5 ways to get into fashion design

Author
Daniel Higginbotham, Editor
Posted
February, 2021

By demonstrating talent, commitment and keeping up with the latest fashion design technologies, you may be able to enter this glamorous industry through one of these five routes

The fashion industry has traditionally been difficult to break into, although there are more opportunities to make your name than ever before. Consider the following paths when taking your first steps towards fashion world domination.

Fashion apprenticeships

Apprenticeships are perfect for those seeking an alternative to university and are an excellent way of opening doors to creative careers. An apprenticeship would enable you to earn while you learn and gain valuable hands-on experience. Within the creative industries - especially fashion - networking is essential and fashion apprenticeships are a good way to build up industry contacts while actually performing the job.

Intermediate (Level 2) and advanced (Level 3) fashion and textiles apprenticeships are equivalent to GCSE and A-level passes. These fashion apprenticeships train you in the technical and practical skills required. You can specialise in:

  • apparel
  • footwear
  • leather goods
  • saddlery
  • textiles.

For instance, Fashion Enter, sister company to FashionCapital, provide a number of fashion apprenticeships:

  • Level 2 Sewing Machinist
  • Level 2 Textile Care Operative
  • Level 3 Diploma for Fashion Studio Assistant
  • Level 3 Pattern Cutter
  • Level 4 Product Technologist
  • Level 5 Bespoke Tailoring.

In the future there may be opportunities to study a Bachelors or Masters-level qualification while working and earning by completing a fashion design degree apprenticeship. While already popular in the engineering, IT and construction industries, they're a relatively new study option. Creative arts and design courses are still in development.

For more information on salaries and what to expect, see what is an apprenticeship? If you think this is the route for you, read up on how to apply for an apprenticeship.

Degrees in fashion design

With knowledge and experience, it's possible to gain entry to design positions without a degree - but due to the competitive nature of the industry this is becoming increasingly unlikely.

If you have aspirations to become the next Westwood or McQueen, a fashion design degree is the way to go. Employers and design houses prefer candidates with a related undergraduate qualification, in areas such as fashion, textiles, art and design, knitwear, clothing technology, fashion buying and merchandising.

University courses provide you with historical and contextual knowledge that other routes may not, and such programmes are usually well connected with industry, meaning they're a great way to network and build contacts.

The BA Fashion at University of the Arts London (UAL): Central Saint Martins (CSM) takes three years to complete full time (or four including a sandwich year). Students can choose from five main pathways: Fashion Design Menswear, Fashion Design Womenswear, Fashion Print, Fashion Design with Knitwear and Fashion Design with Marketing.

After two years you'll get the chance to undergo a full-time work placement. You could work with a range of big-name sponsors, such as L'Oreal, Dior and the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum.

Notable alumni of the CSM BA Fashion course include Stella McCartney and Matthew Williamson. Entry onto the course requires one or more of the following Level 3 qualifications:

  • Foundation Diploma in Art and Design (Levels 3 or 4) and an A-level pass at grade C or above in a preferred subject
  • BTEC Extended Diploma
  • UAL Extended Diploma
  • Access to Higher Education Diploma.

You'll also need three passes at GCSE grade 4 or above.

In the first year of the three-year BA Fashion Design at Leeds Arts University, you'll be introduced to fashion processes such as colour awareness and application, material use and behaviour and fashion illustration. Your second year will involve developing your skills by engaging in live projects and deepening your understanding of how trends inform the design process.

During the programme you'll learn historical and contemporary fashion context, and gain experience of pattern cutting and garment manufacture. You'll build your portfolio in your final year through reflective writing, live projects and compiling the work you've completed throughout the course.

Discover what you can do with a degree in fashion.

While a pre-entry postgraduate qualification is not a requirement to become a fashion designer, an MA in fashion or textile design can improve opportunities, particularly for aspiring designers from other academic backgrounds.

Here are ten institutions that provide postgraduate fashion design courses:

  • Kingston University of London
  • Manchester School of Art
  • Middlesex University London
  • Northumbria University Newcastle
  • Nottingham Trent University
  • Royal College of Art
  • UAL CSM
  • University of Central Lancashire (UCLan)
  • University of Salford.
  • University of Southampton

To find a relevant Masters degree, search for postgraduate courses in fashion design.

Fashion internships

Internships are a great way to develop your skills and experience within a fashion environment. They're also a useful way to make contacts and network with colleagues. Industry experience, coupled with a fashion degree, will make you an attractive prospect to potential employers.

Most fashion internships are short-term, typically between three months to a year. They're advertised often and filled quickly, so competition for posts is fierce. Voluntary placements typically last between one and three months.

For work experience and fashion internship opportunities look to design houses, fashion magazines and retailers.

The speculative approach often proves successful, especially when trying to seek out unadvertised opportunities. Do some research into the design houses that you'd like to work for and put together a speculative application that outlines what you can do for them.

Take advantage of placement years while at university and any industry connections you make while studying.

Design houses such as Alexander McQueen, Matthew Williamson, Mary Katrantzou, Julien MacDonald, House of Holland, Erdem, French Connection and Marks & Spencer all advertise fashion internships.

Also consider enquiring about intern positions at fashion-start-ups. It's not all about the big labels - new organisations rely on the help of interns and can often provide more learning and development opportunities.

Fashion retailers such as ASOS, boohoo, Jules B, River Island, Kurt Geiger, L.K.Bennett and Tu Clothing also take on interns and work experience students.

If you're struggling to find specific design experience, try widening the net as any fashion experience will impress on your CV. Contact fashion magazines such as Vogue, Elle and Harper's Bazaar for work experience. It's also worth looking into less obvious areas of fashion for placement opportunities, such as the costume departments of film, television and theatre companies. Work experience of this nature is extremely sought after so aim to apply a good six months in advance.

Also, volunteering for fashion-related charities such as Fashion Awareness Direct (FAD) and Dress for Success demonstrates your passion for the industry and enables you to gain valuable fashion experience while giving back to the community.

Read more about work experience and internships.

Shows and competitions

Getting involved in fashion shows and competitions is another great way to display your designs and the quality of your work. Whether it's a university show or a regional or national event, you'll get the chance to put your clothes out there for the public to admire.

Such events give you the chance to meet like-minded people and get your designs spotted by industry professionals. Look to see if your city hosts its own fashion week (for instance, Liverpool Fashion Week), get involved in London and Graduate Fashion Week and attend the Clothes Show and any other fashion-related exhibitions.

Presenting your collections at shows and competitions can be stressful. These events require a lot of planning and preparation and you may need to travel and transport your designs. However, fashion houses are often known to scout out new talent at student fashion shows and competitions, so your hard work and perseverance could pay off.

If there's nothing in your local area, don't be afraid to organise your own fashion show. Use your friends as models and keep your fashion blog and social media updated with all of your goings-on. Creating your own opportunities shows tenacity and drive.

Fashion blogs

Blogging is an increasingly popular platform to showcase your creative talent. If you want to make it in the contemporary fashion world, the most important place to be is online.

Setting up a fashion blog to display your designs could be a smart career move. Via blogging networks you'll be able to follow other fashion bloggers for inspiration and professional support and take part in meet ups and events. However, to promote your fashion blog you'll need a wide social media presence.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn are useful tools not only when promoting your own work (and fashion blog) but also for keeping up to date with industry happenings. Pinterest is a useful resource for holding all of your creative ideas and inspirations, while fashion networking sites such as Fashion United and Fashion Industry Network are great places to make contacts and uncover job opportunities.

See the media and internet sector and 5 tips for getting media work experience in particular to find out more about building your online presence.

Find out more

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