The fashion design field is very competitive, and the job outlook is growing at a slower than average rate of 3 percent. You should have an associate or bachelor’s degree in fashion design, and if you’re interested in owning your own business or retail store, you may want to study business, marketing or fashion merchandising. The median pay for fashion designers is $65,170 with the majority of designers working in either New York or California. Fewer opportunities for designers exist in other locations and choosing this career path as a military spouse may mean you have to diversify or work harder to find employment and move ahead in the field.
Getting started as a fashion designer
Stand out from the pack in fashion design school and beyond by taking the following steps:
- Build a portfolio — Consider each project assignment an opportunity to highlight your creativity and skills and build your portfolio. Make sure to graduate with a wide range of work samples that illustrate your talents to employers when you apply for jobs.
- Live and breathe fashion — Hone your eye and keep up with and ahead of fashion trends. Visit local boutiques and high fashion stores, study fashion magazines and search the internet for fashion websites and exhibitions across the country and the world.
- Sew, sew, and sew — Learn about fabrics, threads, patterns and the techniques and challenges in constructing clothes. Your ability to use your sewing machine will help you create successful products in design school and throughout your career.
- Gain technology skills — Build 3D models of your designs using fashion design software programs to see how fabrics will work before investing time and money. Become an expert at illustrating your designs to potential buyers.
- Network — Build relationships with teachers, recent graduates, shop owners and other designers. Request suggestions on networking opportunities and building your industry contact list. Ask friends, relatives and everyone you meet for introductions to possible contacts.
- Join professional fashion design organizations to assist you with the following:
- Finding information on internships, mentors and jobs
- Finding volunteer opportunities, award programs and competitions where you can highlight your skills and earn recognition as a junior designer — A professional affiliation and perhaps an award or two on your resume is helpful as you seek employment.
- Learning more about current industry practices and policies and finding additional education opportunities through workshops and conferences
- Networking with other professionals in your industry and finding the connections you need to obtain an interview at your new location
Read The Value of Professional Associations for more information on how becoming a member can help enhance your career. Joining an association can assist you in forming network connections to assist you in finding employment.
Internships and employment
Seek internships while you are in school to assist you in building your skills, knowledge and network. Possibilities might include the following:
- Internships with design or manufacturing firms
- Personal stylist or custom tailor at retail stores or boutiques
- Working as a fashion blogger or social media intern
- Interning on a motion picture set in costume design
- Working as a photography assistant
- Volunteering to gain experience in the fashion field
You may not land the job of your dreams straight out of school, but seek a position where you can continue gaining hands-on experience and building your connections. Some of the possible fashion design paths include the following:
- Artists and sketchers
- Assistant designers
- Head designers and design directors
- Pattern graders and pattern makers
- Set and exhibit designers for fashion, runway or trade shows
- Specialty designers
- Trend researchers
Occupations where you might be able to use your fashion design experience include the following:
- Fashion sales
- Fashion design educator
- Fashion merchandising
- Fashion buyer
A recent search on the Military Spouse Employment Partnership website showed fashion positions with employers including AppleOne, New York & Company, Ross Stores, Inc., and TJX. You can also search your local state and national job bank for positions.
Starting a business
About 25 percent of fashion designers were self-employed in 2012, typically designing high-fashion garments and one-of-a-kind apparel on an individualized or custom basis. Most self-employed fashion designers who set up independent clothing lines usually have experience, connections and a strong understanding of the industry. If you determine entrepreneurship is for you, research your alternatives and seek mentorship and advice. Visit the Owning a Business section of MySECO to learn about creating a business and marketing plan, finding financing, independent contracting and other important aspects of starting a business.
To learn more about fashion design careers, review the Research Occupations tool on MySECO and investigate your options. Take self-assessments to make sure your skills and interests align with your career choice. Talk to others in the field and get their feedback. Call 800-342-9647 and speak with a career coach to discuss career or education choices, searching for a job or overcoming challenges. Coaches are available to review your resume, practice interviewing, discuss networking or assist you in understanding employer requirements for this field.