- Certificate or Associate's degree
- Fine Arts
Table of Contents
Although two-year Associate Degree programs in the field are available, most designers earn a four-year Bachelor’s Degree from an institution accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design. The most common majors are fashion design and fine arts. Many design schools require that program applicants have a sketch portfolio and have completed some basic training in drawing, painting, sketching, graphic arts, and/or computer graphics.
Bachelor’s Degree programs in fashion design commonly include coursework in colors, lines, textures, movements, and how each of these aspects interacts with the human form; drawing and imaging; textile science; math for designers; digital design and the use of computer-aided design (CAD) software; and fashion history. Programs also include a hands-on component, allowing students to practise pattern making and fabric draping – the process of positioning and pinning fabric on a dress form to develop the structure of a garment design and create the pattern. Curricula may also address the business and marketing aspects of fashion. These subjects, however, are more prominent Bachelor’s Degree programs in fashion merchandising.
While fashion design curricula vary somewhat from school to school, all programs provide students with significant opportunities to showcase their skills and develop their portfolios and a personal brand through studio classes and development sections. Some institutions partner with manufacturers and industry groups, such as the Council of International Fashion Designers, which sponsor contests for design students. These competitions may be focused on the design of women’s wear, men’s wear, or specific accessories like jewelry and handbags. Schools also often liaise with fashion houses and clothing and accessory companies to arrange internships for students.
In short, a relevant Bachelor’s Degree, an outstanding portfolio, and an internship with a reputable company in the fashion arena are the education hallmarks for aspiring fashion designers.
How long does it take to become a Fashion Designer?
Typically, aspiring fashion designers spend four years completing a Bachelor’s Degree before seeking employment. Most graduates find work in fashion or a related field, but it can take years for a designer to become established and recognized in the industry.
Steps to becoming a Fashion Designer
Becoming a fashion designer involves some natural talent, commitment to education, and dedication to industry networking.
1 High School
High school offers opportunities to help students begin preparing for a possible career in fashion design:
• Study art. This is a great way to begin developing an eye for color, shape, proportion, and texture.
• Take home economics classes to learn how to sew and prepare and cut garment patterns.
• Hone your math skills, which are fundamental for measuring and understanding proportion in design.
• Learn how to use visual design software such as Photoshop, CoreLDraw, Xara, SerifDrawPlus.
• Join the school drama club; design and create costumes for school plays.
• Read blogs, books, and magazines about art and fashion design.
2 Bachelor’s Degree
No matter how much natural talent they have, aspiring fashion designers often earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Fashion Design.
• Color theory
• Textiles and clothing technology
• Fashion history
• Fashion sketching and drawing
• 3-D design
• Computer-aided design (CAD)
• Portfolio development and presentation
• Sewing and tailoring
• Pattern making
• Haute Couture / Ready-to-Wear / Mass Production methods
• Specializations (men’s fashion / women’s fashion / children’s fashion / accessories)
• Human anatomy / constructs of the human body
• Fashion events
• Managing a fashion house
The National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) maintains an up-to-date list of accredited institutions.
Some very highly regarded schools
• LISSA School of Design, Paris, France
• Istituto Europeo Di Design (IED)
• Cambridge School of Visual & Performing Arts, UK
• Southern New Hampshire University, USA
• Accademia del Lusso, Italy
• London College of Contemporary Arts (LCCA), UK
Other related and relevant undergraduate degree options
• Bachelor’s Degree in Fashion Merchandising – curriculum covers merchandise planning, retails sales promotion, consumer behavior, retail management, and product development
• Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts
• Bachelor’s Degree in Visual Arts – curriculum combines theories and practices from painting, drawing, photography, and digital imaging
• Bachelor’s Degree in Art History
• Bachelor’s Degree in Graphic Design
3 Internship / Portfolio Development
Internships are invaluable experiences for prospective fashion designers. Exposure to the industry can be gained by working with design houses and manufacturing firms, or in higher-end retail stores as a personal stylist or custom tailor. Internship opportunities in one of the world’s international fashion centers, such as Paris, New York, London, or Milan, are highly sought after, extremely competitive, and particularly esteemed in the field. All internships, however, allow aspiring designers to observe operations in a professional setting and better understand both the artistic and business aspects of the work.
One outstanding benefit of an internship is the opportunity it provides students to further develop a portfolio that demonstrates their skills and creative sensibilities. While it is important to begin working on establishing a portfolio during university, the projects assigned to in-house interns can significantly enhance their visibility and stature with potential employers. And, of course, with impressive performance there exists the possibility of being hired by the firm providing the internship.
The best fashion design portfolios present a personal brand and include:
• Hand-drawn sketches or photographs of these sketches
• Computer-drawn designs
• Mood or concept pages
• Color and textile presentation pages
• Other pieces or prototypes that highlight creativity, skills, and sensibilities (color, detail, balance, proportion, appreciation for beauty)
At the beginning of their careers, most fashion designers work as assistants. The ultimate goal for designers is to create their own line. Creating an independent line or becoming a head designer or design director are undeniably exciting and considered pinnacles of designer success. En route to these goals, however, are several opportunities:
• Artists and sketchers sketch new designs.
