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Working as a fashion designer

What does it mean to be a fashion designer? This article explores the role of the artists that are dedicated to the creation of apparel.
This is an image of a models walking on a ramp. The models up front is wearing a large pink wool hat and a black and pink dress. The model behind her is wearing an animal print catsuit and cape.

Working as a fashion designer, an artist dedicated to the creation of apparel and accessories, can mean supervising a team of design assistants, working under the label of a big-name designer or manufacturer, freelancing for a line or group of lines, or designing and producing a line under your own name.

Although the first two options may not appear to be as alluring as the others, they may be less stressful and, quite possibly, more lucrative. Designing and manufacturing your own label takes a great deal of money, time, dedication, and hard work. There are as many different ways designers embark upon a fashion career as there are styles of design.

Fashion designers

Ralph Lauren

Ralph Lauren started with a small tie collection that he sold to Bloomingdale’s.

Portrait image of Ralph Lauren.

Ralph Lauren

Helmut Lang

Helmut Lang opened his own clothing store because he couldn’t find “the right” T-shirt.

Michael Kors

Michael Kors built a following of customers by selling his designs in an NYC boutique.
Michael Kors

Nicolas Ghesquière

Nicolas Ghesquière is a globally recognized fashion designer who is currently the creative director for LVMH’s Louis Vuitton, replacing Marc Jacobs. He learned the job hands-on as an assistant at Jean-Paul Gaultier and later as creative director for Balenciaga.
Nicolas Ghesquière
The paths in fashion design are diverse, but most people find that the best foundation for a design career is a college degree and the work experience needed to truly know what it takes to be a fashion designer.
Fashion designers often choose to work in a specific area of fashion, such as the merchandise categories of men’s, women’s, and children’s apparel, or accessories.

Accessory designers

Accessory designers create such items as handbags, belts, scarves, hats, hosiery, and eyewear. Jewelry designers work in the areas of costume jewelry or fine jewelry using precious stones and metals.
Alexis Bittar

Footwear designers

Footwear designers create different styles of shoes and boots. Although most fashion designers specialize in a specific area of fashion (e.g., knitwear, wovens, fur, children’s wear, handbags), a few work in all areas.

Steps in the design process

Regardless of the merchandise category in which a designer works, the steps in the design process are very similar.

From conceiving the initial design to producing the final product, the design process can take between eighteen and twenty-four months. Listed next are the general steps the fashion designer takes to place a new collection or a full line in the retailers’ hands.

  1. Researching current fashion and making predictions of future trends. Some designers conduct their own research, whereas others turn to fashion industry trade groups or trend forecasters, who publish trend reports that project the particular styles, colors, and fabrics for a season (as examined in Trend Forecasting).
  2. Sketching preliminary designs. Many designers sketch initial designs by hand; more designers use computer-aided design (CAD) software to transfer these hand sketches to the computer or to draw first sketches.
  3. Attending trade shows or visiting manufacturers to peruse fabrics and procure samples in order to decide which fabrics to use.
  4. Determining a color palette.
  5. Designing the styles to be part of the new collection or line, knowing that some of these will later be eliminated due to cost or merchandising decisions.
  6. Costing out styles to make certain they fit within the price range of the line.
  7. Creating a prototype or sample of the garment and then trying the sample on the fit model for design adjustments.
  8. Creating the full collection or line of samples and reviewing the full line to determine which styles to keep or delete.
  9. Having sample lines constructed to market to retail buyers in the showroom or at trade markets.
  10. After buyers have placed their orders, distribute the garments to retail operations and identify top-selling items for the next collection.

What career challenges can you expect as a fashion designer? What qualifications do you need? The next step will provide some answers to these questions.

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Careers in Fashion: Design, Development, and Promotion

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