Fashion Designers

Summary

fashion designers image
Fashion designers decide on a theme for a collection.
Quick Facts: Fashion Designers
2012 Median Pay $62,860 per year
$30.22 per hour
Entry-Level Education Bachelor’s degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2012 22,300
Job Outlook, 2012-22 -3% (Decline)
Employment Change, 2012-22 -700

What Fashion Designers Do

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 designed.

Work Environment

Fashion designers work in wholesale or manufacturing establishments, apparel companies, retailers, theater or dance companies, and design firms. Most fashion designers work in New York and California.

How to Become a Fashion Designer

Most fashion designers have a bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as fashion design or fashion merchandising. Employers usually seek applicants with creativity, as well as a good technical understanding of the production process for clothing, accessories, or footwear.

Pay

The median annual wage for fashion designers was $62,860 in May 2012.

Job Outlook

Employment of fashion designers is projected to decline 3 percent from 2012 to 2022. Declining employment in the apparel manufacturing industry is preventing overall employment of fashion designers from increasing.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of fashion designers with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about fashion designers by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Fashion Designers Do

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 designed.

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 programs (CAD) to create designs
  • Visit manufacturers or trade shows to get fabric samples
  • Select fabrics, embellishments, colors, or style for each garment or accessory
  • Work with other designers or team members to create a prototype design
  • Present design ideas to the creative director or showcase them in fashion or trade shows
  • Market designs to clothing retailers or directly to consumers
  • Oversee the final production of their designs

Larger apparel companies typically employ a team of designers headed by a creative designer. Some fashion designers specialize in clothing, footwear, or accessory design, but 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 of future trends, using trend reports published by fashion industry trade groups. Other fashion designers create collections from inspirations they get from their regular surroundings, from the cultures they have experienced and places they have visited, or from various art media that inspire them.

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 out different colors, design, and shapes while making adjustments more easily than they can when working with real fabric on real people.

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

Although the design process may vary by specialty, in general it takes 6 months from initial design concept to final production, when either the spring or fall collection is released. Some companies may release new designs as frequently as every month, in addition to releases during the spring and fall.

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

The following are examples of types of fashion designers:

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

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

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 takes place, or they work with directors to select and create appropriate attire. They also must stay within the costume budget for the particular production.

Work Environment

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

Fashion designers held about 22,300 jobs in 2012. Fashion designers work in wholesale or manufacturing establishments, apparel companies, retailers, theater or dance companies, and design firms.

More fashion designers work for wholesalers or manufacturers than for any other industry. The lines of apparel and accessories of these wholesalers and manufacturers are sold to retailers or other marketers for distribution to individual stores, catalog companies, or online retailers. In many cases, these designers are “in-house designers.” Although the brands may be familiar to many consumers, the individual designers are largely unknown.

About 25 percent of fashion designers were self-employed in 2012. They typically design high-fashion garments and one-of-a-kind apparel on an individualized or custom basis. Self-employed fashion designers who are able to set up their own independent clothing lines often already have experience and a strong understanding of the industry. In some cases, a self-employed fashion designer may have a clothing line that bears their name.

The industries that employed the most fashion designers in 2012 were as follows:

Apparel, piece goods, and notions merchant wholesalers28%
Apparel manufacturing17
Management of companies and enterprises12
Specialized design services5
Wholesale electronic markets and agents and brokers2

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

Most fashion designers work in New York and California.

Work Schedules

Most fashion designers work full time; however, some work part time. Occasionally, fashion designers work long hours to meet production deadlines or prepare for fashion shows. Designers who freelance generally work under a contract and tend to work longer hours and adjust their workday to their clients’ schedules and deadlines.

How to Become a Fashion Designer

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

Most fashion designers have a bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as fashion design or fashion merchandising. Employers usually seek applicants with creativity, as well as a good technical understanding of the production process for clothing, accessories, or footwear.

Education

Most fashion designers have a bachelor’s degree in fashion design or fashion merchandising. In these programs they learn about textiles and fabrics and how to use computer-aided design (CAD) technology. They are also able to work on designs that can be added to their portfolio.

For many artists, including fashion designers, developing a portfolio—a collection of design ideas that demonstrates their styles and abilities—is essential because employers rely heavily on a designer’s portfolio in deciding whether to hire the individual. For employers, it is an opportunity to gauge talent and creativity. Students studying fashion design often have opportunities to enter their designs in student or amateur contests, helping them to develop their portfolios.

The National Association of Schools of Art and Design accredits approximately 300 postsecondary institutions with programs in art and design, and many of these schools award degrees in fashion design. Many schools require students to have completed basic art and design courses before they enter a program. Applicants usually have to submit sketches and other examples of their artistic ability.

Other Experience

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

Advancement

Experienced designers may advance to chief designer, design department head, creative director, or another supervisory position in which they oversee certain fashion lines or brands by a company.