• Assistant designers support lead designers.
• Cutters cut out patterns by hand or using computerized equipment.
• Pattern graders adjust patterns for different sizes of clothing.
• Pattern makers make patterns.
• Set and exhibit designers create sets for fashion, runway, or trade shows.
• Spec and fit technicians produce samples.
• Specialty designers design and sew items requiring special production techniques.
• Trend researchers gather data to help designers plan their collections.
• Council of Fashion Designers of America
• Fashion Industry Association
• International Association of Professional Fashion Designers
• Association of Sewing and Design Professionals
• International Association of Clothing Designers and Executives
• United States Fashion Industry Association
• America’s Apparel Producers Network
• Costume Designers Guild
• International Textile and Apparel Association
• American Sewing Guild
• BoF – The Business of Fashion
• WWF – Women’s Wear Daily
• The Emerging Designer
• Fashion Brain Academy
• Becoming a Fashion Designer: Advice from Experts – The Guardian
• The Successful Fashion Designer Podcast – SuccessfulFashionDesign.com
• Dressed: The History of Fashion – Stuff Media LLC
• Fashion Designer Melissa Fleis – Contestant on Project Runway
• How to Break into the Fashion Industry with Alexa Chung – British Vogue
• How to Start a Clothing Label – Marie Claire
• New York Fashion & Retail Association (NYFRA)
• American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA)
• California Fashion Association
• Designers Guild
Should I become a Fashion Designer?
For a career in fashion design to be a viable choice for you, you need to be able to answer Yes to every one of the following questions:
• Am I highly creative and artistic?
• Do I have strong drawing skills?
• Do I have an eye for detail?
• Do I have an almost innate understanding of texture, color, shapes, and fabric?
• Do I have strong visualization skills to take something from nothing to a piece of art?
• Do I have strong communication and interpersonal skills?
• Do I have business sense and decision making skills?
• Do I have a competitive spirit?
• Do I work well with teams?
• Do I have a thick skin to handle criticism and rejection and work in a sometimes cutthroat industry?
• Do I have physical stamina to work long hours to meet tight deadlines?
• Do I have an eye for fit on the body; for how clothes should fit?
• Am I able to think outside the box, to accomplish things in new ways when original plans become unworkable?
• Am I able to multitask?
• Am I able to focus on one idea or concept (despite the almost constant need to multitask)?
• Do I have a keen eye and instincts for trends?
• Do I live, eat, and breathe fashion; do I see it as my vocation?
• Am I willing to endure periods of uncertainty and instability?
What are Fashion Designers like?
Based on our pool of users, Fashion Designers tend to be predominately artistic people. It has been said that fashion is one of the purest expressions of art because it is art lived on a daily basis.
Fashion Designers by Strongest Interest Archetype
Based on sample of 1491 Sokanu users
Are Fashion Designers happy?
Fashion Designers rank highly among careers. Overall they rank in the 77th percentile of careers for satisfaction scores. Please note that this number is derived from the data we have collected from our Sokanu members only.
Fashion has been described as a perfect marriage of creativity, communication, and utility. Studies reveal that while not all artistic people are happy, most are – largely due to the passion they hold for their daily creative pursuits.
Fashion Designer Career Satisfaction by Dimension
Percentile among all careers
Education History of Fashion Designers
The most common degree held by Fashion Designers is Fine Arts. 15% of Fashion Designers had a degree in Fine Arts before becoming Fashion Designers. That is over 8 times the average across all careers. Business Management And Administration graduates are the second most common among Fashion Designers, representing 11% of Fashion Designers in the Sokanu user base, which is 1.7 times the average.
Fashion Designer Education History
This table shows which degrees people earn before becoming a Fashion Designer, compared to how often those degrees are obtained by people who earn at least one post secondary degree.
|Degree||% of Fashion Designers||% of population||Multiple|
|Business Management And Administration||11.3%||6.5%||1.7×|
|Marketing And Marketing Research||6.9%||2.2%||3.2×|
|Commercial Art And Graphic Design||3.1%||0.3%||11.0×|
|Visual And Performing Arts||2.2%||0.2%||9.1×|
|Special Needs Education||1.6%||0.3%||5.7×|
|Miscellaneous Fine Arts||1.3%||0.2%||7.8×|
|Operations Logistics And E-Commerce||1.3%||0.2%||6.8×|
|Foreign Language Studies||1.3%||1.3%||1.0×|
|Philosophy And Religious Studies||1.3%||1.6%||0.8×|
Fashion Designer Education Levels
|High school diploma||3%|
How to Become a Fashion Designer
- Certificate or Associate's degree
- Fine Arts
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