What Does a Fashion Designer Do?

A fashion designer creates clothing, including dresses, suits, pants, and skirts, and accessories like shoes and handbags, for consumers. He or she can specialize in clothing, accessory, or jewelry design, or may work in more than one of these areas.

Some fashion designers focus on costume design and create wardrobes for television, movie, and theater productions. A costume designer researches the styles and periods of clothing that make film or theatrical productions look realistic.

Fashion Designer Salary

Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the growth outlook for fashion designers seeking to work with apparel manufacturers over the next decade relative to other occupations and industries is slower than the average for all occupations, driven by the continued manufacturing of clothing internationally. However, fashion design jobs in the retail trade specifically are expected to grow by 22 percent. 

Employment for fashion designers overall is expected to grow by about 3 percent over the next ten years, which is slower than the average growth projected for all occupations between 2016 and 2026. Growth for other art and design workers is projected to be 4 percent over the next ten years.

These growth rates compare to the projected 7 percent growth for all occupations. Competition is strong because of the number of candidates available as compared to the number of job opportunities. A formal education, an excellent portfolio, and experience in the industry can increase your employment prospects.

Quick Facts

  • Fashion designers earn a median annual salary of $67,420 (2017).
  • There are 23,800 people employed in this occupation (2016).
  • Most fashion designers work for wholesalers.
  • Employers are concentrated in New York and California.
  • Almost 20 percent of fashion designers are self-employed.
  • The job outlook for this field is weak. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts employment growth that will be slower than the average for all occupations between 2016 and 2026.

A Day in the Life of a Fashion Designer

What can you expect your job duties to be? To find out, we took a look at some job announcements on Indeed.com.

  • “Draw, design, and develop new samples, and create and submit worksheets”
  • “Participate in design meetings for line development. Review and present line and concepts regularly”
  • “Identify consumer relevant product opportunities through market research”
  • “Execute design and fit intent into bulk production while maintaining corporate standards”
  • “Responsible for costing out all garments”
  • “Assist design team with communication to vendors on design issues via email regarding approvals and production issues”

The Truth About a Career in Fashion

Before you commit to becoming a fashion designer, there are some things you should know about this field. They may make you alter your career direction. If you are hoping to become the next Tommy, Calvin, or Vera, your chances of that happening are slim. Although some designers are household names, most remain unknown to the general public. They anonymously create the designs behind well-known brands and lesser known labels.

Expect to work hard, especially when a fashion show is upcoming or a deadline is approaching. Designers frequently have to work long hours leading up to those events.

If you are attached to your hometown and that hometown isn’t a big city, think twice about becoming a designer. If you do, there is a good chance you will have to relocate to find employment. The fashion industry is concentrated in major cities, such as New York and Los Angeles.

Anticipate racking up those frequent flyer miles. Travel is part of most fashion designers’ jobs. You will have to attend trade and fashion shows, as well as visit the countries in which many factories that produce clothing and accessories are located.

How to Become a Designer

You don’t need a college degree to become a fashion designer, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get one. It can help you get a job. While formal education isn’t required, many of your competitors will have an associate or bachelor’s degree in fashion design or a related field.

As a fashion design major, you will take classes in color, textiles, sewing and tailoring, pattern making, fashion history, and computer-aided design (CAD) and learn about different types of clothing such as menswear or footwear. An internship will be a valuable addition to your classroom education. You can also gain experience by working as an assistant to a fashion designer.

What Soft Skills Do You Need?

In addition to the technical skills you will learn in a classroom or on the design floor as an intern or assistant, there are several characteristics needed for success in this occupation. We refer to those non-technical skills as soft skills, and they include:

  • Creativity: You must be able to generate ideas for products. 
  • Artistic Ability: A designer must be able to transform a design from an idea into a physical illustration and then, eventually, to a prototype on which the finished product will be based. You will also need a keen sense of style and color.
  • Communication Skills: Designers usually work in teams. They must be great communicators, which means listening, speaking, and interpersonal skills are essential.
  • Attention to Detail: This trait will allow you to notice subtle differences in fabric colors and textures.

    How to Advance

    As a new designer, you will likely begin your career working for someone with more experience. Pattern maker or sketching assistant are examples of entry-level jobs. In due course, you can become a chief designer or a design department head, but that will be after accumulating many years of experience.

    What Will Employers Expect From You?

    In addition to training and experience, what other qualifications will make you a competitive job candidate? Employers listed the following requirements in job announcements on Indeed.com:

    • “Desire to learn and collaborate as part of a design team”
    • “Computer literate (Photoshop or Illustrator, MS Office, Internet)”
    • “Desire to learn and collaborate as part of a design team”
    • “Thinks creatively, possesses the ability to identify trends and tracks on-going business”
    • “Flexibility with regards to job responsibilities”
    • “Ability to travel domestically and internationally”

    Is This Occupation a Good Fit for You?

    If you have the following interestspersonality type, and work-related values you have a better chance of finding career satisfaction as a fashion designer:

    Find out if this is a good career for you. Take the Should You Be a Fashion Designer Quiz.