Becoming a Clothing Designer: Salary Info & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of a career as a clothing designer? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming a clothing designer is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Clothing Designer Career

Clothing designers create new designs for different types of clothing and create apparel for women, men and children. While becoming a fashion designer may be a solid option, it's important to understand what to expect to make an informed decision about your career options.

PROS of a Clothing Designer Career
Glamorous career*
Options for freelance and contract work*
Good earning potential with experience (up to $45 per hour in 2015)**
Travel opportunities for trade and fashion shows*
Opportunities for creative and artistic expression*

CONS of a Clothing Designer Career
Potential for irregular hours, including evening and weekends*
Pressure to complete designs and meet client expectations*
Low starting wages (2015 hourly wages ranged from $11.08-$44.87 per hour)**
Fierce competition for jobs*
Jobs are in decline (-3 percent from 2012-2022)*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor of Labor Statistics, **

Essential Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Designing clothing is far more involved than just sketching ideas. Imagine researching fashion trends, drawing designs by hand, using computer software design programs and selecting key features such as fabrics, colors or styles. These are some of the tasks that need to be completed before creating samples and starting the process to get the clothing out on store shelves and racks. Each designer's involvement in the process varies depending on the company. Some designers are involved in the process from the beginning through the end. In large design companies, designers may choose to specialize in limited aspects of the design process, including research, choosing fabrics and colors or overseeing the technical team that creates the patterns and prototypes. According to the BLS, the entire design process takes anywhere from 18-24 months.

Clothing designers can work in a variety of areas or choose to specialize in casual clothing, intimates, formal attire, sportswear, maternity clothing or outerwear for men, women or children. Although computer software programs can make the design process easier, clothing designers must be able to sketch design ideas by hand. Work hours may vary, with considerable pressure to meet deadlines and client expectations.

Salary Information and Career Prospects

According to the BLS, the median annual salary for all clothing designers was $64,000 in 2014 ( This figure is significantly higher than the roughly $37,600-$96,000 salary range reported by for entry-level designers. Designers looking for higher-paying jobs may have some luck finding better-paying jobs in major cities, such as New York, NY or Los Angeles, California.

The higher-paying jobs will be the most sought after by competing designers. Although the BLS projected that jobs for fashion designers would experience negative growth from 2012-2022, competition to break into the fashion design industry will remain high due to the influx of designers drawn to the creativity and glamour of the fashion industry.

What Are the Requirements?

Since design software plays an increasing role in clothing design, designers need to be comfortable working with computers as well as having an eye for detail, an appreciation for beauty and the ability to sketch design ideas by hand. According to the BLS, employers prefer to hire designers with an associate's or bachelor's degree in fashion design. Degree programs teach students about sketching, fundamental fashion theories, sewing techniques, designing patterns and creating collections. Many schools also offer students with specializations, providing concentrations in areas such as sportswear, children's wear or formal wear.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Having artistic ability and the vision to create new designs is crucial for a successful design career. You also want to make sure that you have strong presentation, teamwork and communication skills since these are fundamental to building a cohesive team and successfully pitching ideas to clients. Below are some examples of real job postings open in late February and March 2012:

  • A national corporate retail chain looked for a senior-level women's fashion designer to develop private label designs, forge strong working relationships with buyers and negotiate and manage any in-house freelance design services. The designer was also charged with making sure the team is meeting deadlines and traveling to research trends and/or attend trade shows. The ideal candidate had a degree in fashion design and at least seven years of design experience.
  • A national retail company sought a designer with eight years of experience and a bachelor's degree. The designer's duties included creating designs, developing trend strategies, researching seasonal trends, presenting concepts to merchants and approving materials, colors and patterns used in designs.
  • A Florida-based fitness company desired a fashion designer to create clothing and accessories. The company looked for candidates with a bachelor's degree in fashion design, three or more years of experience, strong computer skills and experience using Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator and a familiarity with sewing techniques and fabrication.
  • An apparel company in New York sought a dress designer with experience in hand and computer-aided sketching. Duties included creating patterns, identifying emerging trends, designing dresses for commercial consumers, executing presentation boards and working with factories in the development and manufacture of dresses.

How to Stand Out in the Field

Fashion is a cut-throat industry, with many designers competing for jobs. Having a broad knowledge base may help you fit in with a great variety of niches. Consider adding some classes that are not related to fashion to give you value-added skills. For example, taking some basic business courses can offer a solid understanding of the financial and marketing aspects of design while making you savvy about sales. After all, selling clients on your design is a critical part of almost any design job.

Gain Experience

According to the BLS, while any fashion-related internship helps provide invaluable hands-on experience and may also give you material to put in your portfolio, you can get a significant edge by gaining experience in one of fashion's international hubs such as Paris, France, or Milan, Italy. Working at a fashion house or design company part-time while studying for a degree or during the summer can also give you experience that may give you an edge when entering the design world after graduation.

Represent your very best work and finest designs in your portfolio. In the end, whether you get the job may hinge on having the best portfolio.

Other Career Paths

Fine Artist

If you are passionate about expressing yourself artistically and fashion design doesn't sound like the ideal match for you, consider a career as a fine artist. Artists use methods such as painting, drawing or sculpting to communicate feeling and ideas. Fine artists usually specialize in art forms such as sketching, painting or illustrating and may have their work displayed in galleries or museums. While no formal education requirements exist, getting a bachelor's degree allows you to hone your existing skills while also developing new ones. According to the BLS, the median annual wage for fine artists was $45,000 in 2011.

Graphic Designer

Graphic designers, also called graphic artists, use creativity and computer graphics to design layouts or production designs for media, design logos for companies, develop signs for businesses or create material for websites. Employers prefer candidates with a bachelor's degree and familiarity with computer design software and graphics. Other important skills include problem-solving, strong communication skills and creativity.

Although graphic design is another competitive industry, job growth in the decade of 2010-2020 was projected to be 13%, significantly better than in the fashion design industry. The average annual salary was $44,000 in 2011.

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