people will wear, looking as far as two years ahead. An important part of their work is visiting trade shows to see the latest fabrics. They draw their ideas by hand and use computer-aided software (CAD) to create clothing on virtual models. They may supervise technical clothing workers, such as pattern makers.

A few fashion designers work in high fashion, creating very expensive clothing for a select clientele, operating their own boutiques or selling their designs under exclusive contracts to high-end department stores. Some produce styles sold under well-known retail labels or work for manufacturers of mass-market clothing. Related jobs for trained fashion designers can include textile designer and museum curator.

Most fashion designers earn a 2-year associate or 4-year bachelor's degree in fashion design. Fashion design programs may be accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD). Both degree programs may train designers in the most basic skills of clothing construction, including pattern making, draping fabrics, fitting and sewing. Most teach CAD. Course topics may also explore various types of silhouettes, fashion drawing, product data managing and portfolio development.

A 4-year program may delve more deeply into the history of style and costume and the decorative techniques used to create high fashion, as well as the business side of fashion, such as licensing products. Some programs stress designing for comfort and the cost of mass-producing a garment, among other issues. Some programs feature a senior-year project requiring students to create their own line of clothing styles.

As of 2018, the median salary for a fashion designer was $72,720, as indicated by the Bureau of Labor Statics (BLS). The bureau further reports that job opportunities for this career are expected to increase 1% from 2018 to 2028, due to the international manufacturing of apparel.

Fashion Merchandising

Fashion merchandisers know style, but they also know how to get clothes into the hands of interested consumers. They develop skills in displaying, advertising, promoting, selling and buying fashions. A person trained in apparel merchandising may work in a variety of jobs, including fashion buying, public relations for clothing companies, showroom sales and catalog production.

To get hired in this competitive field, one needs a flair for fashion, experience in the fashion field and a degree. In a 2-year associate degree program, course topics may include fashion, product knowledge, methods of organizing a visual presentation and merchandising mathematics. A 4-year bachelor's degree program in fashion merchandising usually delves more deeply into style analysis, textile production, selling, mass marketing, human resource management for retailers, fashion purchasing and the relationship between fashion and the global economy.

In 2018, the median salary for purchasing managers, a category that includes fashion merchandising, was $118,940 ( BLS projects that employment will grow by 4% from the decade spanning 2018 to 2028, which is about as fast as the national average.

Fashion Journalist

Fashion journalists work as writers and editors for fashion publications, including magazines, trade journals and websites. Writers in the field do interviews and research the field at libraries, on the Internet and at fashion shows. Fashion editors edit writers' work, write original material and plan upcoming magazine issues or publications. Writers and editors with knowledge of the clothing industry can also work in public relations for clothing manufacturers or designers.

Generally, employers hire writers or editors with a 4-year degree in a field such as English or mass communications. These professionals also need fashion knowledge, which they can gain through post-secondary courses, degree programs in fashion design and merchandising or from work experience. Similar to purchasing managers, the projected growth rate for writers and authors in general from 2018 to 2028 is 0%, as indicated by BLS. Further, the annual median salary for writers and authors in 2018 was $62,170.

Pattern-Maker or Hand-Sewer

Those who make patterns, and tailor and sew garments, can work in design studios or in factories. Pattern makers use models created by designers, separating them into pieces that can be laid on fabric, cut out, and sewn into garments. Those who work in mass production are generally skilled in computer-aided design (CAD).

Sewers usually sew the pieces, using sewing machines, and finish pleats, closures, decorative elements and other details. A few sew by hand, doing specialized tasks and finishing garments. Generally, pattern makers and sewers work in factories, although a few work for designers.

Many clothing production skills are learned on the job, so a high school diploma may not be necessary; however, employers usually prefer it. Employers may also value workers with strong communicate skills who can work as part of a team. Pattern makers can get post-secondary training in the field by enrolling in a 1-year certificate program in sewing and apparel construction. They may be required to display basic sewing skills. In a certificate program they often learn about draping techniques, making original patterns, tailoring, garment finishing and using specialty fabrics, as well as how to use individual measurements to adjust a commercial pattern.

BLS reports that job opportunities for both pattern-makers are expected to decline -13% from 2018 to 2028, earning a median annual salary of $40,560 in 2018.

Clothing Retail Salesperson

Retail salespersons in the clothing industry offer style advise to customers, help with inventory, set up displays and gift-wrap purchases. With experience, they may be promoted to store management positions.

Most clothing retailers do not require a college degree, but a high school diploma is usually necessary. New employees receive on-the-job training from more experienced workers who have been trained in company-sponsored sessions. Clothing retailers with college degrees are more likely to be promoted to management, but workers without degrees who, nevertheless, show promise, can be promoted.

In May 2018, retail salespersons earned a median income of $24,200, according to BLS. Opportunities in this field are expected to decline by 2% from 2018 to 2028 (

Many career opportunities are available in the clothing industry including fashion designer, merchandiser, journalist, pattern-maker, and retail sales. While some roles require little or no education, a college degree can prove helpful for others. There are moderate incomes in many of these sub-fields, but job availability may be low or on the decline.

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