- Starting salary
£18,000 + per year
Fashion designers design clothing and fashion ranges. As a fashion designer, you could work in high fashion or designer ready-to-wear fashion. You could also work in high street fashion. You would often specialise in particular types of clothing – for example in men’s, children’s or sportswear. If you love being creative and you are passionate about fashion, this job could be perfect for you.
To be a fashion designer, you will need to have a good eye for colour and shape. You’ll need skills like pattern cutting and sewing. You’ll also need to able to spot trends.
You will usually need a relevant degree to do this job. A course that teaches both design and technical skills will give you the knowledge you need to work in the industry.
Your work would normally involve:
- working to design instructions (known as a brief)
- analysing or predicting trends in fabrics, colours and shapes
- producing concept and mood boards (a collection of items to capture a mood, such as photos, fabric pieces and colour samples)
- developing basic shapes (‘blocks’) through patterns
- estimating costs for materials and manufacture
- finding suppliers
- supervising the making up of sample clothing items
- making in-house presentations, for example to finance departments and merchandisers.
You would often work closely with garment technologists and sample machinists. You could also liaise with manufacturers (often based overseas) to make sure that designs are reproduced accurately.
You would often work long hours and weekends in order to meet deadlines, for example at the launch of a new collection.
You would be based in a studio or workshop, but may travel to visit manufacturers (often overseas). You could also go on research visits, for example to art galleries, trade shows or to particular places or countries that are linked to a design theme.
Starting salaries can be between £18,000 and £22,000 a year. With experience and increased responsibility, earnings can rise to between £25,000 to £40,000. Senior designers can earn up to £60,000 a year or more.
Freelance designers may charge per design or per collection, and rates vary widely.
Figures are intended as a guideline only.
You will usually need a relevant higher education qualification, such as a foundation degree, HND or degree to be a fashion designer. A course that teaches both design and technical skills will give you the practical knowledge that you need to work in the industry.
It is important to do your research when choosing a course by reading industry literature and speaking to different course providers. You should check carefully what areas are covered over the length of a course and what kind of links the fashion department has with the industry.
A good starting point for research into training providers is the list of colleges who are members of the British Fashion Council. The Council recognises these institutions as offering high quality training in fashion.
- British Fashion Council – college members
You can search and apply for all fashion-related courses on the UCAS website. Entry requirements vary, so you should check with individual colleges and universities.
You will need to put together a portfolio of your work that you can take to course and job interviews. Your portfolio should include mood boards, designs and technical drawings. An employer or college may also ask you to take along actual garments that you have produced.
There is strong competition for jobs in this industry, so any contacts and work experience you have, for example through an internship, will help when looking for work.
Training and development
You will often start as a design assistant before working your way up to a full designer role. Practical job experience and a good track record are vital for progressing in this career.
You can develop your knowledge and skills throughout your career by doing short courses in particular aspects of the fashion business or by taking a postgraduate qualification.
You can gain professional recognition by joining an organisation like the Textile Institute or Chartered Society of Designers. Professional bodies like these also offer continuing professional development options, conferences, seminars and workshops. See their websites in the More information section.
Skills, interests and qualities
To become a fashion designer, you will need to have:
- a good eye for colour, texture and shape
- an understanding of the characteristics of fabrics and how they can be used
- technical skills such as pattern cutting and sewing
- the ability to spot and develop trends
- drawing skills
- the ability to use computer design packages
- an understanding of production processes
- the ability to solve problems
- commercial awareness
- the ability to work as part of a team.
Creative Skillset Careers
Tel: 08080 300 900 (England and Northern Ireland)
Tel: 0845 850 2502(Scotland)
Tel: 08000 121 815 (Wales)
21 Caledonian Road
Chartered Society of Designers (CSD)
1 Cedar Court
Royal Oak Yard
St James’s Buildings
Tel: 0161 237 1188
You will usually work for high street retailers or independent fashion houses. Once you have developed the skills you need to be a successful fashion designer, you can progress to positions such as senior designer, head of a department (for example head of women’s wear design) or design director.
