Monday, August 5, 2013

Being a fashion designer

When I tell people I work in the fashion industry, their first question is always “oooh are you a designer?” There is a glow around the term ‘fashion designer’. People outside the industry picture runway shows, fabulous parties and famous people. While that can be part of the job, unless you are Karl Lagerfeld or Derek Lam it’s a very, very small part of what a fashion designer does. I am not a designer, but I used to be one. This post will be dedicated to telling you what the life of a fashion designer is really like from the beginning to maturing in your career.

If you become an assistant designer be prepared to do paperwork. If you are going to work at any mid to large size company, paperwork will be a big part of your job. You may do some sketching if you are lucky enough to work for a designer who is interested in your input, but do not be fooled. Your job is taking that creative sketch and translating the details for your factories. You will be writing how far the stitching should be from the hem, adding reference numbers for what logo should be on a particular item, adding the colors etc. Again, when you first start working, you are the lackey. You are not deciding what colors to add or how far the topstitching should be, you are only adding what you are told into the product management system.  You are usually doing this paperwork late into the evenings or even on weekends. There are some creative parts of the job. You may cut swatches or find some inspiring images to help prepare for a presentation. You will shop the market, search for the perfect shade of red and put a few boards together. I would estimate creativity is only about twenty percent in the beginning.

As a designer moves up in their career, there is more of a creative focus. The designer is sketching, shopping, preparing for presentations and researching trends but will also spend a fair amount of time on paperwork. The designer will meet with management having their work critiqued. Depending on the company, this can be brutal. It can also be very rewarding. In my opinion, the designer phase is one of the most fun stages of being a designer.

As you move up in your career, things change. When you are a director or Vice President in a fashion company, you both increase and decrease your level of creative control. Let me explain. When you are in this high level as a designer, you rarely sketch. You give your team creative direction and work with them to achieve it. Your time is spent leading your team, dealing with a budget and ‘managing up’ rather than hands on designing. Running a design team means managing many different creative personalities. This can be both fun and challenging.

Of course these descriptions are not absolute and give general information from my experience and the experience of my friends in the industry. What interests you in a design career? If you have questions about being a designer in the fashion industry, please add your questions into the comment section of this blog.

Learn more about the fashion industry from Career Coach Kate Kibler at

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