What does a fashion designer do?
Fashion designers conceive of and create clothes, either for designer labels or for the mass production clothing industry. A fashion designer might specialise in a particular area, such as leisurewear, beachwear, lingerie or wedding outfits. They may also design accessories, footwear, sportswear or millinery.
There are a number of different areas of fashion a designer could work in:
- Couture is a prestigious field in which a designer works on unique creations
- Ready-to-wear collections are often much sought after. They are sold in small numbers but often at a high price
- High street fashion is affordable clothing, often based on ready-to-wear collections
A designer might work as part of a fashion house. Alternatively they could work in an in-house design team employed by a retail chain. Self-employment is also a possibility, sending samples of their design to buyers, shops, agents or trade fairs.
Only a small minority of designers work for haute couture firms (which design one-off garments for individual customers) or produce their own collections. Most work as commercial designers for clothing manufacturers, producing designs for the mass market.
You’ll need to show:
- creativity, innovation and flair
- an eye for colour and a feel for fabrics and materials
- the ability to generate ideas and concepts, use your initiative and think outside the box
- design and visualisation skills, either by hand or through computer-aided design (CAD)
- technical skills, including pattern cutting and sewing
- garment technology skills and knowledge
- commercial awareness and business orientation
- self-promotion and confidence
- interpersonal, communication and networking skills
- the ability to negotiate and to influence others
- team working skills
- good organisation and time management.
Fashion design is a very competitive industry and you’ll typically need a degree, HND or foundation degree in a subject that combines both technical and design skills. Relevant subjects include:
- art and design
- fashion and fashion design
- fashion business
- fashion buying, marketing and communication
- garment technology
- graphic design
- textiles and textile design.
As you research courses, carefully look at the subjects covered, links the department has with the fashion industry and opportunities available for work placements, showcasing your work and building your portfolio.
Although you don’t need a postgraduate qualification, you may want to develop your skills in a particular area such as fashion design management, menswear or footwear.
If your degree is unrelated, you’ll need to get experience in the industry or a related area, such as fashion retail. You may want to consider taking a postgraduate qualification in fashion or textile design.
Entry without a degree is sometimes possible if you have a background in fashion or art and design, but you’ll need to get experience in the industry to develop your expertise.
You could do a college course, which will teach you some of the skills and knowledge you need to work in the fashion industry. Relevant subjects include:
- Level 2 Award in Fashion - Sampling Fashion Techniques
- Level 2 Diploma in Skills for the Fashion Industries
- Level 3 Extended Diploma in Fashion Design and Production
You may be able to do an advanced apprenticeship in fashion and textiles and work as an assistant in a design studio. You could then develop your design skills on the job. You’ll usually need:
- 5 GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C), including English and maths, for an advanced apprenticeship
Volunteering and experience
You’ll need to get as much work experience as you can, for example through an internship, as there’s strong competition for jobs in the fashion industry. It will help you get a better understanding of the role, and to meet people who may help you to find paid work later.
Other useful information
Phoebe English is an English fashion designer and head of her eponymous brand of women's wear and menswear, founded in 2011.
The brand is entirely made in England and pieces are created with close attention to detail and quality, rejecting mass made or ‘fast’ fashion. A bedrock sense of producer responsibility and sustainability underlies all decisions from design to business. All of the production is made in London, meaning the journey from sketch to garment is minimised to an approx. 10-15 mile radius and the entire business operates from one studio in South London.
Phoebe English trained at Central Saint Martins where she completed both a BA and MA in Fashion. On graduation, she was awarded the L’Oreal Professional Prize, Ungaro Bursary and Chloe Award. She has worked across a wide variety of disciplines and organisations and regularly guest lectures in leading Universities.