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Qualifications and career challenges

Looking at the qualifications required by a fashion designer, as well as the career challenges faced in this role.

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.

Let’s take a look at the qualifications required by a fashion designer, as well as the career challenges faced in this role.


The qualifications for a fashion designer are presented in the following list:


A bachelor’s degree in fashion design or product development is commonly required. Supplementing a fashion design degree with a business, marketing, or fashion merchandising degree or minor gives a job candidate an edge.


A fashion designer needs basic skills in drawing, patternmaking, clothing construction, and CAD. Fashion designers are expected to present a portfolio of work in interviews. Industry experience is necessary. Many fashion designers started out as interns, patternmakers, or design assistants for more experienced designers. Salaried designers as a rule earn higher and more stable incomes than do self-employed designers.

However, a few self-employed fashion designers who have become very successful earn many times the salary of even the highly paid salaried designers. The largest concentrations of fashion designers are employed in New York and California. Designers with many years of experience can earn much greater than the average national salary, in addition to bonuses or commissions for exceptional seasonal sales.

Personal characteristics

A strong eye for color and detail, a sense of balance and proportion, aesthetic appreciation, and knowledge of historical fashion are important competencies for a designer. Fashion designers also need effective communication and problem-solving skills. Strong sales and presentation skills and knowledge of the business end of the fashion industry are vital to a successful fashion design career.

Depending on the size of the design firm and the designer’s level of experience, fashion designers have varying levels of involvement in different aspects of design and production In large design firms, fashion designers often are the lead designers who are responsible for creating the designs, choosing the colors and fabrics, and overseeing technical designers who turn the designs into a final product. (Technical designers are discussed later in this course.) Large design houses also employ their own patternmakers, who create the master patterns for the design and sew the prototypes and samples.

Designers working in small firms, or those new to the job, usually perform most of the technical, patternmaking, and sewing tasks, in addition to designing the clothing. A few high-fashion designers are self-employed and create custom designs for individual clients. Other high-fashion designers sell their designs in their own retail stores, specialty stores, or department stores.

Yet other fashion designers specialize in costume design for performing arts, film, and television productions. Although the work of costume designers is similar to that of other fashion designers, it is different in that costume designers often perform extensive research on the styles worn during the period in which the performance takes place or collaborate with directors to select and create appropriate attire. They sketch the designs, select fabric, and other materials, and oversee the production of the costumes for television and film.

Career challenges

A fashion design career is not for the meek. Fashion designers must be able to work in a high-pressure environment with an assortment of personalities—with the common goal of meeting tight deadlines. Those entering this occupation must be willing to work as part of a team.

Designers are expected to handle criticism, and critics in this field can be brutal. Successful fashion designers know how to learn from a critique while maintaining their individual styles. Many designers tend to have sporadic working hours, often needing to make adjustments to their workdays (or work nights) to accommodate company deadlines (e.g., market week timing, fashion show plans, production due dates). Constant interfacing with suppliers, manufacturers, and co-workers throughout the world requires excellent communication skills and patience. Most fashion designers can expect frequent travel. Finally, they must stay on top of consumer and fashion trends, competition, and how their lines are performing at retail. As trend reporter and marketer Jason Campbell states:

Spotting trends is an ongoing exercise.

In the next step, you will have the opportunity to examine a famous fashion designer’s profile.

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Careers in Fashion: Design, Development, and Promotion

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