5 Career Options for Fashion Design Degree Holders

Society and parents in general tend to be wary towards encouraging people to work in Fashion for good reason. Firstly, they are right about the industry’s highly selective employment. They’re also right when they say that Fashion is “not what it seems” even though they probably have no idea what they really talking about. But before you decide to throw in the towel and take up accounting courses, or look for a no-brainer 9-5 job, here are a few fashion design careers to consider!

The Popular Path

A fashion designer’s job seems to be surrounded by the glitz and glamour of having your works appearing on glossy magazines and the season’s hottest celebrities. It’s a no-brainer that people want to be fashion designers just like how some covet to be millionaires. To take this career path, you need a strong design portfolio. Prior work experience in fashion will be an advantage. So this is where being an intern during your holidays pay off.

There are two kinds of Fashion Designers:

The In-house Designer:

You will work with a fashion company and design clothes according to their guidelines. The company will own the rights to your designs while you draw a monthly salary from them. Depending on the scale of the company, you may work alone or with a team. Be an in-house designer if you have plans to join the big wigs like Fendi, Gucci, Prada or Louis Vuitton.

The Freelancer:

Freelancers work for themselves and sell their designs to fashion houses, directly to shops or to manufacturers. After building a good name, you’ll probably start getting people commissioning you for design work. Freelance Designers have the flexibility of work hours and tend to command higher wages, but keep in mind that financial stability is at high risk. If you’re just starting out, it’s best to work as an in-house designer for some experience first before attempting a freelance career.

Other Possible Paths

Most people don’t study fashion design specifically to join these ranks, but if you found that designing isn’t your cup of tea somewhere through your course; these are jobs in the industry that you can consider:

Fashion Buyer:

You will be responsible for travelling around and buying suitable fashions for shops or departmental stores. Your knowledge in Fashion Design will help you to predict trends or identify quality, giving you an edge for this job.

Fashion Journalist:

You will write articles about fashion and source for newsworthy stories in your field. With in-depth fashion know-how and garment composition, you’ll make a perfect critic and can dish out fantastic fashion advice.

Wedding photography:

You will plan locations and carry out photoshoots with newly weds or bridal studios. By knowing the ins and outs of a fashion shoot, you can make a couple look awesome in their matrimony garb.


If you find yourself jobless long after you’ve graduated with your fashion design degree, all is not lost. It just means that your portfolio needs a revamp. Read up fashion magazines for inspiration and start sketching for a variety of genres. Employers judge designers by their portfolio because it’s the most accurate representation of the owner that no résumé, job experience or testimonial can replace. It portrays your education, experience and personal style. With the right attitude, the possibilities are endless! If the world is not providing you with any shortcuts, the best solution is to make one yourself.

Making a Fashion Designer Salary

Donna Karan, Christian Dior, Ralph Lauren – who knows how many millions these famous designers pocket yearly as a fashion designer salary? The average fashion designer, on the other hand, makes much less than this, more so for those in entry-level positions. But the good thing about the fashion industry is that it pays well, and there’s a lot of room for growth and a hefty pay raise for those who are really motivated.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the normal fashion designer salary range is very wide, with starting pay grades at around $32,500 per annum for the lowest ten percent and a whopping $130,890 annually for those in the highest ten percent. The median annual fashion designer salary is at $74,440 and the average annual salary is $64,530.

Factors Affecting Salaries

The fashion industry has a very broad scope, encompassing so many different fields globally. It even crosses boundaries to interact with other professions and industries. Because of this, there are quite a number of positions in the field, from seamstresses to fashion advertising executives. Position is of course the main factor affecting a fashion designer salary. The higher you rise, the more you get paid, and there are certain areas in fashion that pay more than others.

Educational background is another thing that employers consider when promoting people and wages. The more knowledge and skills you have, the more confident your employers will be in you and the more likely you are to rise in the ranks. Another thing to consider is the geographic location. There are more opportunities in the urban areas, especially in the known fashion capitals like New York, L.A., or Paris and you’ll have better chances of earning a higher fashion designer salary.

