What Fashion Designers Do
Fashion designers create clothing, accessories, and footwear.
Fashion designers work in wholesale or manufacturing establishments, apparel companies, retailers, theater or dance companies, and design firms. Most fashion designers work in New York and California.
How to Become a Fashion Designer
Most fashion designers have a bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as fashion design or fashion merchandising. Employers usually seek applicants who are creative and who have technical knowledge of the production processes for clothing, accessories, or footwear.
The median annual wage for fashion designers was $73,790 in May 2019.
Employment of fashion designers is projected to decline 4 percent from 2019 to 2029.
Fashion designers create original clothing, accessories, and footwear. They sketch designs, select fabrics and patterns, and give instructions on how to make the products they design.
Fashion designers typically do the following:
- Study fashion trends and anticipate designs that will appeal to consumers
- Decide on a theme for a collection
- Use computer-aided design (CAD) programs to create designs
- Visit manufacturers or trade shows to get samples of fabric
- Select fabrics, embellishments, colors, or a style for each garment or accessory
- Work with other designers or team members to create prototype designs
- Present design ideas to creative directors or showcase their ideas in fashion or trade shows
- Market designs to clothing retailers or to consumers
- Oversee the final production of their designs
Larger apparel companies typically employ a team of designers headed by a creative director. Some fashion designers specialize in clothing, footwear, or accessory design; others create designs in all three fashion categories.
For some fashion designers, the first step in creating a new design is researching current fashion and making predictions about future trends, such as by reading reports published by fashion industry trade groups. Other fashion designers create collections using a variety of inspirations, including art media, their surroundings, or cultures they have experienced and places they have visited.
After they have an initial idea, fashion designers try out various fabrics and produce a prototype, often with less expensive material than will be used in the final product. They work with models to see how the design will look and adjust the designs as needed.
Although most designers first sketch their designs by hand, many now also sketch their ideas digitally with computer-aided design (CAD) programs. CAD allows designers to see their work on virtual models. They can try different colors, designs, and shapes while making adjustments more easily than they can when working with real fabric on real people.
Designers produce samples with the actual materials that will be used in manufacturing. Samples that get good responses from fashion editors or trade and fashion shows are then manufactured and sold to consumers.
The design process may vary by specialty, but it generally takes 6 months, from initial design concept to final production, to release either the spring or fall collection. In addition to releasing designs during the spring and fall, some companies release new designs every month.
The Internet and e-commerce allow fashion designers to offer their products outside of traditional brick-and-mortar stores. These designers ship directly to the consumer, without having to invest in a physical shop to showcase their product lines of collections.
The following are examples of types of fashion designers:
Accessory designers design and produce items such as handbags, suitcases, belts, scarves, hats, hosiery, and eyewear.
Costume designers design costumes for the performing arts and for motion picture and television productions. They research the styles worn during the period in which the performance is set, or they work with directors to select and create appropriate attire. They also must stay within the production’s costume budget.
Clothing designers create and help produce men’s, women’s, and children’s apparel, including casual wear, suits, sportswear, evening wear, outerwear, maternity clothing, and intimate apparel.
Footwear designers create and help produce different styles of shoes and boots. As new materials, such as lightweight synthetic materials used in shoe soles, become available, footwear designers produce new designs that combine comfort, form, and function.
Fashion designers held about 28,300 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of fashion designers were as follows:
|Apparel, piece goods, and notions merchant wholesalers||29%|
|Management of companies and enterprises||13|
|Motion picture and video industries||11|
Many fashion designers work in-house for wholesalers or manufacturers. These wholesalers and manufacturers sell apparel and accessories to retailers or other marketers for distribution to individual stores, catalog companies, or online retailers.
Self-employed fashion designers typically create high-fashion garments and one-of-a-kind (custom) apparel. In some cases, a self-employed fashion designer may have a clothing line that bears his or her name.
Most designers travel several times a year to trade and fashion shows to learn about the latest trends. Designers also sometimes travel to other countries to meet suppliers of materials and manufacturers who make the final products.
Most fashion designers work in New York and California.
Fashion designers occasionally work many hours to meet production deadlines or prepare for fashion shows. Generally, designers who freelance are under contract; these designers often have long workdays that require them to adjust to their clients’ schedules and deadlines.
This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of fashion designers.
|Occupation||Job Duties||Entry-Level Education||Median Annual Pay, May 2019|
Art directors are responsible for the visual style and images in magazines, newspapers, product packaging, and movie and television productions.
Floral designers arrange live, dried, and silk flowers and greenery to make decorative displays.
|High school diploma or equivalent||$28,040|
Graphic designers create visual concepts, using computer software or by hand, to communicate ideas that inspire, inform, and captivate consumers.
Industrial designers combine art, business, and engineering to develop the concepts for manufactured products.
Jewelers and Precious Stone and Metal Workers
Jewelers and precious stone and metal workers design, construct, adjust, repair, appraise and sell jewelry.
|High school diploma or equivalent||$40,870|
Models pose for artists, photographers, and other clients to help advertise products.
|No formal educational credential||$28,350|
Purchasing Managers, Buyers, and Purchasing Agents
Buyers and purchasing agents buy products and services for organizations. Purchasing managers oversee the work of buyers and purchasing agents.
For more information about careers in fashion design, visit
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Related BLS articles
Career Outlook: “Careers for people who are creative”
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Fashion Designers,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/arts-and-design/fashion-designers.htm (visited ).