Beauty is said to be in the eye of the beholder, but I will freely admit to having seen it displayed on hangers at the local department store. I’ve also seen beauty on celebrities, baristas, tax accountants, and Olympic athletes. Of course, I’m talking about the beauty specifically conceived, designed, and created by talented fashion designers, which is the topic that we’re going to tackle today. Are you curious about how much fashion designers make? How do people get into that particular business? How do they bring their creations out of the imagination and onto the people who wear their unique form of creative expression on a day to day basis?
If so, read on for more details!
“Art” is a simple word, but oh my, has it ever become a strange one. People constantly debate whether or not certain things qualify as “art.” If it’s bought and sold as a commodity, is it “art?” If it’s mass produced to be sold across the country–or even across the world–can it still qualify as “art?” If it’s made for the masses, does it get to be art?
That’s a discussion that I’m wary of wading into, but we can most certainly say that artists are responsible for some truly amazing design accomplishments, and fashion designers are absolutely part of that community. Their work reflects our culture and guides it, at the same time. They respond to the tricks and trends that are popular during a given year, while at the same time imagining and creating entirely new fashion directions. Many trends haven’t begun with the people wearing the clothes but instead were sparked by the person designing them.
Fashion designers rarely receive as much credit as they’re due, however. Most of the time, credit for particular styles and appealing designs go to the label responsible for manufacturing the clothing. Designers only get proper recognition when they happen to become prominent, skilled, and popular enough as to own a design label that’s built around their name.
Ralph Lauren. Tom Ford. Coco Chanel. Jennifer Lopez. Pierre Cardin.
People from all walks of life who have managed to bring their creativity into reality in the form of wearable art. If you’ve been curious about this career, lifestyle, and practice, know that there’s probably never been a better time to get into the business. Consumers are in touch with designers on a wide scale, no longer limited by the stereotype of wealthy, eccentric designers creating outlandishly expensive attire that only 1% of the population can actually afford to wear.
There’s more to the industry than we can cover here, but we’re going to talk about how much fashion designers make per year. We’re also going to illuminate the steps that lead to this particular career, and showcase some of the talents and habits of successful fashion designers who’ve already made it big. In the end, you’ll have a better understanding of the fashion design profession, as well as how it fits into our consumer culture of 2016. (You’ll also have a few handy links if you want more information!)
What Does a Fashion Designer Do?
While many people immediately jump to the assumption that fashion designers are only responsible for the truly eccentric attire worn by celebrities at public events, this is only a fraction of the work that people in this profession are responsible for. In truth, if there’s clothing on your back, a fashion designer was quite likely responsible for its design (or, even a whole team of fashion designers.)
Fashion designer is drawing a fashion sketch for autumn-winter season
Similarly, a fashion designer may well have been responsible for the necklace you’re wearing or the shoes on your feet. I won’t even touch on the issue of underwear, but they came from a fashion designer’s mind as well.
Every stage of the creative and design process is something that fashion designers have a hand in. Frequently, they work as a team or part of a larger studio, where the combined efforts of several creative people are honed into singular products that are then passed on for manufacturing.
The tasks that a fashion designer is responsible for are going to be hugely dependent upon the type of place that they end up working. Smaller fashion studios and freelance fashion designers will often be responsible for the textile and sewing process that brings their work to life. In larger work environments (which we’ll discuss below), a separate team of industrialists is assigned tasks like this. Professional fashion designers who are serious about their career approach it with passion and zeal, frequently setting aside time out of their busy years to attend industry trade shows, fashion shows, and other career-related events.
Where Does a Fashion Designer Work?
This seems like a question with a simple answer, but the truth is that fashion designers can fit into quite a few prominent positions within major clothing labels. They can fill a niche with particular expertise, or they can take on the entire fashion industry’s field of knowledge, covering many areas with their talents.
Many fashion designers end up working at the much larger design and manufacturing firms, where they put in regular hours and have regular responsibilities that they have to tend to while they’re on the clock. In businesses like this, fashion designers will be responsible for most of the steps in the design process, but few will have a finger on every one of those tasks. Some will conduct fittings and alterations. Others will be responsible for creating clothing prototypes.
Smaller fashion labels usually involve the same types of work that larger design firms engage in, but individual fashion designers are responsible for more parts of the process (simply because smaller labels have fewer people working for them.)
Freelance fashion designers face a much more competitive market, but maintain ultimate control over what they’re doing. Because they require no oversight (and don’t have any to depend on upon), they’re masters of the industry and pay close attention to the shifting trends in both global and regional fashion. Some of them are responsible only for prototype drafting, while others design entire pieces of clothing from the ground up.
How Much Does a Fashion Designer Make?
In order to get accurate information for the answer to this question, we’ll refer to data compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It’s from May of 2015, but since the economic landscape (especially as related to fashion) hasn’t changed significantly since then, we can still rely on these numbers to be fairly accurate.
Keep in mind that this is not the end of our guide. One thing that people often overlook when examining average yearly income for any profession is the necessary training and education that certainly preceded work in that given field. In the case of most fashion designers, some school was necessary, and that can be a critical part of how we look at annual earnings.
Here are the BLS statistics, which should help you to gain an understanding of how much fashion designers make. In 2015, the median annual pay for fashion designers was $63,670, or roughly $30.61 per hour. We can unpack this information further by looking at the high and low ends of the same spectrum. The lowest-paid 10% of fashion designers earned $33,170 or less per year, while the top-paid 10% reported annual earnings of $125,270 or more.
If these seem like wildly disparate numbers, consider for a moment just how diversified fashion design careers can be. Take a look at our brief summary above of the various opportunities available in our economy, and you’ll start to see why the low is so far down from the high.
Education & Training
As mentioned above, it’s important to consider just what type of education and training is expected of fashion designers before they’re ready to enter the industry. Fortunately, it’s actually a variable situation. Like many career offerings for artists, a person’s aptitude for a job is usually discerned by their portfolio of work before anything else, regardless of previous education experience.
Education is available for prospective designers that want to spend 3-4 years earning a Bachelor’s degree in fashion design or a related field. The Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) and many other accredited universities offer such degree programs, and they can certainly help a person to get a leg up in the professional field.
Other options that many fashion designers turn to (or even college graduates who require more experience) are internships and apprenticeships. These don’t always give newcomers the most glamorous work to dive into (get ready to fetch coffee and do lots of “busy work”) but they look great in a portfolio. If they’re pursued with passion, they can often give new fashion designers a huge amount of experience and expertise that’s only available from actually working in their chosen career field.
Hopefully, this guide has given you some significant insight into the career path of fashion designers. We’ve glossed over their education and training requirements, the types of work they do, the types of places that they do that work, and also how much they tend to make on a yearly basis. If you have any further questions about fashion design, check out some of our provided links, and don’t hesitate to speak up in the comments, below!