What Does A Fashion Designer Do

FASHION DESIGNERS create clothing and accessory designs. They may plan the production and marketing of their creations. Designers specialize in one type of garment or accessory such as men’s or women’s wear, children’s garments, swimwear, lingerie, handbags, or shoes. Some high-fashion Designers are self-employed and design for individual clients. They make fashion news by establishing the silhouette, colors, and kinds of materials that will be worn each season. Other self-employed, high-fashion Designers cater to specialty stores or high-fashion department stores. They design original garments as well as follow the established fashion trends. Designers who work for apparel manufacturers do less original work; they adapt fashions set by other Designers for the mass market.

Designers’ Assistants in apparel manufacturing are exposed to the fast pace of production schedules while performing routine aspects of the job. Assistant Designers acquire the knowledge of what creations will sell at a profit in an intended market, within a defined price range, at a particular time of the year. They learn the personality of firms, types of stores that buy the merchandise, and the age and tastes of the stores’ clientele.

Fashion Designers perform the following tasks:

  • Sketch their ideas.
  • Draw and cut patterns to create sample garments.
  • Select fabric and trimmings.
  • Combine basic dressmaking and tailoring principles with flat pattern work and draping techniques.
  • Fit and modify the finished garment.
  • Arrange showings for press and buyers when the sample garment line is ready.
  • Compare merchandise with those of the competitors.
  • Keep current on trends by reading trade magazines and attending fashion shows.
  • Visit textile showrooms to keep up to date on latest fabrics.

A large manufacturer generally has a Head Designer and several assistants. Many small firms do not employ Designers but purchase ready-made designs or copy higher-priced designs.

Head Designers are responsible for executive and creative functions. They supervise design room staff. Those with less experience may be responsible for small divisions or specialized garments.

Assistant Designers are generally all-around assistants to Designers. They make first patterns and samples or may supervise sample makers.

Specialty Designers work with other Designers to coordinate special lines of clothing, such as sweaters. They often arrange for styles to be made in foreign countries.

Theatrical Costume Designers create costumes for movies or theatrical productions, usually on a contract basis.


Fashion Designers frequently use the following skills, knowledge, and abilities:

  • Design – Knowledge of design techniques, principles, tools and instruments involved in the production and use of precision technical plans, blueprints, drawings, and models.
  • Idea Generation – Generating a number of different approaches to problems.
  • Active Learning – Working with new material or information to grasp its implications.
  • Operations Analysis – Analyzing needs and product requirements to create a design.
  • Originality – The ability to come up with unusual or clever ideas about a given topic or situation, or to develop creative ways to solve a problem.
  • Visioning – Developing an image of how a system should work under ideal conditions.
  • Coordination – Adjusting actions in relation to others’ actions.


The work environment for Designers varies. Some Designers work in quiet, spacious, well-lit, and well-ventilated areas. Others may work in small areas close to crowded workrooms. Designers work independently but spend much of their time coordinating their work with workroom personnel, buyers, sales personnel, firm members, patrons, and other artists. Designers may travel out of the country for showings, conferences, or shopping. They may work under pressure for long periods to meet deadlines and budget limitations. Many Designers are busy all year preparing styles for the following seasons. Others work intermittently and are laid off when a line is completed.

Union Membership

There are a number of professional organizations that Fashion Designers can join, such as Fashion Group International of Los Angeles, Inc. and the Costume Council, but there is, as of yet, little or no unionization of this occupation.


Earnings of Fashion Designers depend on ability, the size of the employing firm, and the kind of fashion designing involved. Well-trained applicants often begin as Design Room Assistants, an entry-level position that can lead to more responsible jobs in the fashion industry or they can enter the field as Assistant Designers. Highly skilled and well-known Designers may earn well over $100,000 annually. Incomes of self-employed and freelance Designers vary with their talent, business ability, reputation, and type of clientele. They may be guaranteed a percentage of the gross, or be paid on a unit or retainer basis. Such earnings can exceed those of salaried Designers.


Designers work a 40-hour week but may work considerable overtime during rush periods.


Benefits vary with employers. Designers often negotiate their salaries and benefits individually with employers. Some firms provide vacation and group health insurance plans.


Education and Training

Artistic talent is crucial in fashion design. People in this field need a good sense of line, color, form, a sense of balance and proportion, and an eye for detail. The work requires initiative, resolve, and the ability to organize. A portfolio of a Designer’s best work is sometimes more influential in finding a job than an extensive education. Formal training, however, is important for most Designers.

Graduation from a school or college that provides specialized training in fashion designing is recommended. In California, students may obtain a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science degree with a major in art and specialization in costume design at accredited colleges or universities.

Vocational schools offer two-year programs in the fundamentals of fashion design. Students in these schools may earn certificates or an Associate of Arts degree in the field. Some industry leaders feel that community colleges and vocational training schools provide better preparation than four-year institutions because they are more closely allied with the garmet industry.

Typically, vocational schools offer a two-tiered certificate program complementary to the Associate of Arts degree. A first-level certificate of proficiency is usually offered to those who want to enter the field quickly. This short certificate will prepare individuals to work as Design Room Assistants. These Assistants work in a design room where they have an opportunity to perform a variety of general functions. Common duties may include spec writing, cataloging fabrics and trims, and the updating of sample boards.

The second-level certificate of proficiency takes more time to complete, but upon completion applicants are more competitive for Assistant Designer positions. Assistant Designers often produce flat drawings of garments with detailed specifications for production. Knowledge of apparel construction and pattern is essential. Assistant Designers may be asked to create theme boards or fabric boards. They need the ability to work with color and design. Assistant Designers may also order fabric and trims and must have a solid understanding of fabric construction and behavior. Because they will be called on to do many jobs around the design room, they must be flexible and responsible. They need to be able to work as a member of a team as well as independently.

Courses in vocational schools usually include sketching, pattern making, draping and grading, garment construction, textiles and trimmings, costume history, principles of design and color; and how to plan, price, and promote seasonal lines. High school students interested in fashion design should take courses in sewing, art, mathematics, business, speech, and English.

Licensing and Certification

There are currently no licensing and certification requirements for Fashion Designers in California.

Continuing Education

A first level certificate from a vocational school can gain the job seeker entry into the fashion industry. Fashion industry employees may return to school to earn a second-level certificate or an Associate of Arts degree or attend a fine arts school to learn drawing or design on a more artistic level. The learning process often continues on the job rather than in the classroom.


Future Fashion Designers may find jobs through their training facility job placement offices. Experienced Designers locate jobs through other people in the industry, professional affiliations, or advertisements in trade journals or newspapers.


Beginning Designers often start as Assistant Designers, as trainees in design departments, or as pattern makers, pattern graders, or sketchers. Those who prove their ability are usually promoted to Designer status within two to four years. Promotion for most Designers is reflected in a salary increase or in a work assignment that involves greater responsibility. Others may become self-employed.