- Study fashion trends and anticipate designs that will appeal to consumers
- Decide on a theme for a collection
- Sketch designs of clothing, footwear, and accessories
- Use computer-aided design programs (CAD) to create designs
- Visit manufacturers or trade shows to get fabric samples
- Select fabrics, embellishments, colors, or style for each garment or accessory
- Work with other designers or team members to create a prototype design
- Present design ideas to the creative director or showcase them in fashion or trade shows
- Market designs to clothing retailers or directly to consumers
- Oversee the final production of their designs
After they have an initial idea, fashion designers try out various fabrics and produce a prototype, often with less expensive material than will be used in the final product. They work with models to see how the design will look and adjust the designs as needed.
Although most designers first sketch their designs by hand, many now put their sketches online with computer-aided design (CAD) programs. CAD allows designers to see their work on virtual models. They can try out different colors, design, and shapes while making adjustments more easily than they can when working with real fabric on real people.
The designers produce samples with the actual materials that will be used in manufacturing. Samples that get good responses from editors or trade and fashion shows are then manufactured and sold to consumers.
Although the design process may vary by specialty, in general, it takes 6 months from initial design concept to final production, when either the spring or fall collection is released. Some companies may release new designs as frequently as every month, in addition to releases during the spring and fall.
The Internet and e-commerce allow fashion designers to offer their products outside of the traditional brick-and-mortar stores. Instead, they can ship directly to the consumer, without having to invest in a physical place to showcase their products lines.
Clothing designers create and help produce men’s, women’s, and children’s apparel, including casual wear, suits, sportswear, evening wear, outerwear, maternity, and intimate apparel.
Footwear designers create and help produce different styles of shoes and boots. As new materials become available, such as lightweight synthetic materials used in shoe soles, footwear designers produce new designs that combine comfort, form, and function.
Accessory designers design and produce items such as handbags, suitcases, belts, scarves, hats, hosiery, and eyewear.
Costume designers are responsible for designing costumes for the performing arts and for motion picture and television productions. They research the styles worn during the period in which the performance takes place, or they work with directors to select and create appropriate attire. They also must stay within the costume budget for the particular production.
Although postsecondary education is not required for fashion designers, many take classes or earn a 2-year or 4-year degree in a related field, such as fashion merchandising, that can improve their knowledge of textiles and fabrics.
For many artists, including fashion designers, developing a portfolio—a collection of design ideas that demonstrates their styles and abilities—is essential because employers rely heavily on a designer’s portfolio in deciding whether to hire the individual. For employers, it is an opportunity to gauge talent and creativity. Students studying fashion design often have opportunities to enter their designs in student or amateur contests, helping them to develop their portfolios.
The National Association of Schools of Art and Design accredits approximately 300 postsecondary institutions with programs in art and design, and many of these schools award degrees in fashion design. Many schools require students to have completed basic art and design courses before they enter a program. Applicants usually have to submit sketches and other examples of their artistic ability.
Fashion designers often gain their initial experience in the fashion industry through internships or by working as an assistant designer. Internships provide aspiring fashion designers an opportunity to experience the design process, building their knowledge of textiles, colors, and how the industry works.
Beginning fashion designers usually start out as patternmakers or sketching assistants to more experienced designers before advancing to higher level positions. Experienced designers may advance to chief designer, design department head, creative director, or another supervisory position in which they oversee certain fashion lines or brands by a company. Some experienced designers may start their own design company or sell their designs in their own retail stores. A few of the most successful designers work for high-fashion design houses that offer personalized design services to their clients.