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Explore: the fashion industry

Here we provide you with all the information you need to start your career in the varied and exciting fashion industry.

Explore Fashion Industry

Fashion is an exciting, innovative, and sometimes controversial industry, with a wide scope of careers across the globe. Whether you’re looking for a fast-paced role in a highly creative atmosphere, or just want to discover more about the fashion industry and potential careers, we hope this guide will offer some insight. 

As well as exploring some of the current fashion industry trends, we’ll also explore how the pandemic has affected the industry, the skills you need to work in fashion, and the kinds of salaries you can expect. In addition, we’ve picked out some courses and resources that can help you learn more about aspects of the industry and hone your fashion skills for your potential career.

The global fashion industry

Let’s start by taking a look at what we mean when we talk about working in fashion and what the current global situation looks like. This is a great way of understanding some of the current trends and the future outlook for those in the industry.

What is it?

Fashion can be viewed as a form of storytelling through self-expression, using clothes, footwear and accessories. This innovative industry is huge all over the world, although the fashion capitals are generally considered to be London, New York, Paris and Milan. 

However, this is a fairly eurocentric approach to fashion, as there are incredible designers and industry professionals all across the globe. Those working in fashion can generally take several different career paths.

They might be interested in high street fashion, which consists of the brands you see everywhere that sell ‘regular’ clothing, such as Zara, Nike, and JD Sports in the UK. Alternatively, they might be drawn to the more glamorous but competitive world of designer fashion, which is generally more abstract and expensive, geared towards celebrities, models and the elite.

How big is the industry?

As you can probably imagine, the global fashion industry is huge. Statistics show that the global apparel market is predicted to grow in value from 1.5 trillion U.S. dollars in 2020 to 2.25 trillion dollars in 2025, which is an enormous amount of growth.

Approximately 430 million people across the world are thought to work in the fashion and textile industry, which converts to 1 in 8 people globally. A large amount of this workforce exists in Asia, due to the large quantities of clothing factories.

Once you understand the huge size of the industry and workforce, you can begin to understand why it’s so important to pay attention to things like who makes your clothes, improving factory working conditions, ethical practices in fashion, and textile waste reduction.

Sustainability in the fashion industry

This brings us on to the topic of sustainability within the fashion industry, which is of growing importance as we try to reduce our impact on the earth. The fashion industry is responsible for an estimated 10% of global carbon emissions and is also the second-largest consumer of the world’s water. So, if you want to work in fashion, it might be worth considering these figures.

If you’re aware of the problems with the industry such as fast fashion, overconsumption, poor working conditions, and textile waste, you are able to make positive changes in your own work. To learn more about how to live sustainably, you can check out our blog, and read the section on  sustainable fashion.

If you want to learn in more depth, we have some great courses on fashion and sustainability. You can gain an introduction to issues, agendas, and contexts relating to sustainable fashion on our Fashion and Sustainability: Understanding Luxury Fashion in a Changing World course by UAL: London College of Fashion and Kering. 

Alternatively, learn how to create a plan for fashion that protects Earth’s ecosystems on our Fashion Values: Nature course, or become an expert at sustainable fashion on our 10-week microcredential, Fashion Sustainability: Shaping Fashion’s Future by Institut Français de la Mode and Kering.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted fashion careers?

There aren’t many industries that have managed to completely bypass the negative effects of the pandemic. As the consequences of COVID-19 started to hit, a lot of people found they had less disposable income to spend on fashion.

In addition, lockdown in many countries forced all non-essential shops to close, and this included fashion stores. In the UK during March 2020, clothing sales declined by 34.8%, which is a pretty significant drop. In particular, fashion retailers and businesses who don’t sell their products online suffered from the strict lockdown measures that closed physical stores.

Of course, huge online retailers didn’t suffer such big losses, as their digitally-driven business models meant that they were made to withstand physical store closures, if they even had any. ASOS is one such brand that managed to endure the pandemic successfully, with the help of clever marketing. 

They stated that the pandemic actually drove a 1.5 million rise in its active customer base, showing that not all areas of the fashion industry were negatively affected by COVID-19.

