Fashion Careers

Fashion Careers: Guide to Fashion Design

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6th October 2022

The art of designing clothes is about so much more than just creating something for somebody to wear. Clothes are an expression of creativity and uniqueness, so being a fashion designer comes down to being visionary. Recognising how people want to feel. Making your mark on the moment. 

No wonder, then, that a fashion designer is likely the job that most people envisage when they think about a career in fashion. It’s also arguably one of the most creative jobs in the industry, allowing you to get to grips with garments at the very first step of the process. If you see yourself as artistic - and you just love to create, draw and imagine - fashion design might just be the right path for you. 

I don’t design clothes. I design dreams.
Ralph Lauren

Will you be the next Karl Lagerfeld or Diane von Furstenberg? What exactly is involved in a career in fashion design? How do you get your dream job once you’ve finished school? 

At the Fashion Retail Academy, our Level 3 Fashion Design course will teach you all the fundamental skills you need for a successful career in fashion design. We’ll build on your natural talent to make sure you’re ready to take the first steps into your dream career.  

Read our fashion design careers guide and discover what a fashion designer is, what a fashion designer does, how much fashion designers earn and how to become a fashion designer.

WHAT IS A FASHION DESIGNER?

A fashion designer exists at the very heart of any fashion house or brand. They use their creativity and attention to detail to design and develop clothing and accessories for men, women and children. From conducting trend research and sketching out ideas to choosing the fabric, colour and shape of a garment, fashion designers are the innovators behind the clothes and collections you see on the catwalks and the high street.

TYPES OF FASHION DESIGNERS

Fashion designers usually specialise in one specific area, such as footwear or jewellery, and can either work in-house or freelance. Although there are many different specialisms within the fashion industry, most designers work within three main areas:

  • High-street fashion: High-street fashion is typically clothing that is produced in large quantities and sold in high-street shops and online. The design process is generally influenced by seasonal trends, celebrities, catwalks and consumer behaviour. Designers that work in high-street fashion tend to create clothing for a broad audience.
  • Ready-to-wear fashion: Ready-to-wear designers create collections that are available in standard sizes but are produced on a much smaller scale than high-street fashion. Ready-to-wear designers generally create clothes in their own particular style and focus less on following trends.
  • Haute couture fashion: Haute couture fashion designers specialise in customised, one-of-a-kind pieces. The production process takes a lot longer, and finished designs are usually displayed on catwalks for a specific brand. Haute couture fashion is often used as a source of inspiration for ready-to-wear and high-street fashion.

WHAT DOES A FASHION DESIGNER DO?

The role of a fashion designer is very broad and requires a lot of creativity and innovative thinking. The day-to-day tasks of a fashion designer may also vary depending on their level of experience and the business they work for. The main roles and skills that may be included in fashion designer job descriptions are:

  • Trend forecasting and research
  • Drawing and designing
  • Sewing and pattern cutting
  • Sourcing fabric and materials
  • Working with other teams to produce and manufacture designs
  • Pitching ideas and collections to Creative Directors and Buyers 

1. TREND FORECASTING & RESEARCH

Part of a designer’s role is to do market research to identify new trends, fabrics and seek inspiration. This research helps designers create a mood board or theme for the garment or collection they are working on.

When carrying out their research, designers will consider the silhouettes, design details, colours, fabrics, and trims of garments. They will use various tools and resources to carry out their research including social media, trade shows, events, runways, magazines and fashion forecasting services such as WGSN.

Based on market research, designers will create garments that fit the mood board they have made or the brief they've been given. When creating their designs, they'll keep the consumer at the forefront of their mind to make sure the collection appeals to their target audience.

2. DRAWING & DESIGNING

Transforming the ideas formed from market research into actual designs is one of the most important and creative aspects of being a fashion designer. This is done by drawing and sketching the designs on paper or digitally. Then designers can share and visualise their ideas with others.

Drawing the garments allows designers to capture the technical elements of each piece including darts, seams, length, fit, shape and more. In addition to hand-drawn designs, many fashion designers also use CAD (computer-aided drawing) tools. By using CAD, designers can create designs more quickly and precisely and can create different variants of the same design.

