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How do I Become a Fashion Designer?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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The world of fashion design is quite large — there is no single way to break in as a newcomer, though getting a formal design education and building up work experience in the field are two of the best things to do when you’re getting started. Most people begin the quest to become a fashion designer by working in lower-level positions at design firms, often as personal assistants or administrative help. These jobs will allow you to get your foot in the door and make the contacts you'll need to build up a name for yourself over time. It’s important to set your sights on being a designer early on, but it isn’t always possible to jump into this role without a lot of background experience. Planning and careful strategizing are essential.

Art School Education

Many people begin their fashion careers by getting a degree, or at least taking a few key courses, in clothing design and basic patterning. Actually making and designing garments is only a small part of most programs, though. In order to be successful in the “real world,” you’ll need to understand marketing — that is, how to sell your creations and drum up interest and demand — as well as more business-oriented skills like accounting and profits management. Most degree programs in fashion are broad enough to cover all the skills you’ll need to succeed, not just those you’ll need to get noticed.

Apprenticeship and Work Experience

In most places you can also break into the field by studying under an expert. This is particularly true of the major design houses in the couture fashion world. Top designers will sometimes hire apprentices to learn the tools of the trade in a direct, one-on-one way. This sort of set-up is usually designed to be somewhat long term, often with the understanding that the apprentice will one day work as full-time designer in his or her own right.

Direct apprenticeships are somewhat rare, as most designers only have the time and energy to train one person at a time. The positions are coveted, and as such they are often extremely competitive. If you are serious about working in the fashion world but aren’t able to find an apprenticeship, you may be able to at least get your foot in the door by looking for more menial work. A number of top designers began as receptionists, makeup artists, or photography assistants within fashion firms. This sort of experience will allow you to get a feel for the industry from the inside, and will also help you make the connections you’ll need to advance. When top designers know your name or can vouch for your work, moving up to jobs like junior designer or drafting assistant is often much easier. Having inside information about when these jobs are available can be really helpful, too.

The Importance of a Portfolio

One of the first things most employers will want to see as you’re applying for jobs is your portfolio. This is basically a sample of the sort of work you can do, and it serves as visual representation of your creativity and taste. The most compelling candidates usually have a range of different samples in their portfolios — there may be specifications for a ball gown alongside a business suit and a leisure outfit, for instance. Accessories like scarves, shoes, and sunglasses are usually also included. Your portfolio doesn’t have to be extensive, but it should provide a good snapshot of your interests and abilities.

Required Skills

The best fashion designers start with a vision for clothing, but success is often as much about business savvy as it is about creativity. In addition to designing outfits, you’ll also need to convince others that your ideas are worth making — and in many cases worth paying a lot of money for. Top fashion labels have the hardest time with this aspect, but even more mainstream clothing designers usually have to convince someone to take their ideas seriously, even if it’s just a boss or a regional buyer.

A good eye for detail is essential, and skill in sketching and drawing is usually helpful as well — though in many cases, artistic ability is not as pivotal as it once was. Many modern firms use computer programs and other technological tools to draft patterns and design specifications. Creativity and originality is more important than drawing skills in most cases, though working with computerized systems requires a skill set all its own.

Choosing fabrics and sourcing production in a way that maximizes profit is also part of the job, and networking and people skills are important, too. Outside of the studio, you’ll be expected to attend fashion shows and society events and interface with buyers, marketers, and members of the press. The earlier you’re able to master the skills needed to do these things well the better positioned you will be to succeed.

Different Work Settings

Many of the best-known fashion designers work for major international labels, but the field is much broader than this. Nearly every piece of clothing has been created by someone, though designers at mass-produced brands often have far less control — and get far less credit — than those working in the couture world. As you begin to put your career plans into action, it’s important to think about what sort of work you want to be doing. People who create sportswear usually take a different path in terms of their education and training than those who design jeans, business attire, or formal gowns. In many cases the work experience is somewhat interchangeable — you can often start in one sector, then transition to another — but having some idea of where you hope to end up can help get you started in the right direction.

Practical Adult Insights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Practical Adult Insights researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon953939 — On May 29, 2014

I'm 17 years old and from Algeria. I really love fashion and I want to be a fashion designer but I don't know how to start. I really need help to make that dream real.

