Fashion Designers


Exploring this Job

If you enjoy sewing, you may have taken the first step toward exploring a career in the fashion world. If your skills in garment construction are adequate, the next step may be an attempt at designing and making clothing. Art and design courses will help assess your talent and ability as a creative artist. 

If you are able to obtain a summer job in a department or specialty store, you can observe retailing practices and gain some practical insights into the merchandising aspects of the fashion world. Working in a fabric store can provide the opportunity to learn about fabrics and accessories. You may want to visit a garment manufacturer to see fashion employees at work.

You also can attend style shows, visit art galleries, observe clothing worn by fashion leaders, and browse through a variety of stores in which garments are sold. Many useful books and magazines are published about fashion. The so-called fashion industry bible is Women's Wear Daily, a must-read for those who want to be knowledgeable and current in this fast-changing business. For subscription information, visit http://www.wwd.com.

The Job

Fashion designers create designs for almost anything that is a part of the costume of men, women, or children. They design both outer and inner garments, hats, purses, shoes, gloves, costume jewelry, scarves, or beachwear. Some specialize in certain types of clothing, such as bridal gowns or sportswear. People in this profession range from the few top haute couture designers who produce one-of-a-kind designs for high-fashion houses, to the thousands of designers who create fashions for mass production and sale to millions of Americans. Most fashion designers are followers rather than originators of fashion, adapting high-end styles to meet the desires of the general public. Twenty-four percent of fashion designers are self-employed. 

The designer's original idea for a garment is usually sketched. After a rough sketch is created, the designer begins to shape the pattern pieces that make the garment. The pieces are drawn to actual size on paper and cut out of a rough material, often muslin. The muslin pieces are sewn together and fitted on a model. The designer makes modifications in the pattern pieces or other features of the rough mock-up to complete the design. From the rough model, sample garments are made in the fabric that the designer intends to use.

Today's designers are greatly assisted by computer software. Computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing allow for thousands of fashion styles and colors to be stored in a computer and accessed at the touch of a button, largely eliminating the long process of gathering fabrics and styling them into samples.

Sample garments are displayed at a "showing," to which press representatives and buyers are invited to see the latest designs. Major designers may present large runway shows twice a year to leading retailers and the fashion press for potential publicity and sales. Sample garments may then be mass-produced, displayed by fashion models, and shipped to stores where they are available for purchase.

In some companies, designers are involved in every step of the production of a selected line, from the original idea to the completed garments. Many designers prefer to supervise their own workrooms. Others work with supervisors to solve problems that arise in the production of the garments.

Most manufacturers produce new styles four times each year: spring and summer; fall and winter; resort wear, and holiday styles. Designers generally are expected to create between 50 and 150 styles for each showing. Their work calendar differs from the actual time of year. They must be working on spring and summer designs during fall and winter, and on fall and winter clothing during the summer, to prepare for future season's fashion production.

Designers work cooperatively with the head of their manufacturing firm. They design a line that is consistent with the ideas of their employers. They also work cooperatively with those who do the actual production of the garments and must be able to estimate the cost of a garment. Some company designers produce designs and oversee a workroom staff, which may consist of a head designer, an assistant designer, and one or more sample makers. Designers in large firms may plan and direct the work of one or more assistant designers, select fabrics and trims, and help determine the pricing of the products they design.

Designers spend time in exploration and research, visiting textile manufacturing and sales establishments to learn of the latest fabrics and their uses and capabilities. They must know about fabric, weave, draping qualities, and strength of materials. A good understanding of textiles and their qualities underlies much of designers' work. They browse through stores to see what fashion items are being bought by the public and which are passed by. They visit museums and art galleries to get ideas about color and design. They go to places where people congregate—theaters, sports events, business and professional meetings, and resorts—and meet with marketing and production workers, salespeople, and clients to discover what people are wearing and to discuss ideas and styles.

Designers also keep abreast of changing styles. If the styles are too different from public taste, customers will probably reject the designs. If, however, they cling to styles that have been successful in the past, they may find that the taste of buyers has changed dramatically. In either case, it could be equally disastrous for their employers.

There are many opportunities for specialization in fashion designing. The most common specialties are particular types of garments such as resort wear, bridalwear, or sportswear.

An interesting specialty in fashion design is costume design, a relatively small field but a potentially rewarding option for those who are interested in combining an interest in stage, film, television, dance, or opera with a talent for clothing design.