Another option is to become a freelance designer, where you would work on a specific project for a company, or become self-employed and launch your own collection.
You may find the following websites useful for vacancies and general reading:
- FashionUnited (jobs and internships)
- Design Council
- Association of Suppliers to the British Clothing Industry (ASBCI) (directory of fashion companies)
Related industry information
The apparel industry is part of the fashion and textiles sector, represented by Creative Skillset, which also includes: apparel; textiles; and footwear and leather; advertising; animation; computer games; facilities; film; interactive media; photo imaging; publishing; radio; and television. The fashion and textiles sector as a whole employs an estimated 340,000 people across 79,000 enterprises, which are predominantly small and medium sized employers. The sector contributes around £10 billion to the UK economy each year, but due to the current economic downturn, product exports have fallen. However, employment in the sector has remained relatively stable level.
The apparel industry includes the manufacture of: knitwear; hosiery; apparel or clothing such as workwear, underwear and outerwear; plus the wholesale of clothing. Recent manufacturing output of the industry has declined, but productivity has risen where it has remained virtually static across the wider manufacturing sector. Clothing and footwear prices have fallen. Suppliers of niche and luxury brands, such as cashmere and premium fashion garments, are reportedly doing well.
- The industry contributes almost £4.8bn to the UK economy each year.
- Around 156,000 people are employed in the industry with around 20,000 of these using design skills as part of their work.
- There are around 35,000 businesses, of which around 23,000 are sole traders.
- There are around 2,000 design consultancies in the industry, employing around 4,000 people.
- The businesses in this industry tend to be small or medium-sized, employing 250 people or fewer.
Jobs in the industry range from:
- Operative level staff – sewing machinist, garment cutter, garment presser, knitting operative, knitwear linker
- Craftspeople and designer-makers – handcraft tailor, milliner, couturier
- Higher level, technical personnel – designer, garment technologist, sample technician, pattern cutter, pattern grader
- Production managers – production manager, technical managers, production co-ordinator, manufacture co-ordinator
National and regional data
The clothing industry is widely distributed across England, but with key clusters:
- clothing manufacture in Leicester, Nottingham, London
- knitwear in Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire
- wholesale of clothing in London, Manchester and Leeds
Across all regions it is estimated that there will be a substantial decline in the total level of employment in the industry to 2017.
East Midlands – There are around 17,000 people employed, making it the second most important region for apparel employment in England. Leicester has the largest industry workforce, followed by Erewash (Derbyshire) and Nottingham.
East of England – There are around 7,000 people employed within the industry in the region, who are mainly located in Luton, Fenland (Cambs), Basildon, Hertsmere and St Albans.
London – London is a key area for clothing manufacture and the wholesale of clothing in the apparel industry, with around 24,000 people employed, making it the largest region for apparel in the UK. Within this area, Westminster has the largest number of people employed in the apparel industry, followed by Tower Hamlets and Islington.
North East – There are around 4,000 people employed within the industry in the North East, which represents a small proportion of the total UK employment in this sector. Sunderland has the largest number of people employed, followed by County Durham. An estimated 1,000 recruits will be required in manufacturing positions to 2017 in the region.
North West – There are around 15,000 people employed within the industry, with the largest share located in Manchester. Stockport, Rochdale, East Cheshire and Blackburn are the other main centres in the region.
South East – There are around 5,000 people employed within the apparel industry in the region. Havant has the largest industry workforce in the region, with most of the remainder split fairly evenly between Milton Keynes, Chichester, Guildford and Southampton.
South West – There are around 6,000 people employed within the industry, who are mainly located in South Gloucestershire. Other key centres include Swindon, Cornwall, Bristol and Bath.
West Midlands – There are over 6,000 people employed within the industry. Birmingham has the largest number of people employed in the apparel industry followed by Sandwell.
Yorkshire and the Humber – There are over 10,000 people employed within the industry, making it one of the largest regions for apparel in the UK. Leeds has the largest number of people employed in the apparel industry then Kirklees and Bradford.
[N.B. Data derived from Annual Business Inquiry, 2007.]
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