Impact of COVID-19 on the global garment industry

Looking at the industry on a global scale, garment workers have been hit really hard by COVID-19. Current data shows that over 1 million garment workers have been fired or suspended due to global brands cancelling orders from supply factories. This means production has been halted, leading to job losses. A large proportion of these workers are women in developing countries, who will struggle to support themselves without work. 

This really shows the impact of the actions of global fashion brands. Garment industry stakeholders need to make sure that garment workers are protected during the pandemic and similar situations. Job security isn’t the only thing at risk, but also the health of garment workers, as they’ve been working in cramped, unsafe, and non-socially-distanced conditions.

What kinds of jobs are there in fashion?

Fashion is an extremely varied industry, and there are many different career paths you can choose to take. Below, we’ve provided information about just a few of the most popular fashion careers.

Fashion designer

One of the most sought-after careers within the fashion industry is the fashion designer. In this role, you’ll be conceptualising ideas, drawing inspiration, designing and organising the creation of clothes. You might do all of this yourself, but often you’ll have a team to help. You could specialise in a certain area, such as shoes, bags, womenswear, menswear or childrenswear.

Fashion illustrator

Illustrators have to have a great visual eye, design skills, and drawing ability. They work closely with designers, discuss the requirements, and create sketches of garments, either by drawing, painting or using digital software. Fashion illustrators may also help design and create promotional materials.

Stylist

Another sought-after role in the industry is the fashion stylist. They work closely with photographers and art directors in order to style outfits that match a creative brief. They may work in environments such as a photo shoot, TV or film set, catwalk show, or red carpet event. 

Stylists are often hired by media organisations, but personal stylists can work more independently. To find out more about building your own style, you can try our Art Comes First: Exploring the Intersection of Style and Identity course by the Hopenclass.

Costume designer

Similarly to a fashion designer, you’ll be sketching, researching, and designing clothes. However, you’ll be working more to a certain brief, and it will help to have strong research skills so that you understand how to create authentic costumes.

It may even help to enjoy history if you’re designing historical costumes. Try our A History of Royal Fashion course by the University of Glasgow and Historic Royal Palaces to get a taste of historical costume design.

Garment technologist

In this role, you’ll be the person responsible for choosing fabrics, organising the logistics of each garment, overseeing construction of clothes and ensuring quality control is carried out. Your job as a garment technologist is ultimately to improve the production process.

Pattern cutter/grader

Looking at drawings, a pattern cutter will create pattern templates and use a dummy to make sure garments have the correct structure. They will also work with machinists to create clothing samples and use digital software to design patterns.

Textile designer

This is a highly technical role where you create 2D patterns for fabrics after working closely with fashion designers. Textile designers need to be knowledgeable about all aspects of textile production, including different types of fabric, embroidery, printing and dyeing. A job like this probably needs formal training beforehand.

Fashion buyer

If you’re interested in the business and commercial side of fashion, this could be the perfect role for you. Fashion buyers understand what sells, and they are the ones who decide which products to source and stock. They have to consider things such as current trends, target audience, season, budget and brand aesthetic.

If you want to become an expert at the business of fashion, or are thinking of getting into fashion buying, our Fashion Business microcredential by Institut Français de la Mode is a great choice. It’s an 11-week program that will teach you about fashion marketing, branding, product development, sustainability, and entrepreneurship.

Trend forecaster

Trend forecasters research past trends and identify new trends, in order to help designers and retailers figure out what is going to sell. They look at a series of trends including certain fabrics, shapes, items, silhouettes, colours and patterns. In this role, it helps to be forward-thinking and aware of trend cycles.

Additional jobs

  • Fashion model
  • Wardrobe assistant
  • Boutique owner
  • Fashion marketing
  • Fashion blogger
  • Fashion writer
  • Fashion photographer 
  • Fashion and visual merchandising

What skills do I need to enter the fashion industry?

The skills you need to succeed in this industry will largely depend on what your specific role is. However, there are some skills which will definitely benefit you if you want to work in fashion, and will help make you stand out to employers.

A pretty universally important skill you should have is a good understanding of business and commerce in the fashion world, especially if you’re running your own fashion business or working for a high street brand or online retailer. Even if you’re not working in management or marketing, it can be very beneficial to understand who your target market is and what your branding projects.