Some experienced designers may start their own design company or sell their designs in their own retail stores. A few of the most successful designers work for high-fashion design houses that offer personalized design services to their clients.

Important Qualities

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

Communication skills. Fashion designers often work in teams throughout the design process and therefore must be effective in communicating with their team members. For example, they may need to give instructions to sewers regarding how the garment should be constructed.

Computer skills. Fashion designers use technology to design. They 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.

Decision-making skills. Because they often work in 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

Fashion Designers

Median annual wages, May 2012

Fashion designers

$62,860

Arts, design, entertainment, sports, and media occupations

$43,930

Total, all occupations

$34,750

 

The median annual wage for fashion designers was $62,860 in May 2012. 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 $34,110, and the top 10 percent earned more than $126,290.

Earnings in this occupation can vary widely based on experience, employer, and reputation. Starting salaries in fashion design tend to be very low. Salaried fashion designers usually earn higher and more stable incomes than self-employed, freelance designers. However, a few of the most successful self-employed fashion designers earn many times the salary of the highest paid salaried designers.

In May 2012, the median annual wages for fashion designers in the top five industries in which these designers worked were as follows:

Management of companies and enterprises$78,590
Specialized design services62,560
Apparel manufacturing62,390
Apparel, piece goods, and notions merchant wholesalers60,590
Wholesale electronic markets and agents and brokers57,950

Most fashion designers work full time; however, some work part time. Occasionally, fashion designers work long hours to meet production deadlines or prepare for fashion shows. Designers who freelance generally work under a contract and tend to work longer hours and adjust their workday to their clients’ schedules and deadlines.

Job Outlook

Fashion Designers

Percent change in employment, projected 2012-22

Total, all occupations

11%

Arts, design, entertainment, sports, and media occupations

7%

Fashion designers

-3%

 

Employment of fashion designers is projected to decline 3 percent from 2012 to 2022.

Most apparel continues to be produced internationally. As a result, employment of fashion designers in the apparel manufacturing industry is projected to decline 51 percent during the projection period. Declining employment in the apparel manufacturing industry is preventing overall employment of fashion designers from increasing.

However, designers will still be needed to design clothing and accessories for the mass market and everyday wear. In addition, as new clothing technology is developed, fashion designers will be needed to create garments using new fabrics, such as moisture-wicking fabrics.

Job Prospects

Those with formal education in fashion design, with excellent portfolios, and with industry experience will have the best job prospects. However, strong competition for jobs is expected because of the large number of people who seek employment as fashion designers and the relatively few positions available.

In addition, it may be necessary for some fashion designers to relocate. Employment opportunities for fashion designers are highly concentrated in New York and California.

Employment projections data for Fashion Designers, 2012-22
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2012 Projected Employment, 2022 Change, 2012-22 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

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

Fashion designers

27-1022 22,300 21,700 -3 -700 [XLS]

Similar Occupations

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of fashion designers.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION 2012 MEDIAN PAY
Art directors

Art Directors

Art directors are responsible for the visual style and images in magazines, newspapers, product packaging, and movie and television productions. They create the overall design of a project and direct others who develop artwork and layouts.

Bachelor’s degree $80,880
Floral designers

Floral Designers

Floral designers, also called florists, cut and arrange live, dried, and silk flowers and greenery to make decorative displays. They also help customers select flowers, containers, ribbons, and other accessories.

High school diploma or equivalent $23,810
Graphic designers

Graphic Designers

Graphic designers create visual concepts, by hand or using computer software, to communicate ideas that inspire, inform, or captivate consumers. They develop the overall layout and production design for advertisements, brochures, magazines, and corporate reports.

Bachelor’s degree $44,150
Industrial designers

Industrial Designers

Industrial designers develop the concepts for manufactured products, such as cars, home appliances, and toys. They combine art, business, and engineering to make products that people use every day. Industrial designers focus on the user experience in creating style and function for a particular gadget or appliance.

Bachelor’s degree $59,610
Jewelers and precious stone and metal workers

Jewelers and Precious Stone and Metal Workers

Jewelers and precious stone and metal workers design, manufacture, and sell jewelry. They also adjust, repair, and appraise gems and jewelry.

High school diploma or equivalent $35,350
Models

Models

Models pose for artists, photographers, or customers to help advertise a variety of products, including clothing, cosmetics, food, and appliances.

Less than high school $18,750
Purchasing managers, buyers, and purchasing agents

Purchasing Managers, Buyers, and Purchasing Agents

Purchasing managers, buyers, and purchasing agents buy products for organizations to use or resell. They evaluate suppliers, negotiate contracts, and review product quality.

See How to Become One $60,550
Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Fashion Designers,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/arts-and-design/fashion-designers.htm (visited November 22, 2014).

Publish Date: Wednesday, January 8, 2014