Becoming a Fabric Designer: Pros and Cons
Fabric designers use their knowledge of textiles and patterns to create original designs for clothing, accessories, rugs and furnishings. Learn more about the pros and cons of working as a fabric designer to help you make your career decisions.
|Pros of Becoming a Fabric Designer|
|Above-average job growth for interior designers in specialized design firms (20% from 2012-2022)*|
|Highly creative and artistic work setting*|
|Little formal education needed for some jobs (e.g. fashion designer)*|
|Highly satisfying and rewarding career (designs may be showcased at fashion shows, trade shows, public spaces, etc.)*|
|Cons of Becoming a Fabric Designer|
|May need to relocate for work (most fashion designers work in New York and California as of 2012)*|
|Declining employment in the apparel manufacturing industry (51% decline from 2012-2022)*|
|Fierce competition for fashion designer jobs*|
|Can require working long hours to meet clients' deadlines*|
|Low worker retention in the fashion design field (nearly 50% of fashion designers leave the profession after five years)**|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **The Princeton Review.
Career Info for Fabric Designers
Job Description and Duties
Fabric designers produce original apparel and furnishings for fashion and interior decorating purposes. They may produce designs for clothes and clothing accessories, indoor and outdoor furniture, curtains, rugs and other decorative furnishings. They often produce sketches of their designs by hand and with computer software programs, like computer-aided design (CAD), to convey design concepts and show samples to clients and other designers.
Fabric designers often go to manufacturers and trade shows to view and collect new fabric samples. They may also take prototypes and final pieces directly to retailers to market and sell their work. Many fabric designers work directly with clients who want to redecorate their homes, offices and other interior spaces. In these cases, they may meet with clients at the beginning stages of the design process to determine their vision, requirements, budget and overall needs.
Fabric designers often work for manufacturers, textile merchants and wholesalers. Others might work directly for specialized design services or retailers, like furniture and home furnishing stores. Many seasoned professionals are self-employed, marketing their designs directly to vendors, retailers and other individual clients. Other experienced professionals establish their own companies, creating custom-made fabric designs.
Job prospects for fabric designers can vary according to their place of employment, experience level and overall reputation. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), fabric designers working in the fashion industry may experience a decline in employment between 2012 and 2022 (www.bls.gov), with no jobs expected to be added to the field. In addition, a decline in employment of 51% was expected for fashion designers in the apparel manufacturing industry from 2012-2022. However, the BLS anticipated average job growth at 13% for interior designers during the same 10-year period as more companies use furnishings and design concepts to bring office spaces more in line with their company image. Employment in specialized design firms was expected to increase as well for both fashion and interior designers. Those working in more affluent areas may experience the best job prospects.
The salary of fabric designers can also vary widely based on the industry in which they work and their overall experience level. According to the BLS, the median annual salary for fabric and apparel patternmakers was about $41,000, as of May 2014. The BLS stated that fashion designers earned a median annual salary of nearly $64,000, and the median annual salary for interior designers was about $48,000 as of May 2014. In addition, textile, apparel and furnishings workers earned a median annual wage close to $26,000.
Career Skills and Requirements
There are no specific education requirements for becoming a fabric designer. However, most fashion designers have some formal education, such as an associate's or bachelor's degree, to learn industry-specific skills. Additionally, interior designers typically hold bachelor's degrees in art or design fields. In addition, some states have licensing requirements to hold the title of interior designer, which typically involves passing a state-approved licensing exam, according to the BLS.
Fabric designers need to stay abreast of the latest fashion trends as they pertain to their area of specialty, whether in apparel, textiles or home furnishings. Among the most essential skills for aspiring fabric designers are:
- Strong creative vision
- A strong grasp of how colors, patterns and fabrics work together
- Business and marketing skills to sell their work
- Ability to communicate their vision to clients and colleagues
What Employers Are Looking for
While there are no strict education requirements to work as a fabric designer, many employers prefer to hire candidates with 2- or 4-year degrees in a relevant art or design field and with some industry experience. Since employers often make hiring decisions based on candidates' portfolios, you'll need a strong portfolio showcasing your best design work. To help give you an idea of the qualifications and skills employers often look for in fabric designers, below are examples of jobs that were open during May 2012:
- A company in Washington was hiring a designer for women's knits to create seasonal product lines. Qualifications included a fashion or apparel design degree or equivalent experience as well as presentation skills, knowledge of product development and managerial experience. They also wanted someone with knowledge of Adobe Illustrator and Web PDM.
