How to Design Clothes for a Living: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn about the education and career requirements for becoming a clothing designer. In this lesson, we'll take you through the step-by-step process that can help you start a career in clothing design. View article »

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  • 0:00 Clothing Designers
  • 0:37 Career Information
  • 1:24 Step 1: Earn a Degree
  • 3:03 Step 2: Professional…
  • 4:09 Step 3: Advance in the Field

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Video Transcript

Clothing Designers

Clothing or fashion designers create and produce apparel, footwear and accessories for men, women and children. They might work on teams, coordinating every step of the design process. This can include sketching designs, selecting fabrics and overseeing construction of garments. Clothing and fashion designers typically produce clothing designs to be sold by retail brands or for high fashion labels that display their work at fashion shows. Travel is often involved, and many clothing designers work very long hours.

Career Requirements

Degree Level postsecondary education is not always required but often preferred
Degree Field Fashion design, fashion merchandising, or a related field
Experience None; on-the-job training may be required; personal portfolio beneficial
Key Skills Artistic ability and creativity; communication and decision-making skills; attention to detail; experience with computer aided design (CAD) programs and graphic editing software; technical skills with design techniques, tools, and materials
Salary $63,670 (2015 median salary for all fashion designers)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*Net OnLine

Some employers prefer to hire clothing designers who have completed formal education programs in fashion design, fashion merchandising or a related field, though postsecondary education is not always required. No experience is necessary to enter this field. On-the-job training may be required and a personal portfolio might help secure jobs. Clothing designers should be artistic, creative and experienced in the use of computer aided design (CAD) programs and graphic editing software, as well as design techniques, tools, and materials. As of May 2015, fashion designers earned a median annual salary of $63,670, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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Step 1: Earn a College Degree

According to the BLS, many employers seek to hire clothing designers with a postsecondary degree in a relevant field. Public colleges and universities, as well as private design and art schools, offer associate's and bachelor's degree programs in fashion design. Courses include drawing history and illustration, drawing, garment structure, patternmaking, sewing and tailoring, textile design and visual merchandising. Not only will a degree give you a leg-up on the competition when applying for jobs, it will also greatly enrich your knowledge of fashion design and give you a pool of skills that will allow you to perform your job better and more efficiently.

Success Tips:

  • Get involved with student projects. Some schools allow students to show off their creations during fashion shows. Others allow students to design clothing for clients or contests.
  • Seek out internship opportunities. Students can also acquire internships where they work under the guidance of experienced clothing designers. They also acquire networking connections with industry professionals while completing internship programs.
  • Assemble a professional portfolio. A portfolio is a collection of a fashion designer's best work and demonstrates his or her originality, skills, ability and experience. A good portfolio includes illustrations, fabric swatches and large color photos of finished products. Some employers want to know where the inspiration for a clothing design came from, so including an inspiration page can be helpful. The BLS states that the portfolio often determines whether a clothing designer is hired or not.

Step 2: Professional Experience

Entry-level clothing designers typically acquire jobs with established designers as sketching assistants, stylists, junior designers and patternmakers. Sketching assistants make sketches of the designer's ideas and add fabric to the design. Patternmakers draw and construct master patterns used for the production of garments. Cutting assistants cut, sample and alter patterns and assist in design rooms. Stylists research current trends, sketch design ideas and work with patternmakers to develop the design and select materials. A junior designer creates new garments by sketching unique designs, making patterns of the new designs and sewing samples. Junior designers often perform market research to anticipate what will sell.

Success Tip:

  • Acquire a variety of skills. For a clothing designer new to the field, working in several different capacities may be beneficial. Skill and experience with various areas in the design field allow clothing designers to be versatile and marketable to many potential employers.

Step 3: Advance in the Field

Clothing designers who start at an entry-level position can advance to a higher-paying job with more responsibilities by gaining lots of experience, maintaining a personal portfolio, and taking initiative. Most next-level positions are supervisory positions, such as department head, creative director, or chief designer. To be considered for these titles, a clothing designer must show dedication and talent, and outperform his or her peers at an exemplary level. A visionary designer can also advance by establishing a new design company or label of his or her own and sell the designs in retail stores.

Let's review. As a clothing or fashion designer, you could earn a median annual salary of $63,670. Pursuing and associate's or a bachelor's degree program in fashion design may help you break into and advance in the industry.

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