By anon947763 — On Apr 27, 2014

I don't have a fashion designing degree but have some designs for traditional Indian outfits. Do they have any value?

By anon359596 — On Dec 19, 2013

I’m a 23 year old fashion design graduate from London and I hope I can give you guys some advice. I have studied at university for five years and in some ways it is great and others not so.

I always had a dream to be a fashion designer from a young age, but didn’t know how to go about it. I got as much work experience as possible when I was 13-18 at fashion magazines, photography studios, manufacturing studios, designer headquarters etc. This was great to get an overall perspective of the industry and helped to give me a lot more knowledge. I then went on to study womenswear design, pattern cutting and business management at the London College of Fashion and for me, it was just what I needed. It gave me the confidence to be able to take an idea from my head right through to manufacture and to sell it. I also found that my particular university was amazing for giving inside industry connections, internships and jobs.

All our lecturers have worked in the industry and we often got amazing opportunities simply by being a student there. However, in terms of actual skills, they didn’t teach us anything you couldn’t learn in a short course, under mentoring from an expert or from books. I do think, however, if you do your research properly and really find out what each university can offer you, it is totally worth it.

I am now completely happy and work in partnership with another graduate for our high end design label which is greatly recognized here in the UK and is worn by many celebrities, including the Duchess of Cambridge. My advice to anyone who is serious is to just let go and have fun! Try and get as much work experience as possible and be prepared for knock backs and harsh criticism. It is an incredibly tough industry but if you have passion and chase every opportunity, you will get your break.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help and don’t think you know it all because you certainly don’t. I’m still learning so many new things as I go on and that’s something only time and experience can cure. Good luck!

By anon332359 — On Apr 28, 2013

I am 13 years old and I was wondering if it was too early for me to pursue my dreams. I love fashion design and I am updated with the trends all the time. I would love to know how to become a fashion designer at this age. I haven't learned how to sew yet but, hopefully I will.

By anon312738 — On Jan 08, 2013

Just to let you all know, the producers of Project Runway are casting a new show called Threads, and they are looking for 10 to 16 year old aspiring fashion designers. It's produced by MysticArt Pictures. I hope this helps some of you younger designers!

By anon306691 — On Dec 01, 2012

I'm 14. Being a fashion designer is my dream, and I'm the type of person that when I have a dream, I'm going to try my hardest to succeed and live that dream, as fashion is a very important part of my life!

One day in the near future, I hope to be able to have my own fashion line and my own boutiques. However, I also understand that the fashion world is a very different world in be involved in; if you don't stand out, then you have no chance!

I would love to start this career early (like in school, etc.) as I find the people with the most experience succeed more.

By anon268097 — On May 12, 2012

I'm almost 15 and love fashion! It's like music. It's very important to me! I draw a lot and everyone says I'm too talented for my age. I'm young and nervous, but ready to enter the fashion industry the first chance I get!

By anon263773 — On Apr 25, 2012

I'm 13 years old and I make my own dresses. I've been wanting to be a fashion designer. So who can help me?

By anon262912 — On Apr 21, 2012

I have a really important question to ask you guys and any fashion designers who are reading this. How can I launch a clothing line if I don't know how to design or sew?

I only have experience as an entrepreneur, so in that case, do I just hire someone who know how to design? What if I want the clothes to be my name? I know it's impossible, but can you guys please give me some ideas and tips or any advice of how to start a clothing line.

By anon260812 — On Apr 12, 2012

I'm 12 years old and I have always been into arts and crafts. I started designing clothes a while back. I've got loads of plain sketch boots and two with already drawn models and faces. The most handy of them though, is where I design miniature clothes out of patterned paper.

At the moment I'm serious about it and I could be lucky enough to become famous because my dad works for Jaguar and has a lot of contacts. He also says he like my designs. The thing is, I'm quite good at coming up with new types of shoes and clothing, but wonder if I have to make more 'unique' things to get to be a popular fashion designer.

My skills aren't just on paper. They're also on the computer. I have previously made my own dress and love getting nice clothes! I play on a game called girlsense and it's really useful to see what people like and make stuff that sells!

By anon259400 — On Apr 06, 2012

I am working in a technical field, though I have been interested in fashion designing since my childhood. Now I am looking for any field where I could utilize my skill since I think I am good in it and it would be useless if I did not go ahead to do some more in it.

