FRA News

Should I Study Fashion Design or Fashion Retail?


1st November 2021

One of the most frequent questions we get asked by prospective students is whether they should study our Level 3 Fashion Design or Level 3 Fashion Retail course.

The courses have a lot of similarities! They are both fully funded for those aged 16 to 18 so if you’ve just finished your GCSEs, you won’t need to pay anything to study at the FRA.

Level 3 diplomas are equivalent to 3 A-Levels, and worth up to 168 UCAS points. If you successfully complete a Level 3 diploma with us, you’ll automatically qualify for a place on one of our accelerated undergraduate degrees! You could also choose to progress onto one of our Level 4 diplomas.

Level 3 Fashion Design

Our Level 3 Fashion Design diploma is a highly creative, practical course where you’ll learn the fundamentals of clothing creation. We’ll teach you the key skills you need to be a successful fashion designer, including fashion illustration, pattern cutting and garment construction. As part of your studies, you’ll create lots of practical work like sketchbooks and concept pieces, and have regular lessons in our dedicated Sewing Studios. It’s a challenging and inspiring course that prepares you for an exciting career in clothing, textile or pattern design, or creative direction.

As part of your studies, you’ll also be assigned an Industry Mentor. They’ll meet with you to discuss, advise and support you on your journey into industry or higher education. They’ll give you insight into the industry, and help you plan towards your career goals.

Next Steps

Many of our students progress into further education after finishing their Level 3 diploma, starting Level 4 diplomas or undergraduate degrees.

  • Lots of our students choose to stay at the FRA and study one of our accelerated, two-year degrees
  • Many of our graduates have also gone on to study at prestigious fashion universities like Central Saint Martins, London College of Fashion, and Westminster
  • You could also choose one of our Level 4 diplomas, such as Garment Technology

From Level 3 Fashion Design, you can also move straight into employment as a junior or assistant in a design, sample or production department. This wide-ranging course has many other career options too, including fashion journalism, pattern and textile design and creative direction.

Level 3 Fashion Retail

Whilst still a creative course, Level 3 Fashion Retail focuses on the business side of the fashion industry. Studying this diploma, you’ll explore the entire fashion retail environment, learning the business process from head office to shop floor. The course prepares you for a huge variety of fashion retail careers, including buying, merchandising, marketing, visual merchandising or retail operations. It’s also a great step to learning how to start your own successful fashion business!

As part of your studies, you’ll take part in our Industry Enterprise Initiative. In this exciting industry-set project, you’ll work in small groups, with each person in the team given a specific ‘job role’ like marketing, visual merchandising or buying. You’ll work together to solve a challenge faced by industry. This will help give you a clearer understanding of the roles available in a fashion brand, and you’ll get personalised feedback on your work from the Visiting Industry Expert who sets the project.

Next Steps

Many of our students progress into further education after finishing their Level 3 Fashion Retail:

From Level 3 Fashion Retail, you can also move straight into an industry role, such as stylist assistant, junior merchandiser or shop floor assistant. If you prefer, you could also start an apprenticeship with one of our partner brands!

Choosing a Level 3 Course

If you’re stuck choosing between Level 3 Fashion Design or Level 3 Fashion Retail, think about your future career plans, and your personal strengths and abilities.

If you absolutely loved your Art or Textiles GCSE, and enjoy creating sketchbooks full of practical work, then you’ll love studying Fashion Design! The course offers excellent progression onto a specialist Fashion Design undergraduate degree. Or you might choose to pursue a career in Garment Technology instead.

Fashion Retail is still a creative course, but you’ll be learning more about the business elements of the industry. If you’re good with numbers, you’d make a fantastic fashion merchandiser. If you’re always on top of the latest social media trends, you’d make an excellent fashion marketer! Throughout your course, you’ll discover the wide variety of career options available in fashion business.

If you’ve started studying for your Level 3 diploma, and decide you want to choose a different career from what you originally thought - don’t worry! Both our courses cover a wide range of skills and subjects within fashion. Level 3 Fashion Retail students have gone on to study Fashion Design degrees, and Fashion Design students have moved into buying, merchandising and marketing careers. If you don’t know what you’d like a career in, but know you love fashion, choose the course you think you’ll enjoy the most.

If you’re still not sure which course to choose, our friendly Applicant Services team would be happy to chat to you! You can reach them by email at

If you’d prefer to speak to us in person, you can visit the FRA on our Level 2 & 3 Open Days!

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