Clothing Designer

The Job and What's Involved

Clothing designers design clothes, accessories and shoes. Some design expensive one-off pieces. Others work in a team creating a whole range of mass-produced fashions, or specialise in particular areas such as sportswear.

There are three main sectors:

Haute Couture - designers work on exclusive one-off creations that can cost thousands of pounds. They work directly with the client, organising fittings and making alterations, and the work takes a high level of skill and large amounts of time. Many couture designers also produce ready-to-wear collections that are produced in relatively small numbers.

Ready-to-Wear (or prêt-a-porter) - designers work on garments that are sold in small numbers but often at a high price. These garments bear the designer's name.

Designing for High Street Stores - designers develop cheaper ranges for the mass market. These garments are manufactured in large numbers and are quite often produced overseas. There is generally much less scope for creative input, as garments are made in line with strict budgets and need to be easy to produce efficiently.

Designers usually work two seasons ahead, liaising with buyers and forecasters to predict the coming fashions. They draw initial sketches by hand or using computer software. Designers have to consider who might buy and wear their designs, how much they will cost to produce and how much people will be prepared to pay.

Designers usually discuss their initial ideas with the design and marketing team before the best are selected and made up as sample garments. When the clothes go into production, the fashion designer has to be available to give advice and sort out any problems with cutting or stitching.

The responsibilities of a designer vary depending on who they work for, but may include:

  • Producing concepts
  • Making sketches by hand or on computers.
  • Developing patterns.
  • Overseeing production.
  • Analysing trends in fabrics, colours and shapes.
  • Sourcing suppliers.
  • Selecting and buying fabrics and trims.
  • Adapting existing designs for mass production.
  • Supervising the making up of sample garments.
  • Quality control.

Designers can work alone or as part of a small design team.

Designers normally work from 9am to 5pm, but they may work much longer hours when preparing samples for buyers or collections for fashion shows.

Part-time work may be possible, especially for self-employed designers, but staying ahead of the competition often means designers have to work long hours.

Clothing designers usually work in a studio or a small workshop. Those who also make clothes, or are involved in making samples, spend time at a cutting table using a sewing machine.

They may attend fashion shows, prediction fairs (where future fashion trends are predicted) and exhibitions, as well as visit clients. As the main fashion centres are London, New York, Paris and Rome, international travel is often required.

Starting salaries are around £14,000 to £16,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Clothing designers work for designer labels, as part of in-house design teams for retail chains, and for clothing manufacturers that produce large quantities of clothes for the mass market.

Around 12,000 designers are in paid employment in the UK. There are often more applicants than vacancies. Jobs working for well-known designer labels are highly sought after.

The heaviest concentration of designers is in London and the surrounding area. The industry is dominated by small and medium-sized employers. In fact, more than 80 per cent of businesses have 10 employees or fewer.

Competition for places is intense and many fashion graduates find they have to do other work as a result, perhaps in a related field such as fashion journalism, or as stylists or buyers.

Jobs are advertised in Drapers, other trade publications and The Guardian, and on specialist recruitment websites.

Education and Training

Clothing designers usually start their career after taking an HNC/HND or a degree in fashion. Foundation degree courses are also available. Some courses provide a general grounding in fashion design and textiles, while others focus on manufacturing and clothing technology.

Developing skills which are in short supply, such as pattern cutting, textile technology, production management and studio management, may be an advantage.

In England and Wales, many designers start out on a foundation course or other national diploma course before going on to a HNC/HND, Foundation degree or degree. In Scotland, degree courses take four years. The first year equates to the foundation year in England and Wales, and introduces students to general art and design.

The qualifications required are normally two A levels/three H grades and three GCSE's/two S grades (A-C/1-3), although other qualifications may be accepted. A portfolio of work has to be submitted with the application.

Alternatively, students may take HNC/HND courses in graphic design or related subjects. Entry requirements are normally at least one A level/H grade in art or design and technology, or a related subject.

Some students may do a postgraduate course before starting work. Employers usually select new designers based on a portfolio of work and an interview.

The Diploma will give you the knowledge and skills that you will need for college, university or work in an exciting, creative and enjoyable way.

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Training is usually on the job, working alongside and learning skills from more senior designers. As competition is extremely strong, most employers expect new recruits to have learned basic skills at college.

New designers need to be prepared to work in junior positions, developing other people's designs, as colourists or in pattern-cutting, in order to gain experience and contacts.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A clothing designer need:

  • To be creative.
  • An eye for colour, texture and pattern.
  • The ability to visualise things in three dimensions.
  • Technical skills in areas such as pattern cutting, grading and garment construction.
  • To be able to draw, either by hand or on the computer.
  • Good communication skills to explain their ideas clearly and persuasively.
  • The ability to meet deadlines and work within a budget.
  • Business skills and commercial awareness, particularly if they are self-employed.
  • Good negotiation skills when selling their own designs.
  • To keep ahead of trends in colour, fabric and style.
  • Strong organisational skills.

Your Long Term Prospects

With experience, designers may be able to move into senior design roles and work with more established fashion labels. Very few designers are able to design clothes for their own fashion label.

Clothing designers may also move into specialist areas such as colour predicting, style consultancy, fashion journalism or costume design.

Get Further Information

British Fashion Council, 5 Portland Place,
London W1B 1PW
Tel: 020 7636 7788

Crafts Council, 44A Pentonville Road,
Islington, London N1 9BY
Tel: 020 7278 7700

Design Council, 34 Bow Street,
London WC2E 7DL
Tel: 020 7420 5200

Skillfast-UK, Richmond House,
Lawnswood Business Park, Leeds LS16 6RD
Tel: 0113 239 9600
Websites: and

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