3. SEWING & PATTERN CUTTING

Being able to sew and pattern cut is a huge advantage for fashion designers. Fashion designers will typically do a lot of experimenting and mock-ups before starting work on the final piece. They need to be creative and imaginative as the best pieces often come from designers who aren't afraid to push boundaries and think outside the box. 

The drawings that have been created during the design phase are used as the blueprint for each garment. The designer or pattern-maker uses the specific measurements from the design to draw and cut the pattern. These pieces are then used to produce a prototype of the garment.

It's common for large design houses to hire their own pattern makers, tailors, and sewers to create the 'master' patterns and construct the prototypes. Whereas designers working for smaller brands, or those just starting out, usually do most of the pattern cutting and sewing themselves. When the garment is complete, the designer will either modify, discard, or approve the design for showing in a collection or sending to production.

4. SOURCING FABRIC & MATERIALS

As well as designing, cutting and sewing garments, a fashion designer may also be responsible for sourcing fabrics and materials for new collections. They'll need to be able to source the right colour, pattern and amount of material based on the brief they are working with. 

When sourcing materials, designers will work closely with suppliers, so they need to have a basic understanding of budgeting and costing. They'll also need to navigate the ethical, political and environmental impact of clothing production.

Being able to effectively communicate and liaise with suppliers is crucial for ensuring that a collection is made to perfection as well as being profitable.

fashion design career path job progression

5. WORKING WITH OTHER FASHION TEAMS

Fashion designers generally work alongside other fashion creatives such as buyers and garment technologists who are all working towards the same season or collection. This helps to make sure that every department has a shared vision and direction for the brand.

Fashion designers work alongside garment technologists to bring their collections to life. Designers oversee the creative process of a collection, whereas garment technologists oversee the technical and practical aspects. This includes choosing the correct fabric and making sure production remains within budget. 

Designers also work closely with fashion buyers. Some fashion brands buy stock from other suppliers as well as design their own pieces. Designers and buyers will share their trend and market research to ensure that both teams are on the same page. Buyers may also assist designers with the manufacturing process of their designs.

6. PITCHING IDEAS AND COLLECTIONS

It's common for fashion designers to receive briefs or requests from their managers, fashion buyers or clients asking them to design particular pieces or to create new collections. Based on the brief they have been given, fashion designers will gather their research and ideas and then present their designs to key stakeholders.

Fashion designers need to be confident and showcase that their designs meet the style, values, budget, and constraints of the brand whilst also demonstrating that the collection will be profitable. They tend to present this information using mood boards, samples and swatches.

Fashion designers will then receive constructive feedback from the team they are working with and will make any necessary adjustments to their designs.

WHAT MAKES A GOOD FASHION DESIGNER?

Fashion designers need to be incredibly creative and have the ability to design clothing from scratch using a range of different tools and mediums. They need to understand clothing construction and have a deep understanding of textiles and colour. Fashion designers also need to be strong communicators, be able to collaborate with others and have strong attention to detail.

FASHION DESIGNER SKILLS

1. CREATIVITY

Fashion designers need to have an eye for detail and creative flair. They should be able to match shapes, textures, colours and patterns; and they need to appreciate the visually appealing, as well as the unusual. They must also have a sound understanding of different fabric types and their properties. This helps them to create designs that work in real-life as well as on paper. 

2. PRACTICAL SKILLS

Skills in sewing and pattern-cutting are a huge advantage - fashion designers do a lot of experimenting and mock-ups before they even get to work on the final piece. They need to be creative and imaginative and think outside the box. Think about the revolutionary designs of Alexander McQueen

how to become a fashion designer

3. AN UNDERSTANDING OF FASHION TRENDS

Fashion designers need to have a deep understanding of the whole world of fashion. This is an industry that changes daily, and designers need to know what’s new every moment. Having a working knowledge of fashion brands and the latest trends is invaluable when researching the nature of your newest collection. This helps them make sure that their design works for and appeals to their target audience. The ability to spot a developing trend from a mile away and quickly jump to work on it will put you at a huge competitive advantage. As a fashion designer, it’s all about always being one step ahead of the crowd. 

4. SKETCHING

Designers should be comfortable sketching out their creations. This is the primary method of recording ideas and sharing them with others, so it helps to be able to quickly and consistently produce presentable designs. Designers must also be able to bring their creations to life through CAD drawings, so they need to be able to draw digitally as well as on paper.

