Fashion designers work on the design of items of clothing and fashion ranges. Some may focus completely on one specialist area, such as sportswear, childrenswear, footwear or accessories.
They produce designs for the haute couture, designer ready-to-wear and high street fashion markets. Developments in technology mean that a design can be on sale as a finished product in the high street within six weeks.
Depending on their level of responsibility and the company they work for, designers may work to their own brief or be given a brief to work towards, with specifications relating to colour, fabric and budget.
The main areas of work for fashion designers are:
- high street fashion: this is where the majority of designers work and where garments are mass manufactured (often in Europe or East Asia). Buying patterns, seasonal trends and celebrity catwalk influences play a key role in this design process. It is a commercial area and heavily media led;
- ready-to-wear (also known as prêt-à-porter): where established designers create ready-to-wear collections, produced in relatively small numbers;
- haute couture: requires large amounts of time spent on the production of one-off garments for the catwalk - which are often not practical to wear - usually to endorse other brands and create a ‘look’.
Typical work activities
Tasks depend on the market the designer is working for, but core responsibilities include:
- creating/visualising an idea and producing a design by hand or using computer-aided design (CAD);
- keeping up to date with emerging fashion trends as well as general trends relating to fabrics, colours and shapes;
- planning and developing ranges;
- working with others in the design team, such as buyers and forecasters, to develop products to meet a brief;
- liaising closely with sales, buying and production teams on an ongoing basis to ensure the item suits the customer, market and price points;
- understanding design from a technical perspective, i.e. producing patterns, toiles and technical specifications for designs;
- sourcing, selecting and buying fabrics, trims, fastenings and embellishments;
- adapting existing designs for mass production;
- developing a pattern that is cut and sewn into sample garments and supervising the making up of these, including fitting, detailing and adaptations;
- overseeing production;
- negotiating with customers and suppliers;
- managing marketing, finances and other business activities, if working on a self-employed basis.
Experienced designers with larger companies may focus more on the design aspect, with pattern cutters and machinists preparing sample garments. In smaller companies these, and other tasks, may be part of the designer's role.