High-Paying Areas

According to research, the highest-paying areas in fashion are those that have to do with the film and television industries, wholesalers, footwear manufacturing, electronic market and durable goods. The highest employment levels were in piece goods, apparel merchant wholesalers, cut-and-sew apparel, notions, knitting mills and specialized design services.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has also forecast that between 2008 and 2018, there will be little change in the industry, as the high demand for fashion designers and other career opportunities continues to draw fierce competition. Clothing brands that mass-produce for the public are said to have the best chances for success. In the United States, the highest-paying states for fashion as of 2010 were New Hampshire, New York, Maine, Wisconsin and California. Meanwhile, New York, California, New Jersey, Ohio and Florida had the highest employment rates in the American fashion industry.

There are other related occupations that you might want to consider, such as interior design, jewelry, metal and precious stone workers, artists, photographers, writers and editors. Interior designers contribute by creating beautiful and safe office spaces and may even help during shows while those in the jewellery are in charge of producing accessories and other materials for clothing. If you really want a fashion designer salary, you’ll have to work your way up by using your skills and talents and find your niche in the industry.

Becoming a Fashion Designer

It seems like everyone is jumping on the designer bandwagon these days. And why not? The fashion industry is sexy – fashion shows, parties, celebrities, recognition, and even fame go along with a career in fashion.

Now herein lies the question: do you go to design school or go straight to starting a business? Not all fashion designers go the traditional route to design school, instead drawing on an entrepreneurial spirit, some “designers” turn their head for business into a thriving fashion enterprise.

Ralph Lauren is an example of a fashion designer who bypassed the sewing machine and headed straight for the marketplace. Which path you take depends on your personal motivation. If you love sewing and pattern making, the traditional route is going to bring the most satisfaction. If you love the fashion world but don’t have the patience for needle and thread, a career in the fast-paced and exciting fashion biz is still possible … read on.

So you want to go out on your own, what’s first?

You’ve always admired fashion designers and their ability to design trendy, unique and wearable fashions season after season, as if by magic. But it’s not magic; it’s a business. And to succeed in business, nobody is an island (meaning that everyone needs a little help to accomplish his or her dreams). And it’s not all glitz and glamour. Being a fashion designer means you have to actually run a business.

Before you print up those business cards, ask yourself if you’re prepared to roll up your sleeves and tackle the not-so fun aspects of fashion.

At first, running a fashion business could mean fulfilling orders yourself (i.e., packing boxes until the wee hours of the morning), steaming clothes repeatedly during fashion shows, and bookkeeping. You could spend only a small percentage of your time actually designing; instead you’re networking, schmoozing and negotiating with suppliers and vendors.

If you’re planning to take the direct-to-consumer path, you’ll have to create a website and maintain it (and most likely have to pay someone to handle these tasks), get a merchant account to process credit card transactions and manage charge back cycles. If you’re not interested in learning what these things mean, then you may decide to work for a large fashion house to learn the ropes.

But if you have the endurance and enough friends with skills or services you can trade for, you could go out on your own and succeed. Today is the age of entrepreneurship, why shouldn’t you get a piece of the pie?

The fashion biz: a reality check

Exciting industries are rife with competition-some that will fade away and others that will give you a run for your money. You have to compete against the big names out there and trendy emerging designers fresh out of the best design schools or veterans of big fashion houses-not to mention all the celebrities popping up with their own labels.

Running your own fashion biz may require you to reach out to suppliers and potential customers all over the world, which means you better be organized. Are you prepared to coordinate the procurement of raw materials like fabric, trim and hardware, so that your manufacturer gets what they need at the right time to deliver a finished product on deadline?

Think of yourself as a business person first and a fashion designer second. If your fashion business fails, you’re the one that suffers. Always keep the business aspect in the forefront of your mind. Some people find this prospect exhilarating, while others can’t think of anything more horrifying. Still interested in starting your own fashion business?

I’m not a designer, can I still work in the fashion industry?

Yes … and no. If you have the design vision, you can pay people to take your idea and turn it into a tangible pattern or design. This is sort of like what a creative director does. If this fits your situation, then you’d better have the business chops to get your business off the ground and you’d better have a solid Core Value Proposition.

What this means is that you must have a strong business proposal and offer a product that’s valuable and in demand. That doesn’t mean you have to sell high-end couture clothing to rich people. Clothiers H&M and Zara focus on fast ready-to-wear fashion at affordable pricepoints.

There is more than one path to becoming a fashion designer. You can learn to sew and go to design school to learn the ins-and-outs of the business. But not everyone learns to draw patterns and stitch together garments. The keys to succeeding in the fashion business are creativity, a good business sense and determination.

Stay tuned for more advice on becoming a fashion designer.