I want to send my design to any fashion house that could manufacture it. I would be happy to see this happen. Please let me know could it be possible. Please help me.

By anon240973 — On Jan 16, 2012

I'm 10, and my friend and I are great at designing and making clothes. Also, I'm really sad that I can't have a fashion job. I'm, sadly, too young.

By anon228287 — On Nov 08, 2011

So many 13 year olds! I am glad to know that I'm not alone. I am 13 as well and have been designing sketches since I was 9. Being online in games I learned a lot by myself about style and fashion, and how to be well known.

I am very determined to a designer as well as an artist. Designing and drawing are both my passions and I truly will give anything to fulfill my dream.

I still have lots to learn (including sewing) but I hope to see others who have posted on here one day! -- Serena K.

By Amal12 — On Apr 06, 2011

I am a 16 year old student who is presently taking GCSES. My ambition is to become a really high/top fashion designer. Currently I live in the UK but am hoping to move to America and get noticed.

Lots of people tell me I will never get noticed and I will never have a career as a fashion designer, but I am hoping to prove them wrong.

Right now, I am taking my GCSE for art and textiles, which is going great. In college I will be doing art and design. I draw a lot of pictures of clothes and hopefully one day they will be shown and worn around the world.

Please, if you're a professional designer or any kind of designer and your reading this, please make a child's dream come true for once and take me as an intern to start with.

Not everyone is perfect. If you think am not good enough then I will take that as advice and a good experience and improve in the future. Surely you wouldn't want someone to be dreaming without knowing there is hope. If you see this and ignore it then I truly believe that you're arrogant and doesn't think about others and their feelings but only yourself. Imagine it was you in this position. All I want to do is provide for my family and wish for them to have a great life.

Thank you and I hope you reply as it would mean so much to me.

By anon165442 — On Apr 05, 2011

Becoming a good fashion designer is not an easy thing. It requires lots of creativity and dedication and knowledge of fashion.

By anon164446 — On Mar 31, 2011

I'm 14 but i have been sketching clothes for a long time now. right now i need tips to help me.

By anon161553 — On Mar 20, 2011

I'm 12 and I've been dreaming of being a fashion designer. I have been sketching some few clothes and people seem to be interested. I normally dress my sis sometimes and that's what made her have her first kiss.

By anon160348 — On Mar 15, 2011

I'm 12 years old and have a passion for fashion designing.

It's my hobby. It's what i do, and it's what makes me, me. I had lots of designs stuck up in my head and i always put them on paper.

I got my first proper sketchbook on my birthday! It's a Hockey Croquis Fashion Flat Sketch Book. It inspired me even more than i already am (i can be inspired easily).

I know you might think, oh but you're only 12 but i'm so certain i want to be a designer when I'm older. I think i already know what i want to take for my GCSE: textiles, art and design!

By anon159787 — On Mar 13, 2011

i am 13. i love to create. i love to design and i love to sew. i love the industry but i live in a tiny community, in a province that everyone forgets about. i love fashion and have been designing forever. it's my passion. people love my pieces, but i don't know what to do until i can move to the city ad start actually working. so i guess i just have to wait five years before anything can come of it. Plus, fashion week and all the other big shows are strictly 19-plus.

By anon151078 — On Feb 09, 2011

i am 12 i am dreaming on becoming a fashion designer for basically all my life. when i turn 20 i will try to become one so i am preparing myself for very hard tasks and i learned you just need to breathe and relax and then you can get all of the stress out of you. if you want to become a fashion designer go one the website how to become a fashion designer. i really hope to be a fashion designer some day.

By anon150615 — On Feb 08, 2011

i am thirteen also and love to draw i think being a fashion designer would be cool, but do you think there is a job for someone who designs animal clothing?

By anon147456 — On Jan 29, 2011

I am 13 years old and i want to become a fashion designer with a passion. i know it's not all fun and games and it's definitely not the easiest thing in the world. But I'm willing to make sacrifices to fulfill my dream.

My room is stacked with sketch books with my designs, many different language books to design into the clothing i create, and on my walls there are pictures of my sketches just covering the pasty color with colorful clothing.

