For those who've always dreamed of hitting the runway with their imagined collection, fashion design is an exciting career path that launches you into the world of creativity and innovation.
Whether you're looking to get started in your career in fashion design after having graduated from a program or you're interested in learning more about the industry on your own, we've got the rundown of everything to help you get started—from the skills you’ll need to get hired to building an impressive portfolio to showcase your best work.
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Fashion design is the art of applying visual design, aesthetics, and garment fabrication for clothing, footwear, and accessories.
The formal emergence of fashion design is believed to have started in the 19th century with Charles Frederick Worth, who is considered the first designer to attach a sewn label to his garments, starting the tradition of fashion houses and clothing brands.
From an economics standpoint, the global fashion design industry is a 1.5 trillion dollar industry expected to grow to about 2.5 trillion dollars by 2025, according to Statistica.
We wear clothing as a means to protect ourselves from the environment, for comfort, modestly, and for artistic expression. Fashion isn't only a luxury—It's a necessity that serves a function.
With the ever-growing concerns about climate change and the global clothing market's impact on our environment, fashion designers are met with the responsibility of solving yet another problem about sustainability and improving practices within the fashion industry.
If you're wondering, "can you be a fashion designer without a degree?" the short answer is yes.
A degree in fashion design isn't a requirement, but having one is a huge advantage because these fashion programs teach you the technical skills, history of art in fashion, and can arrange internships that can help you get your foot in the door.
Legendary designers including Coco Chanel, Cristóbal Balenciaga, and Jean-Paul Gautier never went to fashion design school, but that didn't stop them from creating iconic fashion houses.
Fashion design school helps you understand the industry, provides you with the skillset such as pattern making, sewing, learning how to spot trends, and business and marketing that will serve you well when navigating the industry.
Many fashion designers hold a bachelor's degree in fashion, either in creative design or merchandising, which is more marketing-oriented.
When you go through an accredited program, you'll be encouraged to develop a portfolio that can increase your chances of getting hired after you graduate. While it's not impossible to create a career in fashion without going through a program, savvy business sense and a tremendous amount of your sweat equity to pull it all together are musts.
There is so much more to becoming a fashion designer than having a love of clothing and accessories and the glamour that comes with it.
Whether you're looking to self-teach or are curious about what you'll get out of a fashion design program, here's an overview of some of the skills you'll need to become a successful designer.
Fashion designers work on conceptualizing before cutting into fabric. Fashion trends often start out as drawings and illustrations. For many artists, fashion illustration is what got them into fashion design.
If construction isn't your strong suit, knowing how to effectively communicate your ideas for your designs through sketches will help you bring your concepts to life working with pattern makers.
Although most sketch designs start with pencil and paper, working with your illustrations digitally is more sustainable because it uses less paper, saves time, allows for more creative flexibility, and it's easier to share your work with others.
Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator are the most common software tools used to digitize your fashion illustrations. This practice is quite new in the industry, and more institutions offer classes on these programs, but you can also learn them on your own through paid online courses and free YouTube tutorials. Knowing how to use Photoshop and Illustrator for your design rendering may give you a leg up in your career in fashion design.
Construction is the foundation of fashion design. It's how you'll take your ideas for a garment from sketches and turn them into a wearable and functional piece of clothing.
Sewing, pattern making, and the art of draping fabrics is a central curriculum at fashion design school, but you can also learn these skills outside of an institution. You can take sewing classes, learn from YouTube, and other online courses at your own pace.
You can learn so much by studying the evolution of fashion design and haute couture. The fashion trends you see today are inspired by looks from the past. Learning from master fashion designers and past trends can help you draw up inspiration for your work.
Open up those coffee-table design books, watch documentaries, tune into fashion week, and read the biographies of your favorite design icons. As someone who is genuinely passionate about a career in fashion design, this is likely an easy skill for you to develop.
Knowing which textiles to use to bring your sketch designs to life is a skill set you'll develop with experience in the design process as you work closely with fabrics and draping.
Learning which material to work with and how they drape on the body is an important factor to consider when designing a garment.
Most clothing is created for the mass market. Marketing and merchandising are developed strongly in fashion design programs, but you can learn them as you make your way through the industry.
Merchandising manages the flow of commodities (garments and accessories) to retailers, while marketing primarily focuses on the overall branding and advertising to target consumers.
The fashion industry is one of the largest global industries, which means there's also a wide range of salaries for fashion designers.
Freshly graduated students or those new to the industry may start in an internship position. If you're lucky, you can find an internship in a paid role. Either way, it's an excellent way to get your foot in the industry and navigate the different sectors in fashion to see where you enjoy working the most.
According to Indeed, the salary range for the lowest and highest 10% of fashion designers is $32,320 to $130,900 per year. These average salaries can vary depending on your location. Most companies hiring fashion designers in the U.S. are in Califonia and New York.
When you're applying for work as a fashion designer, you'll be asked to present a portfolio. This gives the hiring manager or prospecting client an idea for your style and the results you can produce for them.
Traditionally, you'd present a hard-copy portfolio in your interviews. Today, portfolio websites are becoming more common as they're easier to share, update, and provide you with more opportunities to sell and market yourself as a creative professional.
Going to school for fashion design gives you a huge advantage as you're guided through projects that you can add to your portfolio once you've graduated.
But just because you didn't go to fashion design school doesn't mean you can't put together a portfolio. You can put together mood boards, fashion illustrations, or if you've made clothes, put together a professional photoshoot.
Here are some tips for getting started on building a portfolio website for a career in fashion design.
A portfolio is about putting your best face forward, not about your entire journey in fashion design.
Consider the type of work you're looking for and cater your portfolio to speak to the brands you're applying to. Only share relevant work that you think the hiring manager would be interested in or create new pieces specifically for that role.
Make your portfolio more interesting to viewers by sharing your ideation process for the design. While the finished product might be stellar, it's no secret that the fashion industry is notorious for stolen ideas.
Adding context to how you came up with the design, perspective, and originality could help you stand out amongst other applicants.
An About page tells prospecting brands your story related to the fashion industry. Try not to make it too much about you—keep it concise and relevant.
You can share how you got into the industry, your experience, and where you envision your career. This gives visitors to your portfolio a better sense of what it would be like to work with you.
How can your website visitors get in contact with you about your work? Don’t forget to add a section or, better yet, a page on your portfolio on how a brand can get in touch.
We recommend creating a built-in form to make it easy for visitors to reach out to you directly on the website.
If you're looking to get started creating a professional creative portfolio as a fashion designer, Format members have access to over 70 website themes that allow you to drag, drop, and customize your portfolio to make it completely your own.
Not only is Format a user-friendly interface for those who have no experience with website design, but it also has built-in tools that help you sell products directly on your site, allowing you to create another income stream.
Unlike physical portfolios, a website portfolio can become a powerful marketing tool. Make sure you take advantage of Format's search engine optimization tools that will help drive organic traffic to your website and get your work out in front of more people.
For more advice like this on marketing yourself as a creative entrepreneur, be sure to check out our other Format articles and build a website on a free trial today.
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