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What Fashion Designers Do About this section

Fashion designers
Fashion designers sketch designs of clothing, footwear, and accessories.

Fashion designers create original clothing, accessories, and footwear. They sketch designs, select fabrics and patterns, and give instructions on how to make the products they design.

Duties

Fashion designers typically do the following:

  • Study fashion trends and anticipate designs that will appeal to consumers
  • Decide on a theme for a collection
  • Use computer-aided design (CAD) programs to create designs
  • Visit manufacturers or trade shows to get samples of fabric
  • Select fabrics, embellishments, colors, or a style for each garment or accessory
  • Work with other designers or team members to create prototype designs
  • Present design ideas to creative directors or showcase their ideas in fashion or trade shows
  • Market designs to clothing retailers or to consumers
  • Oversee the final production of their designs

Larger apparel companies typically employ a team of designers headed by a creative director. Some fashion designers specialize in clothing, footwear, or accessory design; others create designs in all three fashion categories.

For some fashion designers, the first step in creating a new design is researching current fashion and making predictions about future trends, such as by reading reports published by fashion industry trade groups. Other fashion designers create collections using a variety of inspirations, including art media, their surroundings, or cultures they have experienced and places they have visited.

After they have an initial idea, fashion designers try out various fabrics and produce a prototype, often with less expensive material than will be used in the final product. They work with models to see how the design will look and adjust the designs as needed.

Although most designers first sketch their designs by hand, many now also sketch their ideas digitally with computer-aided design (CAD) programs. CAD allows designers to see their work on virtual models. They can try different colors, designs, and shapes while making adjustments more easily than they can when working with real fabric on real people.

Designers produce samples with the actual materials that will be used in manufacturing. Samples that get good responses from fashion editors or trade and fashion shows are then manufactured and sold to consumers.

The design process may vary by specialty, but it generally takes 6 months, from initial design concept to final production, to release either the spring or fall collection. In addition to releasing designs during the spring and fall, some companies release new designs every month.

The Internet and e-commerce allow fashion designers to offer their products outside of traditional brick-and-mortar stores. These designers ship directly to the consumer, without having to invest in a physical shop to showcase their product lines of collections.

The following are examples of types of fashion designers:

Accessory designers design and produce items such as handbags, suitcases, belts, scarves, hats, hosiery, and eyewear.

Costume designers design costumes for the performing arts and for motion picture and television productions. They research the styles worn during the period in which the performance is set, or they work with directors to select and create appropriate attire. They also must stay within the production’s costume budget.

Clothing designers create and help produce men’s, women’s, and children’s apparel, including casual wear, suits, sportswear, evening wear, outerwear, maternity clothing, and intimate apparel.

Footwear designers create and help produce different styles of shoes and boots. As new materials, such as lightweight synthetic materials used in shoe soles, become available, footwear designers produce new designs that combine comfort, form, and function.

Work Environment About this section

Fashion designers
Fashion designers select fabrics, colors, or styles for each garment or accessory.

Fashion designers held about 27,800 jobs in 2020. The largest employers of fashion designers were as follows:

Self-employed workers 27%
Apparel, piece goods, and notions merchant wholesalers 25
Management of companies and enterprises 13
Motion picture and video industries 9
Apparel manufacturing 6

Many fashion designers work in-house for wholesalers or manufacturers. These wholesalers and manufacturers sell apparel and accessories to retailers or other marketers for distribution to individual stores, catalog companies, or online retailers.

Self-employed fashion designers typically create high-fashion garments and one-of-a-kind (custom) apparel. In some cases, a self-employed fashion designer may have a clothing line that bears his or her name.

Most designers travel several times a year to trade and fashion shows to learn about the latest trends. Designers also sometimes travel to other countries to meet suppliers of materials and manufacturers who make the final products.

Most fashion designers work in New York and California.

Work Schedules

Fashion designers occasionally work many hours to meet production deadlines or prepare for fashion shows. Generally, designers who freelance are under contract; these designers often have long workdays that require them to adjust to their clients’ schedules and deadlines.

How to Become a Fashion Designer About this section

Fashion designers
Fashion designers occasionally work long hours to meet production deadlines or prepare for fashion shows.

Fashion designers typically need a bachelor’s degree to enter the occupation. Employers may prefer to hire creative candidates who have technical knowledge of the production processes for clothing, accessories, or footwear.

Education

Fashion designers typically have a bachelor’s degree in a fine arts or business field such as fashion design or fashion merchandising. These fashion-focused programs teach students about textiles and fabrics and how to use computer-aided design (CAD) technology. Students also work on projects they can add to their portfolio, which showcases their designs.

For many artists, including fashion designers, developing a portfolio—a collection of design ideas that demonstrates their styles and abilities—is essential. Students studying fashion design often have opportunities to develop their portfolios further by entering their designs in student or amateur contests. When making hiring decisions, employers rely on these portfolios to gauge talent and creativity.

The National Association of Schools of Art and Design accredits more than 360 postsecondary institutions with programs in art and design, and many of them award degrees in fashion design. These schools often require students to have completed basic art and design courses before entering a program. Applicants usually must submit sketches and other examples of their artistic ability.

Other Experience

Fashion designers often gain experience in the fashion industry through internships or by working as an assistant designer. Internships introduce aspiring fashion designers to the design process, building their knowledge of textiles and colors and of how the industry works.

Important Qualities

Artistic ability. Fashion designers sketch their initial design ideas, which are used to create prototypes. Designers must be able to express their vision for the design through illustration.

Communication skills. Throughout the design process, fashion designers must be able to communicate effectively. For example, they may need to instruct sewers about garment construction.

Computer skills. Fashion designers must be able to use computer-aided design (CAD) programs and be familiar with graphics editing software.

Creativity. Fashion designers work with a variety of fabrics, shapes, and colors. Their ideas must be unique, functional, and stylish.

Decisionmaking skills. When working on teams, fashion designers are exposed to many ideas. They must be able to decide which ideas to incorporate into their designs.

Detail oriented. Fashion designers must have a good eye for small differences in color and other details that can make a design successful.

Pay About this section

Fashion Designers

Median annual wages, May 2021

Fashion designers

$77,450

Art and design workers

$48,220

Total, all occupations

$45,760

 

The median annual wage for fashion designers was $77,450 in May 2021. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $37,480, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $130,870.

In May 2021, the median annual wages for fashion designers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Motion picture and video industries $116,930
Management of companies and enterprises 80,600
Apparel, piece goods, and notions merchant wholesalers 78,800
Apparel manufacturing 63,320

Fashion designers occasionally work many hours to meet production deadlines or prepare for fashion shows. Generally, designers who freelance are under contract; these designers often have long workdays that require them to adjust to their clients’ schedules and deadlines.

Job Outlook About this section

Fashion Designers

Percent change in employment, projected 2020-30

Total, all occupations

8%

Art and design workers

4%

Fashion designers

0%

 

Employment of fashion designers is projected to show little or no change from 2020 to 2030.

Despite limited employment growth, about 2,500 openings for fashion designers are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Most of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Employment

Most apparel continues to be produced internationally. As a result, employment of fashion designers is expected to be limited in the apparel manufacturing industry over the projections decade.

Employment projections data for fashion designers, 2020-30
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2020 Projected Employment, 2030 Change, 2020-30 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Fashion designers

27-1022 27,800 28,000 0 100 Get data

Contacts for More Information About this section

For more information about careers in fashion design, visit

Council of Fashion Designers of America

For more information about educational programs in fashion design, visit

National Association of Schools of Art and Design

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