It’s important to be able to think visually and have a good eye for detail when you work in fashion, as you’ll be working with visual concepts. In connection with this, design skills are valuable to have. Whether you’re a great drawer, skilled at graphic design or can bring ideas to life using fabric, having design skills will put you in a good position.

Thinking about more specific skills, certain jobs will require you to be good at things like fabric sourcing, pattern cutting, sewing, and use of machinery. Aside from these hard skills, there are also some soft skills that will help you succeed in fashion, which we’ve listed below.

Soft skills

How do salaries compare? 

Salaries for careers in fashion greatly vary depending on what you do, your level of experience and the country you work in. Below we’ve found some average salaries for fashion jobs across the UK, USA, Canada and Australia. This data is from PayScale, Indeed, Salary.com, and Glassdoor. 

It’s worth keeping in mind that salaries for fashion careers can range a lot more than what these figures show, depending on how successful someone is. Extremely successful fashion designers and models can become very wealthy and so are not necessarily reflected in these numbers, but we still tried to provide some insight into the reality of many fashion careers.

 UKUSACanadaAustralia
Fashion designer£28,344
$65,790C$53,472A$62,332
Stylist£22,772$52,153C$35,181A$55,334
Garment technologist £33,456$46,888C$49000A$62,593
Textile designer£27,771$59,263C$42,729A$58,670
Fashion buyer£26,565$65,000C$50,868A$64,265
Model£43,389
$51,652C$62,732A$62,664

Why choose a career in fashion?

There are many reasons why you might want to work in the fashion industry. While many of these depend on the individual, there are several notable ones worth mentioning: 

  • Potential for self-employment and flexible work hours. If you own your own business as a seamstress, designer or similar, then there is a great amount of flexibility in your work. This can be appealing for those who don’t want a traditional 9-5 job.
  • The world is your oyster. Fashion is an extremely creative field, and often you are encouraged to explore your options and strive for success.
  • You want to meet people from all walks of life. Fashion attracts a wide range of characters and it can be a great place to meet different designers, artists, models and like-minded people.
  • There are plenty of exciting opportunities. Often, there are opportunities to go to various events, work on different projects, and even travel abroad in some scenarios.
  • You’re passionate about self-expression. Ultimately, fashion is one of the greatest forms of self-expression, and working in the industry can be an incredible way to express yourself and showcase your vision.

How to get started in the fashion industry

The most important thing to remember when starting out in the fashion industry is to make sure you get experience doing the thing you love. Whether that’s creating and designing clothes by yourself at home, doing a work experience placement or internship, or getting retail experience to improve your commercial perspective, experience is invaluable. 

If you do decide to go at it alone and create your own brand, there’s never been a better time. Social media has made self-promotion easier than ever, and allows small businesses to make a name for themselves, as long as they have something that makes them unique. In the UK, the British Fashion Council provides a range of initiatives to help those setting up a fashion business, making this process even easier.

Studying fashion

Studying fashion at university or college can be a popular route for aspiring students, especially if they want to learn specific skills like textile design, fabric creation, or more commercial aspects of the industry. There are many great art and fashion universities across the UK and the rest of the globe, and a degree can give you a really strong foundation when starting out.

However, if you don’t want to commit to a full degree, want to learn alongside your job, or want to develop your skills and knowledge in order to improve your own business, then our online fashion courses could be a fantastic option for you. 

Learn how fashion designers and businesses can make more compassionate choices to build fur-free, sustainable fashion brands in our Compassion in Fashion: Sustainability and the Global Fur Trade course by ACT Asia, or discover the business of fashion in our Understanding Fashion: From Business to Culture course by Institut Français de la Mode.

Where to look for fashion jobs

Other than your standard job search websites, there are some fantastic sites that just highlight roles in the fashion industry. We’ve listed these resources below: 

Final thoughts

That concludes our detailed look at the fashion industry. As you can see, it’s a highly varied, exciting, and creative industry with opportunities all around the globe. The types of job roles available span many different fields and areas, meaning that there’s something for just about anyone. With the right skills, training, and passion, you can start your own career in the fashion industry.

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