How to Become a Fashion Designer



If you want to become a fashion designer, you first need to determine if this career path is a good fit for your skills, interests and personality traits. If the following description sounds like you, then you’re probably well suited for it:


• You have artistic flair, an analytical mind, and good business sense

• You have a keen eye and killer instincts for trends

• You are self-motivated, enthusiastic and dedicated

• You are willing to work hard to build your business and promote your brand

• You are able to handle professional criticism, and rejection

• You have, or are willing to get, an education related to fashion merchandising or marketing

• You are willing to endure periods of limited income while building a portfolio, a client base or finding stable employment


Below we've outlined what you'll need to begin a career as a fashion designer. We've also included helpful occupational information, such as salary expectations, an outline of the skills you’ll need, educational requirements, a list of possible employer types, and much more!



Education Needed to Become a Fashion Designer

There is no formal standard set for the educational requirements of becoming a fashion designer; the amount and type of education you'll need typically depends on whether or not you will be self-employed. If you are not choosing to go that route, and are planning to work as an employee of an organization, the educational requirements of the job will depend on the discretion of the employer.


It is advisable, however, to seek formal post-secondary education in a field such as fashion design, fashion merchandising, human ecology, textiles and materials, or a closely related field.


The reasons for this recommendation are two-fold; first being that jobs in the fashion industry are extremely competitive, so if you are planning to get a job with a fashion house or clothing manufacturer you will need to have every advantage over the competition, and having a relevant degree on your resume might be the advantage you need.


The second reason being that fashion designers require working knowledge of textiles, the clothing manufacturing process, the history of fashion design, sketching, draping, pattern-making, sewing and seaming, finishes and fitting. A post-secondary education in one of the aforementioned fields is a great way to acquire knowledge in these areas.


If you plan to be self-employed as a fashion designer, you will also need an understanding of how to develop and sell a business plan to financial backers, as well as the skills required to operate a small business, such as finance, structuring, marketing and accounting. Pursuing coursework or seeking mentorship in these areas is a great way to ensure you have the proper knowledge base for growing your business.


It is possible to secure a job in fashion design without a formal education in a related field, although career development may take longer. Those without formal education may be hired in positions of lower responsibility, such as assistant to the pattern maker, sample maker, grader and dressmaker. With enough experience, you can eventually move on to assistant designer and designer.


Success Tip: Whether or not you pursue formal post-secondary education, taking short courses in areas such as computer aided design (CAD), pattern cutting, marketing or business administration can be very helpful for a career as a fashion designer.





More About This Career: What Exactly is a Fashion Designer?

Fashion designers create new styles of clothing, accessories and footwear, either for high fashion, high street fashion, or ready-to-wear fashion. The products they design may include garments, as well as belts, shoes, jewelry, gloves, hats and purses. Fashion designers may specialize in particular areas, such menswear, children’s clothing or sportswear. 



General Job Description

Fashion designers are responsible for all aspects of production for a clothing or accessory product, whether they execute these tasks themselves or delegate them to others. They create original designs for new products based on current (and future) trends. This involves envisioning a design and either sketching it by hand or using computer-aided design (CAD) software.


They are then responsible for executing or delegating and supervising all aspects of pattern preparation based on that design, which includes cutting, fitting and final production of the product.


If self-employed, fashion designers are also responsible for various business administration and marketing tasks to ensure the success of their business. These tasks include ensuring their brand gets adequate exposure, and properly managing expenditures related to design, development and distribution. 



Typical Job Duties

The job duties of a fashion design vary depending on whether or not they are self-employed, as well as the level of responsibility they have within their job. In general however, they are responsible for performing the following duties:


• Identifying the needs of the target market

• Keeping up to date with fashion trends

• Analyzing fashion history to forecast future trends

• Producing a flat pattern on paper to make a sample garment from a test fabric or material

• Making alterations to samples and patterns after live models have tried them on

• Choosing fabric swatches and making rough sketches of clothing or accessories

• Creating the final sample from the actual fabric that will be used in the final product

• Attending trade shows and fashion shows in order to sell products and/or source fabric

• Engaging with consumers on using social media

• Developing and maintaining their portfolio 



Who Employs Them?

Fashion designers have a variety of employment options within the realms of self-employment and working for others. The employment path they choose may depend on their personal preference or whether or not they find suitable opportunities with employers.


Some designers may choose to be self-employed and build an impressive portfolio before trying to get hired as a permanent employee of an organization, while others may choose to become employees first to gain industry experience and pursue self-employment afterwards.




Many fashion designers are self-employed, which may be in the form of working as a freelancer to design individual items for clients, or working out of their own home to handle the design, production and distribution of their own garments or accessories. Fashion designers that choose to make their own products may be sell them using a variety of different outlets, including:


• E-commerce stores

• Trade shows and farmer’s markets

• Small specialty stores

• Through their own retail stores

• Through retail stores owned by individuals, including specialty and consignment stores

• Franchise retail stores owned by large companies


Working for Others


Fashion designers may also work as in-house employees of large clothing design, manufacturing and distribution companies. They may also work for high-fashion houses (opportunities which typically only exist in large urban centres) or small specialty stores, or work on particular product lines such as uniforms, safety and protective apparel, or leisure wear.