What’s a career in fashion design really like? 

Drawing all day and sharing your creative vision with the world – sounds great, right? As with any career, however, it’s a good idea to take the time to figure out what a career in fashion design is really like, before diving in headfirst. To help illuminate all the aspects of a career in fashion design, we spoke to those already in the industry about what it takes. 

Lucy Sampson, Assistant Menswear Designer at Next, says that “graduates should be wary of viewing fashion design as a purely artistic endeavour. You may be producing fashion designs – but they still need to speak to an overall business need and the preferences of your audience at large. Put simply, it isn't just about drawing whatever comes to your head. You need to guide your imagination with your business savvy.” 

fashion design career

When you work, you’ll likely draw inspiration from the world around you, and Lucy is keen to stress the many benefits of being a fashion designer too. “The most exciting element is the travel. I love going to new cities to find inspiration and see what trends are out there; it helps the creative process. The best thing about my job is seeing my designs in-store or on the high street and knowing that something I created is a top 10 seller.” 

It’s also worth keeping in mind that aspects of fashion design are not always as straightforward as they may seem. Designer John Monsalve says, “working with the fabrics and other textiles, you can come across many difficulties because the materials might be problematic, or perhaps the idea on paper is not that easy to bring into reality,” says designer John Monsalve. “Sometimes, it’s necessary to make compromises on your artistic vision to make sure you can achieve your goal.” 

FASHION DESIGNER SALARy

Salaries for fashion designers can range from £18,000 - £100,000, depending on experience.

  • Fashion Design Assistant: £18,000 - £22,000
  • Junior Fashion Designer: £25,000
  • Senior Fashion Designer: £45,000
  • Creative Director: £70,000 - £100,000

HOW TO BECOME A FASHION DESIGNER

Qualifications

The best way to launch a successful fashion design career is to get the required qualifications when you leave school. 

Our Level 3 Fashion Design course takes two years and is the equivalent of three A-levels. 91% of our students at the Fashion Retail Academy go on to further education or a fashion role. Many of our students have gone on to study fashion design undergraduate degrees at prestigious universities like Central Saint Martins, London College of Fashion and Westminster. And when you study with us, you’ll benefit from personalised support from our amazing FRACareers service every step of the way!

What will I learn on the Level 3 Fashion Design course? 

The Level 3 Fashion Design course at the Fashion Retail Academy is unique; it’s developed alongside our industry partners to prepare you as thoroughly as possible for the “real world” of fashion design. You’ll also receive masterclasses from some of the most respected names in the industry, from well-known brands such as New Look, TKMaxx, and NET-A-PORTER.  

You'll learn skills including: 

  • Use of textiles 
  • Clothing construction 
  • Digital print 
  • CAD 
  • 2D and 3D problem-solving 
  • Textile manipulation 
  • Hand and machine-stitching 

If you’d like to find out more about the courses we offer at the Fashion Retail Academy and where they could take you, contact our Applicant Services team at info@fra.ac.uk  

Internships and Work Experience

Industry experience is crucial to securing a role in fashion design. When studying at the Fashion Retail Academy, we’ll teach you to develop a strong professional network that will support you throughout your career. You’ll also take part in projects and challenges set by brands, and receive personalised feedback on your work.

In your second year of study, we'll assign you a fashion industry mentor who'll advise and support you on your journey into industry or higher education. Your mentor will provide insight into working in a business, as well as help you plan your career path. Previous students have worked with mentors from New Look, Zara, Bestseller and Pritch

You will also have the opportunity to take part in our 48-Hour Challenges. These projects, set by our industry brand partners, help you develop your time management skills and the ability to work to tight deadlines. You’ll work in small groups to create solutions to a challenge currently faced by the industry within 48 hours. A Visiting Industry Expert will then evaluate your work, giving you valuable, personalised feedback and teaching you how the industry would react in similar circumstances.

If you have any more questions about any of the courses on offer at The Fashion Retail Academy, email us at info@fra.ac.uk - we’d love to hear from you!

Read our guide How To Get Started In The Fashion Industry for more information.

Think you’ve got what it takes to become a Fashion Designer? Start your career today and study Level 3 Fashion Design at the Fashion Retail Academy.

[First published: 18 October 2018]

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