What Is a Fashion Designer?
A fashion designer outlines, designs, and creates clothing garments. Fashion designers, however, don’t just make clothes. They often apply cultural attitudes, aesthetics, and inspirations to their designs. Designers also work in tandem with other individuals in the fashion business, like stylists, merchandisers, patternmakers, seamsters, costume designers, modeling agencies, design firms, magazine editors, and more.
The fashion industry is an international multi-billion dollar business with many sectors and career paths beyond traditional, prêt-à-porter design, including fashion merchandising, eyewear, outerwear, sportswear, accessory design, footwear, outerwear, handbags, and more.
What Does a Fashion Designer Do?
Fashion, like all art forms, is a product of self-expression. Fashion is more than just the clothing you wear, but the way it is worn and the visual story it tells.
Your job as a designer is to produce something other people will love wearing. The exploratory process of sketching, selecting fabrics, or revising your first muslin may spark a design idea for you, but inspiration may change as you cast models, decide on hair and makeup, or plan how to show your collection on the runway.
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What Skills Do You Need to Become a Fashion Designer?
Every individual possesses a unique set of skills. As a fashion designer, the skills below are essential to gaining success in the industry.
- 1. Artistic ability and creativity. The most important skill for a fashion designer or any artist is a natural talent. You want your art to be recognizable and distinguishable. Many fashion designers had careers as architects, graphic designers, or in other related fields before switching to fashion. Many artistic skills are innate and can’t be taught—however, formal classes and daily practice can help you enhance your skillset.
- 2. Communication skills. Any top fashion designer needs good communication skills to develop their brand. Throughout your career, you may have the opportunity to be a part of a design team or lead one of your own. When working with teams, bring your research and ideas to the table instead of waiting for direction. Listening is a large part of collaborating effectively. You aren’t building a collection alone. You have to hear what your teammates are saying in order to provide feedback and push your designs to evolve.
- 3. Sewing and drawing skills. Sewing is a fundamental skill for any fashion designer. Complete mastery of basic skills of fashion construction—such as navigating a sewing machine—isn’t necessary, but it would behoove any budding designer to develop an intimate knowledge of the craft involved in producing your designs. Knowing about different fabrics and the properties that make them unique will help you better select the right material for your garments.
- 4. Understanding of fabrics and materials. You can familiarize yourself with the various elements of garment design by touching fabrics, changing the tension of different stitches, and experimenting with embroidery. Take advantage of resources such as technical classes, online tutorials, and craft books that walk you step by step through the construction of a garment. Selecting fabric is an important part of expressing your ideas. Touch and feel the fabrics you intend to work with; making creative decisions based on only a swatch may limit your ability to understand movement and draping on a human body. Fashion degrees (or lack thereof). Many fashion schools and degree programs in the United States, like Parsons School of Design or Fashion Institute of Technology, have launched the careers of successful designers, like Marc Jacobs. These programs give you the tools and training to thrive in the business. However, you don’t need a bachelor’s degree in fashion design to become a top designer. Successful fashion designers without traditional design school degrees include Diane von Furstenberg, Karl Lagerfeld, Michael Kors, Jean Paul Gaultier, Alexander Wang, and Donna Karan.
6 Tips to Becoming a Fashion Designer
The career path to becoming a fashion designer doesn’t happen overnight. Though it can take years to break into the business, the following tips will help you get started.
- 1. Get inspired. Pull inspiration from things you are genuinely interested in: music, art, history, architecture, and especially people. With inspiration flowing, use mood boards to organize and edit your thoughts. Your boards can consist of a wide range of visual references, including editorial sources, street style, and photographs (even if they aren’t related to fashion). You can also compile fabrics, textures, colors, style references, and accessories.
- 2. Study fashion trends. While you don’t need a fashion degree to design clothes, it helps to have a fundamental knowledge of art, creation, and the fashion business to get you started as a clothing designer. Take sewing or pattern-making classes if you don’t know how to physically create garments, or take a drawing class if you’re unfamiliar with sketching or computer-aided design. Even classes in fashion history can contribute to your design inspiration. Familiarize yourself with the latest fashion trends by studying current fashion shows and magazines.
- 3. Start smart, not small. Your goal at the beginning of your career is to gain as much experience as you can. Ask questions, reach out to collaborators, and seek out mentors. Look for internships or entry-level positions to get closer to the products you want to create and the customers you hope to serve. If you surround yourself with people who share your excitement and drive, you will push each other to create better products. And most people want to be around others who are excited about what they’re doing.
- 4. Sketch your ideas. The first goal of a sketch is to begin visualizing the design in your head. The second goal of a sketch is to create a blueprint for the patternmaker to create your first muslin or prototype. These minimalistic, flat drawings will communicate the technical elements of your idea, including darts and seams, sleeve length, overall length, fit, shape, and more. You can indicate what fabrics might be used for each garment by attaching a swatch to the page. This gives the patternmaker an idea of the weight or stiffness the garment should have, and whether they are printed, patterned, or solid.
- 5. Hone your voice and signature style. You don’t have to stay within a particular style, as long as you make thoughtful creative decisions that aid your brand as a designer. All of your creative decisions in the design process—even the details—tell a story.
- 6. Build your collection. Creating a collection is not a linear journey. You can build a unified collection that presents a singular idea, or your collection can be composed of a variety of looks representing different ideas all connected by your design choices. These might be consistent proportions, colors, or even the lack of color. You can allow for eclecticism and diversity within the spirit of your collection. Focus your collection to display your point of view. If you choose to limit the colors in your collection, you ought to vary your silhouettes, and vice versa. You can ask your partners, peers, or friends to give their feedback on your designs and how the pieces all fit together.