What Personal Traits Are Needed?

In order to enjoy performing the duties inherent in this profession, you'll need to have certain personal traits. Taking enjoyment from your daily, weekly, and monthly duties as a fashion designer is important, as it helps you maintain a positive attitude towards your work, which can lead to having a long and successful career.


• Imagination and creative abilities

• A good sense of colour

• A capacity to work very long hours

• Able to handle professional criticism that may be delivered without tact

• Willing to keep up with industry changes, such as manufacturers’ processes and new materials

• Enjoy doing creative work that involves precision, such as when preparing patterns

• Enjoy advising customers and clients

• Willing to endure periods of limited financial success while building a portfolio, a client base or finding stable employment 


Success Tip: Although having these traits is important to enjoy your career as a fashion designer, it is also important to be willing to go outside of your comfort zone on occasion, as it is necessary for growth.



What Skills Are Needed?

To be effective as a fashion designer, and perform your job duties with competence, you'll need to posses a certain set of creative, technical, analytical, marketing and business management skills. These skills are usually acquired through schoolwork, practice, career experience and natural ability.


Creative Abilities


Creative abilities are the cornerstone of a fashion designer’s career. If you want to become a fashion designer, you need to ability to visualize unique and identifiable clothing items and ranges.


Technical Knowledge and Abilities


Without some technical knowledge and abilities, the creative abilities of an aspiring fashion designer won’t materialize. Fashion designers must use their technical abilities and knowledge to craft garments and accessories from fabric and other textiles.


To accomplish this, a fashion designer must first have a good understanding of the human form and the properties of various fabrics and textiles. They must also have a good understanding of the small and large-scale garment and accessory production process.


Fashion designers must be able to apply sketching skills to create a visual representation of their product idea, as well as plans and patterns for crafting that idea. These may be manual sketches, or sketches that are created by using computer-aided design (CAD) programs. Once a sketch of the product has been made, the fashion designer can prepare patterns. They will then need to apply cutting and sewing skills in to create the finished garment or accessory.


Analytical Abilities


To be successful as a fashion designer, you'll need to have an analytical mind. It takes more than simply dreaming up fun designs to succeed in this career; you will need to be able to spot trends, and apply an analysis of fashion history in order to forecast future trends. Fashion designers also need to be able to analyze consumer behaviour; you need to figure out what the consumer will actually buy, and where they go to get it.


Business Management Skills


Fashion designers must have business management skills; running a business takes more than the ability to create a great product, you must be able to sell that product and manage the revenue and costs associated with it. You must be able to carefully budget your initial business activities, because if you don’t your company will spend more than it earns and become insolvent very quickly.


Marketing Skills


Fashion designers must have marketing abilities and a high amount of personal initiative. Without marketing skills and initiative, you can have the best product in the world, and nobody will ever know about it or be able to buy it.


Fashion designers must know how to create their own brand, and a voice for that brand. Using social media to engage consumers, selling to local stores, creating a booth at farmer’s markets and trade fairs, and using celebrity product placement are all tactics that fashion designers should know how to employ in order to promote their brand.



Current Job Opportunities

Although jobs for fashion designers are rarely posted online, from time to time they will be. Have a look below to see if there’s anything listed in your area.




How Much Do Fashion Designers Earn?

The salary level of fashion designers can vary, typically depending on the following factors:


• Their level of education

• Their level of experience and aptitude

• The region in which they work

• The size and type of their employer, and whether or not they are self-employed


Fashion Designer Salary - Canada: According to the 2015 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey (the latest figures available), Albertans working as part of the Theatre, Fashion, Exhibit and Other Creative Designers occupational group earn an average wage of between $17.89 and $25.47 per hour. Unfortunately, no similar statistics were available from reliable sources for other Canadian provinces or territories at the time of writing (July 12, 2019).


Salary - United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for American workers in the Fashion Designers occupational group is $62,860. The lowest 10 percent of salaries in this group are below $34,110, and the top 10 percent are above $126,290 per year.



Similar Careers in Our Database

Listed below are careers in our database that are similar in nature to "fashion designer", as they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities.


Creative Director


Fabric Designer

Fashion Buyer

Interior Designer



References Cited

Please use the references below to find more information on the various aspects of a career as a fashion designer.


Occupations in Alberta:Fashion Designer.” (March 9, 2016). ALIS website - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved November 19, 2019.

Arts & Design:Fashion Designer.” (September 4, 2019). Occupational Outlook Handbook - United States Bureau of Labor Statistics website. Retrieved November 19, 2019.

Fashion Business Advice:How To Make It as a Fashion Designer.” Sunny Shum (October 14, 2010). Style Nine to Five website. Retrieved November 19, 2019.

Explore Careers:Fashion Designer.” (n.d.). National Careers Service website. Retrieved November 19, 2019.



Scholarships for Becoming a Fashion Designer

Scholarships in our system that are relevant to becoming a fashion designer, are those that are found on the following pages:


Clothing, Textiles and Material Culture Scholarships

Fine Arts Scholarships

Human Ecology Scholarships


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Applicable Majors

Studying one of the university majors listed below is an excellent starting point for getting started in this profession. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


Top Banner Image: