Fashion Design Assistant

The Job and What's Involved

Fashion design assistants support designers by helping them create new materials, styles, colours and patterns for fashion brands and labels. Like fashion designers, design assistants usually specialise in a particular line, such as woven garments, knitwear, footwear or accessories.

As a design assistant, you would use your product knowledge and strong pattern cutting skills to create prototypes and tailor existing garments. You may also be responsible for managing parts of the design process, for example, making sure items are ready on time by working closely with factories and suppliers.

Your duties would typically include:

  • Producing clear and detailed technical sketches.
  • Communicating technical and creative ideas to designers.
  • Sourcing fabrics and trimmings.
  • Creating mood, shape and trend boards.
  • Making sure samples are made on time.
  • Gaining 'trim approval' with customers.
  • Participating in meetings with customers and fabric agents.

You may also inspect products (checking for quality) during the design process and when a product is completed.

With experience, you could get involved in seasonal market research to help the design team develop a new product range and forecast trends for the following season. You would communicate concepts and ideas to the senior designer, using sketches, fabrics and trims.

Some companies take on interns (usually undergraduates working to gain industry experience) and it would be your responsibility as a design assistant to manage them.

You would usually work in a studio or workshop, but you may get the opportunity to travel and visit manufacturers or go on research trips. For example, you may visit art galleries, trade shows, or particular places or countries that are linked to a design theme.

You will sometimes need to work long hours and weekends to meet deadlines, for example in the run up to the launch of a new collection.

Starting salaries for fashion design assistants can be between £13,000 and £18,000 a year. With experience, this can rise to between £20,000 and £30,000.

Experienced designers can earn £50,000 to £60,000.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

To get into this competitive industry you could work with a range of companies involved in designing, developing and manufacturing garments, footwear and accessories.

Employers include high street retailers, independent labels, international fashion houses and couturiers.

You will find specialist recruitment agencies online, however, many jobs in this field are found by making speculative applications to designers, and through networking and industry contacts you have made.

You will find most opportunities in London and in other cities associated with clothing and textiles, such as Leicester, Manchester, Nottingham and Leeds.

Education and Training

You will usually need:

  • A foundation degree, BTEC HND or degree in fashion or textile design, clothing technology or similar.
  • Knowledge of fashion, clothing and textiles.
  • Some experience in the industry and a passion for it.
  • Strong technical skills, including pattern cutting.
  • A working knowledge of design software (such as Illustrator and Photoshop).
  • An understanding of computer aided cutting machinery.
  • A portfolio of work including moodboards, designs, drawings, garments or products (a degree course should help you develop this body of work).

To search for colleges and universities offering fashion and textile-related courses and degrees, visit the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) website. Check with individual course providers for details of their entry requirements.

You may be able to gain industry experience as part of your degree course or by arranging to work with a company as an intern. These are often unpaid apprenticeships that allow you to develop work-based skills and knowledge, as well as a network of contacts in the industry. Any work experience you gain will give you an advantage when it comes to getting a job.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

You can continue to develop your knowledge and skills by attending short courses and masterclasses. For example, London College of Fashion offers courses ranging from fashion styling to a guide to starting your own fashion label.

Postgraduate degrees and diplomas in specialised areas of textiles, design and other related subjects are also available. To get on to a course at this level, you will usually need a relevant first degree.

You can achieve professional recognition by joining the Textile Institute (TI). There are three levels of membership: Licentiate, Associate and Fellow, which would give you access to conferences, seminars and short courses.

Some employers will support you with professional development, including TI accredited courses.

The Chartered Society of Designers offers a Diploma in Design Business Management, which may be relevant if you intend to become self-employed or freelance.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A fashion design assistant needs:

  • Creative flair and an eye for pattern and colour.
  • The ability to organise and prioritise your work.
  • Good time-management skills.
  • The ability to work well under pressure and meet tight deadlines.
  • Strong written and verbal communication skills.
  • Effective presentation skills.
  • Commercial awareness and knowledge of the current market.
  • A good understanding of garment construction and costing.
  • The ability to work well on your own, and in a team.
  • Good negotiation skills for working with customers and suppliers.
  • Confidence and self motivation.

Your Long Term Prospects

With experience you could progress to designer, then senior designer or design director (creating your own range and managing a design team).

You could also move into freelance design, working with companies on a project-by-project basis, or self-employment, creating your own collections.

Get Further Information

Textile Institute,
1st Floor, St James's Buildings,
Oxford Street, Manchester M1 6FQ
Tel: 0161 237 1188

Design Council

Skillset Careers,
Tel: 08080 300 900 (England and Northern Ireland)
Tel: 0808 100 8094 (Scotland)
Tel: 08000 121 815 (Wales)

Focus Point, 21 Caledonian Road,
London N1 9GB

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