Do you want to be the next Calvin Klein, Vivienne Westwood or Marc Jacobs? Do you want to see the world’s most striking models wearing your clothes and strutting their stuff on the catwalk? Do you want to spend your time hobnobbing with the world’s fashion elite in New York, London, Paris and Milan? Well first of all, you need to find out what it takes to be a fashion designer.
Fashion designers design garments for men, women and children, including casual, semi-casual, formal and business attire. If you enter this profession, you might be designing everyday clothing or one-of-a-kind, impractical, haute couture outfits for fashion shows.
The concept of fashion design is not only limited to clothing; it also extends to complementary items such as footwear, belts, handbags and other accessories.
Some fashion designers work across the full spectrum of clothing, while others choose to specialise in specific categories, such as menswear, sportswear or formalwear. Essentially, fashion designers can be classified into three core groups:
1) Haute couture
2) High street fashion
3) Designer ready-to-wear fashion.
High street fashion designers focus their efforts on designing everyday clothing items and accessories. These tend to be designed by in-house fashion designers and manufactured in bulk, using different kinds of fabrics, colours and patterns.
If you work in this area of fashion design, you’ll most likely be working for clothing companies and high street clothing chains, under your own proprietary label, or under licence from an established, high-end designer.
Fashion designers employed in this area of the fashion world work closely with other professionals, such as buyers, merchandisers and technical personnel in conceptualising, planning and developing new styles or upgrading existing styles, based on popular trends and customer demand.
High-end designers of haute couture garments mainly design one-of-a-kind pieces that will be displayed on the catwalk at fashion shows and festivals. These creations are primarily used as promotional vehicles for the upcoming season and endorsement of new lines or brands. Since the focus is not on mass production, these designers spend much more time and care on their designs, tweaking the intricacies of the garment and making it as fantastic as possible.
Ready-to-wear fashion is all about clothing that’s produced in limited quantities by prominent designers, usually modelled by celebrities and sold in high-end, exclusive boutiques or standalone stores owned by the designers themselves. Again, these designers can take much more of a meticulous approach to their designs and really put their heart, soul and creative energy into each item of clothing.
Essentially, fashion designers use their artistic flair and expert knowledge of clothes, fabrics and fashion to produce original clothing designs. The design process starts with designers coming up with a concept and drawing initial sketches.
The designs are then tweaked and improved and technical specifications for the garments are defined, before different fabrics are chosen, cut, sewn, woven, stretched, pinned and transformed into actual clothes.
If the designs are going to be produced on a mass scale, the fashion designer will also oversee the production process.
Salary & benefits
Trainee fashion designers who are employed by companies such as Marks & Spencer, Debenhams and John Lewis earn annual salaries in the range of £18,000 to £25,000, while junior designers with up to five years of experience can expect salaries between £25,000 and £50,000. Senior designers, design managers and designers with more than five years of experience can earn up to £90,000 a year.
Typically, fashion designers with ten or more years of experience may opt to work independently or under exclusive arrangements with select brands, designing their own-label creations and selling them through branded stores, boutiques or even through online platforms. Annual earnings for this category of fashion designers range from £50,000 to £150,000, or more for designers of exclusive, custom-made clothing.
Your potential earnings will depend upon your experience and reputation. Word-of-mouth marketing and referrals from influential people and celebrity clients may boost your reputation so high that your earnings can rise to stratospheric amounts!
Fashion designers working on a salaried basis usually work between eight to ten hours on a daily basis in a standard five-day week.
However, extra hours are likely during seasonal peaks and when product launch deadlines need to be met.
Additionally, designers trying to establish themselves in the market need to spend a significant amount of time out of the office, networking, socialising and publicising their work.
The fashion industry is open to all individuals with imagination, creativity and a talent for design. However, a degree in fashion, design, fashion technology, textiles, fabric design or other related subjects would be highly preferable. This is due to the technical nature of fashion design work. Sewing skills are vital!
It’s also good for candidates to have a keen interest in fashion and a certain amount of commercial awareness. Basically, you need to eat, sleep and breathe fashion!
Training & progression
Training in the fashion world is all about gaining hands-on experience whilst on the job. To begin with, you may work under the supervision and guidance of an experienced professional. Some established designers take on a select number of interns or assistants who work with their mentors for a period of two or more years, before branching out on their own.
Large and established clothing companies may provide more structured training programmes, including rotations across different design functions and training sessions that teach people how to use specialist design software.
Career progression for self-employed fashion designers is mainly dependent on their experience, talent and portfolio, while progression for salaried fashion designers is based on the size of the company, organisational hierarchy, location and the individual’s experience and performance.
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