How to become a fashion designer? I get asked this question, at least twice a week. Having a career in fashion design sounds so intriguing and is often masqueraded by top designers that make it look easy.
In this post, we will cover on which paths you can take to becoming a successful fashion designer. Because it takes a lot more than having creative design skills, you need to be business savvy.
What kind of training is required to become a fashion designer?
There are 3 paths you can take:
1, Fashion schools
Fashion schools have set curriculum that will make you go thru step by step process and you will learn different aspects of fashion eg: sewing, merchandising, marketing etc.
This could be a good option for you if you are not clear how to go about and want a step by step process. You will meet a lot of like-minded people and it would give you connections within the industry.
But going to fashion school can be expensive and cost up to $100,000 for a Bachelor’s degree. Some schools provide scholarships but overall you must bear the cost.
There is no formal degree or education required for becoming a fashion designer. You would need a combination of creative and business skills. Creative skills include drawing, sewing, sketching etc. and business skills include marketing, website, finance etc.
But that doesn’t make it any easier. Learning on your own requires immense discipline for few years as you build your portfolio and strengthen your knowledge about the fashion industry.
3, Blogger first
Until few years, this path did not exist but it has now emerged as one of the strongest alternatives to fashion schools. What you need to realize & understand is that to become a successful designer, you need to be able to SELL your product. And to sell your product, you need customers.
By becoming a blogger first, you can develop a loyal following. And when you are ready to launch your own line, you won’t have to go hunt for customers, your followers will be your first customers.
Both started as bloggers before they ventured into launching their fashion design and makeup companies. One of the reasons their companies are so successful is because they already had developed loyal following thru their blogs.
But, note that becoming a successful blogger takes time and you should be able to put in few years. It is not an easy path but pays off in the end if you continue on it.
How long does it take to become a fashion designer?
It depends on which path do you take:
1, Fashion school: Typical bachelor’s degree in fashion takes about 4 years. And if you decide to go for your masters, you can add another 2 years to it.
2, Self-taught: This depends on your commitment and how much time you are willing to invest. Since you would be learning on your own, you might make mistakes and invest time in things that are not important. My recommendation is, if you follow this path, find a mentor and help them guide you thru the process.
3, Blogger first: Starting a blog would not cut your time in learning the design skills. You would still need to learn sewing, designing, prototyping etc. But having a blog would save you lot of time when you launch your line. Because you would not have to go hunt for customers; you would be able to use your fans as your first customers.
Let’s say, it would take you 2-3 years to get the loyal following for your blog and 2-3 years to teach yourself the basic design skills. Please note that this time can overlap, depending on how you structure it. If you know early on, that you want to be a designer, you can start blogging in high school and save precious time.
If you realize that you don’t have the discipline to learn on your own, can afford tuition and want to go the fashion school route, here are few things you should consider.
Questions to ask before you pick a fashion design school?
1, School’s reputation:
Your schools’ reputation will count for a lot, especially if you are looking to work for a big fashion design house after graduation. If the school’s name is well known and its faculty is well connected, it could open doors for you.
Be careful about trusting schools ‘sales team’ to provide this information to you. I would suggest, go on campus and talk to students and see what they say.
Another way to check what people are saying is Google search. Go to Google and type
“School name” + sucks
“School name” + bad experience
“School name” + rip off
Replace “school name” with the name of the school you want to search for. This can be very helpful in finding blogs, forums, rating sites where people have posted their experience about the school. I would highly suggest reading thru it.
2, Course schedule & Instructors
• Are the instructors from the industry?
• Have the instructors ran their own fashion line or they only have theoretical knowledge?
• How flexible is the curriculum, in case you change your mind?
• Classes distribution: How much is theory and how much is practical work?
• Does curriculum involves mentoring with industry leaders?
• Is the college located in the city where there are a lot of retail stores and fashion designers? It would make it easy for you to get internships as you finish your school.
• Are there fashion supply stores nearby in case you need things for your class?
