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Becoming a fashion designer requires creativity and artistic talent, but these qualifications alone aren't enough. Careers in this profession are highly competitive. Designers must be able to work effectively on a design team and must possess a wide array of technical knowledge, including a mastery of digital design. Prospective designers usually acquire the necessary know-how by completing a bachelor's degree in a related field. Practical experience through internships or part-time jobs is also essential to beginning a career in fashion design.
Apply to a Degree Program
Although two-year degrees are available, most designers complete a bachelor's degree in fashion design or a related major, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The National Association of Schools of Art and Design, which accredits institutions that specialize in training designers, provides program search tools on its website. The entrance requirements for design schools usually include a sketch portfolio and the prior completion of basic classes in art and design. The specific requirements depend on the particular program, but they typically include drawing, painting, sketching, graphic arts and computer graphics.
Complete Undergraduate Courses
Bachelor's degree programs in fashion design typically take four years and include classes in drawing and imaging, visual communication and fashion history. Other possible courses include textile science, math for designers, model drawing and the business of fashion. In addition, digital design classes teach the use of computer-aided design software, or CAD, and studio sections put theoretical knowledge into practice. For example, students may receive hands-on practice in pattern making and fabric draping in a technical studio class.
Develop a Portfolio
Because employers weigh samples of your work heavily in hiring decisions, fashion design schools require the preparation of a portfolio. Design programs typically incorporate multiple opportunities to improve the portfolio into the curriculum, such as studio classes and portfolio development sections. Showcase a broad range of skills by including both hand-made sketches and CAD designs. Also supplement your portfolio through other opportunities your school may make available, such as design contests from manufacturers or industry groups. For example, the Council of International Fashion Designers offers competitions on the design of women's wear, men's wear, jewelry and handbags.
Get Practical Experience
Learn fashion design first-hand and get fashion business experience through jobs or internships with manufacturers or designers. Either secure a formal internship through your school, or ask professors if they know of related work opportunities. Internships are often available with local clothing and accessory companies, but some campuses even arrange internships in distant states or abroad. The chance to add real-world designs to your portfolio could be a decisive advantage of internship experience.
Land Your First Job
Apply for a full-time job where you intern or work part-time. If nothing is available, ask supervisors and teachers for recommendations and leads on where to apply. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 3-percent decline in fashion designer jobs from 2012 to 2022, which means you may have to accept a lower position at first, such as assistant. Major fashion centers, such as California and New York, have the highest job availability. In any case, a bachelor's degree and an outstanding portfolio give you the best chances of finding work.
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- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook -- Fashion Designers
- The Princeton Review: Fashion Design
- The New School -- Parsons -- Fashion Design (BFA) Program
- Otis College of Art and Design: Fashion Design
- Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising: Fashion Design
- University of North Texas: Fashion Design
- National Association of Schools of Art and Design: FAQ 15
- Digital Dreamer: Helpful High School Courses for Graphic Design
- Miami Fashion Week: Competitions 2015
- Berc/iStock/Getty Images