- A company in Ohio was seeking a senior designer for denim and casual bottoms with at least seven years of experience in women's design and a relevant bachelor's degree. Additional qualifications included excellent managerial skills and knowledge of Microsoft Office and Adobe Illustrator programs.
- A Florida company advertised for an associate designer with a bachelor's degree in fashion design, two years of experience in the apparel design market and proficiency in Micrographix and Web PDM.
- An employer in Alabama was seeking a fabric manager of interior design with a background in interior design and strong project management skills to be in charge of contacting fabric vendors, selecting designs, assessing the success of selections and negotiating fabric prices, among other responsibilities.
- A Virginia-based retailer was hiring an in-home design consultant with demonstrated experience with fabrics, custom furniture and window coverings as well as strong sales and organizational skills. At least one year of relevant work experience, preferably in retail, was desired.
How Can I Stand out?
According to the BLS, fashion designers with formal education, strong portfolios and relevant work experience will likely enjoy the best job prospects. Since formal education is not mandatory for many careers related to fabric design, earning a bachelor's degree in textiles and design, fashion merchandising, fine arts or a related field can help demonstrate your skills and help you stand out against the competition. Consider attending a school that offers further specialization, such as in interior design and furnishings, textiles or apparel. School projects and internships can also be great ways to help build an impressive portfolio.
Since fabric designers must often market their designs to manufacturers, customers and potential clients, developing a business sense and confidence in your work are essential for long-term success. Consider taking additional courses in marketing, management and sales to better understand the business aspects of the design field.
The National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) offers a professional credential for those who have completed an interior design program, a period of supervised work experience and successfully passed a qualifying exam (www.ncidq.org). According to the BLS, some states that regulate the interior design profession may use the NCIDQ exam for licensure as well. In addition, you might consider earning specialty certification to develop expertise in a particular area of fabric design. For instance, the National Kitchen and Bath Association offers certifications at different experience levels (www.nkba.org).
Other Careers to Consider
Perhaps you're interested in design, but don't have a desire to work with fabrics in the apparel and fashion industry. In that case, if you have a creative flair with strong computer skills, you might consider becoming a graphic designer. These professionals help organizations and companies create unique and memorable identities by helping to design company logos, web pages and other images used for branding or advertising purposes. Graphic designers typically need bachelor's degrees in the field and strong portfolios to qualify for entry-level work.
The BLS reported that employment of graphic designers was expected to grow at an average rate of 13% between 2010 and 2020, though job prospects can vary by industry (jobs for those in computer systems design and related services were projected to grow by 61%). These workers earned a median annual wage near $44,000, as of May 2011.
Purchasing Manager or Buyer
On the other hand, if you'd like to work within the merchandising or retail industries but aren't sure design is for you, consider working as a buyer or purchasing manager. These jobs involve buying clothing and other types of goods for resale, negotiating contracts for organizations, attending trade shows and writing policies with suppliers. Many employers do not require any formal education for employment; however, a bachelor's degree and business courses can be advantageous. Managers may need master's degrees for advancement as well.
The BLS expected jobs for purchasing managers, buyers and purchasing agents to grow slower than average at seven percent between 2010 and 2020. However, they tend to have higher earnings potential. As of May 2011, the median annual salary for wholesale and retail buyers was roughly $51,000, and for purchasing managers it was about $97,000, according to the BLS.
Sewer or Tailor
If you enjoy working with your hands to create and modify garments and textiles, then a career as a sewer or tailor might be better suited for you. Sewers and tailors often work with designers to produce finished pieces of clothing, rugs, quilts and similar textiles. They may take orders from customers to create custom-made clothing as well. Like fabric designers, there is no formal education requirement to work as a sewer or tailor, and many of these workers learn on the job or through apprenticeships. The BLS reported little to no change in job growth for these workers over the 2010-2020 period. The median annual salary for tailors, dressmakers and custom sewers was about $26,000 as of May 2011.