Fashion designers create functional and attractive clothing, shoes, and accessories. Every piece of apparel or footwear was designed by a professional in this field. Often, however, the input of several designers goes into the creation of a single product. Fashion designers must be creative, pragmatic, and cooperative. Except in the case of haute couture, fashion is not a pure art form; that is, it must combine beauty with attention to the marketplace and practical concerns. Fashion designers, then, must be extraordinarily creative as well as attuned to the demands of the consumer.
The daily work of a fashion designer might include surveying material samples, working on a computer design program, consulting with manufacturers, or meeting with colleagues. Designs usually begin as a pencil sketch, at which point they are subjected to critical scrutiny by others. When a design has been approved, the designer will make a more sophisticated mock-up, usually on a computer program. This detailed model can be used by manufacturers to create the product itself. Designers also spend a great deal of time assessing how finished products look on a real human body. Sometimes, it is necessary for a designer to go back to the drawing board and begin again.
For the most part, fashion designers must obtain an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in fashion design in order to get a job. These degree programs cover subjects like textiles, fashion trends, computer-aided design, and color theory. Most programs require students to submit a portfolio before entering. Some fashion designers find it useful to take courses in business management and marketing while they are in school. In addition, many aspiring designers take internships with established design firms during the summer. These are a great way to make professional connections and gain experience. One further way for would-be designers to gain experience is to enter one of the many design contests held worldwide.
Even though computers are used for much of fashion design today, aspiring designers still must be able to sketch out their ideas. The strongest portfolios contain examples of computer and freehand work. In addition, fashion designers are well advised to gain experience with sewing and pattern making. It is typical for a designer to begin his or her career as a sketching assistant or pattern maker. These positions provide aspiring professionals with a feel for the basic elements of fashion. Only a very select few designers will begin their careers by designing clothes for sale.
The annual earnings of fashion designers vary depending on whether they are self-employed or on salary. The average income for fashion designers is about $60,000, though some earn upwards of $125,000 a year. Fashion designers do particularly well when they are in management positions. Those who provide specialized design services earn a little bit less than average, but still take home about $59,000 a year. Fashion designers who work in cut-and-sew apparel manufacturing earn about $66,000 a year.
There is a steep curve in income distribution for fashion designers; beginning professionals tend to make very little, but those who are established can earn a very comfortable living. Many designers are self-employed; that is, they own and operate their own labels. We are all familiar with many of the millionaire fashion designers whose creations have become globally popular, but there are also scores of smaller designers who make a comfortable living despite having to pay for their own insurance and other benefits. Of course, salaried professionals have more job security and stability.
Despite the large number of people who want to become fashion designers, there is expected to be a continued demand for people to fill these positions. In particular, there will be openings for designers who can provide attractive and affordable clothing for middle-class consumers. Much of the physical labor of clothing design will be done overseas, but design jobs are expected to remain in the United States. Perhaps the best source of jobs in the future will be large design firms that cater to middle- and lower-income customers. There will be intense competition for the most prestigious jobs at high-end design firms.