I have to say my stereotype is very unique, it's really non-existent. I'm not exactly preppy but I'm not goth or emo or any of the sort. I try to make my designs to connect with girls and boys who feel the same way I do, who don't fit in with a certain group and/or stereotype; but who are just simply unique. I have such a desire to learn and I want my work to be noticed and to be seen down the fashion line and the catwalk.

By anon146275 — On Jan 25, 2011

Well, I can see that lots of people want to be a Fashion Designer. I am 13 and I really believe that I want to be a fashion Designer. Most people actually only imagine the fun things about fashion design. They imagine themselves as the next Coco Chanel or Ralph Lauren. It's not that easy.

I've been drawing since I was 3 -- since I could hold a pencil. But I believe fashion designing is something you are born with. Most people don't want to believe the truth. And this is the truth: not everyone is going to make it. It's hard. I really want to become a famous fashion designer. So to those who just "want" to have a career, it's not easy, and if you are not going to stick with it, then please don't consider yourself a professional. I'm not saying I am, but I think for me, wanting to be a fashion designer for 10 years is enough to show myself I might have a chance to make it. Please give me some advice. -Ranini P.

By anon146177 — On Jan 25, 2011

I am 13 and I seriously want to be a fashion designer. I designed clothes all through study hall in sixth grade, and I showed them to my friends, and they think they're great. I've designed clothes for my American Girl Doll, but they were all hand-sewn (by me!). I can't get a sewing machine, or a dress form, or books. What do I do? I am not giving up!

By anon139759 — On Jan 05, 2011

I am 13. i love to design clothes and i want to see my designs on the runway, but I'm too young. how do i get noticed? i want my own fashion line. I have a sketchbook with all my designs and ideas.

By Americanstm — On Jan 04, 2011

What is all of this I hear that you girls/guys are too young? You are not. If you can read, you can become a designer. I have listed tons of books above. Get to reading. If you don't know something, ask your parents or siblings. They will be more than happy to explain something to you.

I was doing fashion for as long as I can remember. I had sewing machines at eight. You are never too young to start. That is actually an advantage. Some people wait too long to know what it is that they really want to do.

Also, you should be learning foreign languages, too, like Spanish, Italian, French and German. Study now so that you can have these on your resume at 18.

By Americanstm — On Jan 04, 2011

I am a fashion designer, and I can say going to fashion college was a complete waste of time and money. If you want to be a fashion designer, take courses or try to find basic sewing classes online. You can go to some of the colleges and just take a course. You do better teaching yourself, as sewing and draping is more of a learned skill and one you really do not perfect in school.

If you are going to college, don't major in fashion design or marketing/merchandising. Everything you learn in college you can learn from a fashion book. Instead, major in something you can use in your business, like finance and accounting, graphic design or business law. Use that and incorporate your major in your business.

I spent four years in college and wasn't taught how to launch my own clothing line or how to design. I learned a few tips but I could’ve learned those had I just known which books to buy. If you do not know how to draw, it's OK. These are two books you will need. Don't go to college for fashion, as it is more of a trade skill. Instead, save your money and buy a dress form or two industrial sewing machines or a home sewing machine. Also get Photoshop and Illustrator and do tons and tons of research online. Youtube is here for a reason, people.

There are tons of free resources to help you learn how to sew and draw. You will need to learn CAD. (adobe photoshop and illustrator) You can teach yourself or find a class for like $300, as opposed to $3000+ in college. To be a great designer takes time and skill -- not necessarily a bachelors degree.

If you want to work in the industry, make sure you know your stuff. Perfect your skill by practice and research and you will get the job over someone who has gone to college. Oh. The books are "Patternmaking for Fashion Design" by Helen Joseph Armstrong and "The Art of Fashion Draping" by Connie Amaden Crawford. These books are expensive but well worth it. If you go to college you will have to get them anyway.

Other books you should have are: "Fashion Illustration" by Kathryn Hagen. Here is a three-course guidebook that is a must have if you want to own your own clothing line. 1) "Startingaclothingline.com: The official step by step guide to owning a clothing line," 2) "The Reality of Owning & Operating your own clothing line," 3) "How to effectively sell your clothing line to retailers." Just research whatever it is that you do not know. There are tons of books on ebay and amazon. Check out Fairchild books for all the industry literature and textbooks used in fashion colleges. Hope this helps.