• Is the city affordable? If you are shelling out big bucks to go to school, you should also explore living costs. Because if it’s too expensive to live in the city, then you might need to get a job to pay your living expenses or would have to take a loan.
4, School Alumni
This is very important because the school can have a great reputation, awesome location, reasonable tuition but if it’s not producing great designers, it would be waste of time for you.
• Check out last 5 years’ graduate student’s portfolios.
• Have any alumni made it big and reach out to them.
• Is their work professional, inspiring and creative?
Google the alumni names, find them on Linkedin and connect with them.
Kimberly Guthrie, Associate Chair, VCU Dept. of Fashion Design and Merchandising, offers priceless advice:
“When considering which fashion design program is best for you, make sure their curriculum and projects are both creativity driven and industry driven. At the end of the day, you are designing a product that you hope the consumer understands and values enough to spend their money on it.”
Find your area of passion within the fashion industry.
When you are starting out, focus on 1 vertical that excites you the most. Decide which design field is your main interest and learn everything about it.
• Women’s: Casual, formal, day wear, evening wear
• Men’s: Pants, shirts, formal, day wear, evening wear.
• Kids: Boys or Girls
• Sportswear and fitness clothing
• Bridal wear
• Accessories: Men’s or Women’s, Jewelry, Scarfs, Belts, etc.
• Shoes: Men’s or Women’s
• Costume design: Its niche field but works well for Burning man fans, theater actors, etc.
At the beginning, pick 1 niche area and focus on that. This would help you keep your costs low and help you learn about that niche so you can dominate it.
What to learn about my niche?
• Who are the key competitors?
• Pricing structure.
• How are they selling: Online, Boutiques, Trade shows etc.
• Estimate profit margins.
• Manufacturing & production: Overseas vs In-house
Doing your own fashion line VS working for a fashion designer
As you decide on your path of becoming a fashion designer, you would have two choices. You can start your own label or work for a designer for few years to learn the trade.
My personal suggestion would be to either intern or work for a successful designer for at least 1-2 years. So, you can learn about different aspects of running a fashion business. Because becoming a successful designer is not just about being creative but 50% of it is about running it as a business that generates money.
How to apply for a job for a big fashion design label?
• Develop an extensive design portfolio.
• Learn in detail about the fashion brand and why you want to work for them.
• Try to get an internship at the label as you are going to school.
• Attend events hosted by the fashion designer, and make connections.
• If you have started a blog, do a feature on the fashion label and contact them for a quote. This would help you establish connections.
• Find key people in the department you want to work for and reach out to them for coffee. You can easily find who works for fashion label on their About Us or Team page or via Linkedin.
I have covered in detail on how to get a job in the fashion industry in a different post, you can read about it here.
How much does a fashion designer earn?
1, Your own label:
If you decide to work on your own fashion line, it would take 2-3 years before you can create stable income from your own label. Your earnings will vary on your retail price, your costs etc.
2, Working for a fashion designer:
Per US labor statistics, the median salary for fashion designers in 2015 was $63,610 per year or $30.61 per hour.
Employment of fashion designers is projected to grow at 3% from 2014 – 2024, slower than average for all occupations.
You can visit US Labor site to find more details.
Typical job responsibilities for working for a fashion designer:
• visualizing an idea and producing a computer or hand design
• planning and developing ranges
• keeping up to date with the latest and emerging fashion trends in fabrics, colors, shapes, sizes.
• working with buyers and forecasters
• working closely with sales, production, marketing teams to create product and sales story
• understanding technical aspects of design eg: production patterns, technical specifications, production specifications etc.
• talking with customers and suppliers
This is just the glimpse of responsibilities you can incur as you work for a fashion design house.
What to expect:
• the working environment can vary from company to company.
• working hours can typically stretch to weekends
• extensive market research and business training.
• meeting deadlines for design, production, marketing etc.
• might require travel to different fashion shows, production houses, manufacturing facilities
As you can see becoming a fashion designer, a successful one at that, is not an easy venture. You must be prepared to put in long hours, hard work and dedication. But if this is your passion, then the hard work would feel like a breeze and it will be all worth it in the end