Fashion Designer

The Job and What's Involved

As a fashion designer, you could work in one of three different areas – high fashion (known as 'haute couture'), designer ready-to-wear and high-street fashion. Within these areas, you would often specialise further, for example in men's, children's or sportswear.

Your work would typically involve:

  • Working to a design brief.
  • Analysing or predicting trends in fabrics, colours and shapes.
  • Producing concept and mood boards.
  • Developing basic shapes ('blocks') through patterns.
  • Estimating costs for materials and manufacture.
  • Finding suppliers.
  • Supervising the making up of sample garments.
  • Making in-house presentations, for example to finance departments and merchandisers.

You would often work closely with garment technologists and sample machinists. You could also liaise with manufacturers (often based overseas) to make sure that designs are reproduced accurately.

You would often work long hours and weekends in order to meet deadlines – for example the launch of a new collection.

You would be based in a studio or workshop, but could have opportunities to travel to visit manufacturers (often overseas). You could also go on research visits, for example to art galleries, trade shows or to particular places or countries that are linked to a design theme.

Starting salaries can be around £16,000 a year. With experience and increased responsibility earnings can range from £22,000 to £60,000 or more.

Freelance designers may charge per design or per collection and rates vary widely. Agents may take up to 30% as commission.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Because the fashion industry is very competitive (more than 4,000 fashion and textiles students compete for just 500 jobs each year), any work experience you gain in the clothing/fashion industry will give you an advantage when it comes to getting a paid job.

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.

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

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

Education and Training

You will usually need a relevant degree. A course that teaches both design and technical skills will give you the practical knowledge needed to work in the industry, so you should check the content of courses before making your choice.

Universities offering relevant courses include:

- London College of Fashion
- De Montfort University, Leicester
- Manchester Metropolitan University
- Heriot Watt University, Edinburgh

To search for fashion-related courses, visit the UCAS website. Entry requirements vary, so you should check with the individual colleges and universities.

You will need to put together a portfolio of work that you can take to course and job interviews. Your portfolio should include moodboards, designs and technical drawings. It is also important to take along actual garments you have produced.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

You will often start as a design assistant before working your way up to fashion designer - practical experience in the job and a good track record are crucial to progressing in your career.

You can develop your knowledge and skills by attending short courses and masterclasses. For example, London College of Fashion offers a range of courses covering aspects of design and related technical skills.

Postgraduate degrees and diplomas in specialised areas of fashion design and related subjects are available. You will usually need a relevant first degree before doing one of these.

You can gain professional recognition by joining the Textile Institute (TI) and applying for qualifications on three levels: Licentiate, Associate and Fellow. The TI also runs conferences, seminars and short courses.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A fashion designer needs:

  • A good eye for colour, texture and shape.
  • An understanding of the properties of fabrics and how they can be used.
  • Technical skills such as pattern cutting and sewing.
  • The ability to spot and develop trends.
  • Drawing skills.
  • The ability to use computer design packages.
  • An understanding of production processes.
  • The ability to solve problems.
  • Commercial awareness.
  • The ability to work as part of a team.

Your Long Term Prospects

Once you have developed the skills you need to be a successful fashion designer, you can progress to positions such as senior designer or head of department or design director.

Alternatively, you may decide to become a freelance designer (employed by a company for a specific project) or become self-employed and launch your own collection.

Get Further Information

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

Skillset, Focus Point,
21 Caledonian Road, London N1 9GB

Chartered Society of Designers (CSD)

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

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