Approximately 25,800 fashion designers are employed in the United States. About 28 percent work for apparel, piece goods, and notions merchant wholesalers. Eleven percent work in the motion picture and video industries, and 8 percent work for apparel manufacturers. Many fashion designers find employment with large fashion houses such as Liz Claiborne or Jones New York. Some large manufacturers produce a secondary line of lower-priced designer clothing—Donna Karan's DKNY and Giorgio Armani's Emporio, for example. In the United States, New York City, Miami, San Francisco, and Los Angeles are major fashion centers and positions may be found in both large and small companies. Work also may be found in Chicago and other cities, although not as many jobs are available in these locations.
A few fashion designers work for high-fashion firms, but these positions are difficult to come by and competition is very strong. An aspiring designer may have more options in specialized areas of fashion such as sportswear, sleepwear, children's clothing, or accessories.
Other areas for aspiring fashion designers to explore are home fashions such as bed and bath linens, draperies, and rugs or carpeting. Positions also can be found with pattern manufacturers. Some fashion designers work on a freelance basis, contracting with manufacturers or individuals.
An easy way to learn about manufacturers is to visit a department or specialty store and examine labels and tags on merchandise of interest. In addition to major department stores, other retailers such as Target carry a variety of manufacturers' lines.
Few people begin their careers as fashion designers. Well-trained college graduates often begin as assistant designers. Assistants must prove their ability before being entrusted with the responsible job of the designer. Many young people find that assistant designer jobs are difficult to locate, so they accept beginning jobs in the workroom where they spend time cutting or constructing garments.
Fashion design school graduates may receive placement information from their college's career services office. Approaching stores and manufacturers directly is another way to secure a beginning position. However, you will be more successful if you have contacts in the industry through previous summer or part-time work.
Advancement in fashion designing varies a great deal. There is much moving from firm to firm, and vacancies occur frequently. Aspiring designers should create, collect, and continuously update their portfolios of designs and look for opportunities to show their work to employers. Beginners may work as cutting assistants or assistant designers. From these entry-level positions, the fashion designer's career path may lead to positions as an assistant technical designer, pattern company designer, designer, head designer, design department head, and creative director. Those who grow with a company may design less and take on more operational responsibilities.
Designers may choose to move into a business or merchandising position where they direct lines, set prices, supervise production, and work directly with buyers. After years of work, top designers may become partners in the design or apparel firms for which they work. Others may open their own retail clothing stores. A designer may want to work for firms that offer increasing design responsibility and fewer restrictions to become established as a house designer or eventually as an independent designer.
Tips for Entry
Start developing a portfolio of your work so that you are ready to begin looking for jobs once you graduate. Include only your best work.
Land an entry-level job at a fashion design firm to learn about the field and make industry contacts.
Visit the following Web sites for job listings:
Be willing to relocate. It may open more job opportunities. In May 2018, 71 percent of all salaried fashion designers in the U.S. worked in New York and California.