Note: That without student loans you can utilize that money to take out a loan to launch your collection. Wishing you all the best on your dreams and endeavors. To learn CAD, the book you need is "Adobe Photoshop CS5 Classroom in a book," and also "Adobe Illustrator CS5 Classroom in a Book." To tie it into fashion look up "Fashion Designer’s Handbook for Adobe Illustrator" by Marianne Centner. I would be here all day trying to teach you fashion. Also see "Fabric Science & Textiles" by Kadolph. Note that with textiles you will not be learning how to tell one fabric from another (that’s impossible) but you will be learning the different characteristics of each fabric. Meaning, you may go in the store and see a fabric without a label and still have to ask what it is. When the clerk tells you it’s denim or velvet you will know the characteristics and how to care for it. So you will know what will work for an outfit and what will not.

For instance, you will not want to mix a fabric that is dry clean only with a fabric that you can throw in the dryer. So even after learning textiles, you will not know textiles but the characteristics of each, such as whether they are flammable, etc.

Buy a fashion book, or better yet, just go look at a few fashion books in Barnes & Noble or at amazon and write down the contents. Here you will find subjects that you need to research.

Sorry for the grammatical errors- typing fast as well as the screen wasn’t displaying correctly.

By anon136414 — On Dec 22, 2010

I'm 12 years old and want to get into the fashion label. I'm deadly serious and everyone that i have shown my designs to said that they are amazing -- even strangers said that.

How do i get noticed? I'm young but i know all about pattern cutting, sewing machines, organising catwalks and collecting different colours and materials in my sketchbook.

I'm not like everyone else because i worked hard and researched for a year, unlike others who think it's easy and all that when they have no idea that it's not just about drawing the clothes. You need innovation and skill.

Please how do i get noticed? Please.

By anon130037 — On Nov 26, 2010

I'm 13. i love to design. i've always wanted to become a fashion designer but I'm just too young. Even though I'm young, I'm going to continue designing.

By anon104996 — On Aug 18, 2010

i am only 13, and i really want to be a fashion designer.

i think it's amazing how fashion is made and how it is expressed. i also want to be a model and model my own clothes. i just don't know how to get into the business of fashion designing. help?

By anon101759 — On Aug 05, 2010

well, i'm not so young as others, but i've design from years ago when i was young. then today, i don't how to sew, but yes i have creativity and innovation, but i don't know. how can i start it as a profession.

By anon99316 — On Jul 26, 2010

i'm 12 and have always loved fashion for so many reasons. i have a sketchbook full of ideas. how do i try get in the fashion area when i'm older?

thank you.

By anon93998 — On Jul 06, 2010

i have been designing clothes since i was ten years, but i followed my parents advice and read science and now i have a masters degree in Statistical Modeling and Project management. i now want to be a fashion designer. is it too late?

By anon72298 — On Mar 22, 2010

i am very young. I am nine and will be ten in 12 days, but I'm so much like my nan and she loves to make clothes but she thinks I'm too young to use the sewing machine. But i still love sewing. i want to start my own fashion line called... well, I'm not too sure, but i have big hopes.

By anon67686 — On Feb 26, 2010

I have several friends going to Marangoni and Parsons. However, I wanted to be the exception. When I moved to China, I came across IFA Paris, an international fashion institute providing both undergraduate and graduate programs. At first, I was hesitating but to my surprise it is truly a dynamic school offering the most unique programs compared to other schools while I was narrowing my choices. I am currently studying in Shanghai with IFA Paris now and learned the importance of grasping an education before making it in the real world. My instructors are fantastic and very helpful at providing practical advices as they have tons of experience in the fashion industry.

If you are looking to study fashion in China, you should definitely check out IFA Paris. They have a school in Shanghai! See you on campus!

By anon61499 — On Jan 20, 2010

since i was three i have always wanted to be a fashion designer, now I'm 13 and i want to become one now but i think I'm too young.

By anon59239 — On Jan 07, 2010

i think fashion design is really very hard work,

but anyway i want to become one, so at my age I'm trying my best to work hard.

By designmyway — On Jul 08, 2009

I have found a really awesome lessons from a professional designer. If you want to see if you like or want to learn check it out online. It so innovative and fresh and I love to learn the design process.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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