So you want to be a fashion designer? The good news is there are a number of different routes you can take to achieve your goals in this fast-moving and diverse industry

Traditionally, the fashion industry has been difficult to break into. However, thanks to the flourishing creative industries, you now have more opportunities to make your name in fashion than ever before. Here are five different paths to consider when planning fashion world domination.

Fashion design courses

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

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 such as fashion, textiles, art and design, knitwear, clothing technology, fashion buying or merchandising.

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

The Fashion BA at 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. Notable alumni of the CSM BA Fashion course include John Galliano, Stella McCartney, Matthew Williamson, Sarah Burton and Christopher Kane. Entry onto the course requires:

  • foundation studies in art and design
  • an A-level pass
  • three passes at GCSE level, or equivalent.

Alternative entry criteria include:

  • BTEC National Diploma
  • three passes at GCSE level or equivalent.

On the three-year Fashion Design BA at the University of Leeds School of Design you'll gain knowledge in design development and garment construction. You'll study core modules, such as Fundamentals of Imaging and Design History: 1900 to present day in year one and Marketing, Creativity and Innovation and Garment Technology in year two before completing a dissertation in your final year. You'll have the opportunity to undertake an industrial placement in areas such as design, pattern cutting and buying. For entry onto the course you'll need ABB at A-level, which must include an art and design-related subject.

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.

Universities that provide postgraduate fashion design courses include:

  • Central Saint Martins
  • Kingston University of London
  • Manchester School of Art
  • Middlesex University London
  • Nottingham Trent University
  • University of Central Lancashire.

To find a relevant Masters course, search for postgraduate courses in fashion and textile 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 (usually between three months to a year). They are advertised often and filled quickly, and as such competition for posts is fierce. Voluntary work experience 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 craft 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 McDonald, 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, Arcadia, Jules B, River Island, Kurt Geiger, L.K.Bennett, Tu and Oasis 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 Harpers 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.

Volunteering for fashion-related charities such as Fashion Awareness Direct and Dress For Success demonstrates your passion for the industry and enables you to gain valuable fashion experience while giving back to the community.

Find out more about work experience and internships.

Fashion blogs

Fashion blogging is an increasingly popular platform from which to showcase your creative talent. If you want to make it in fashion, the most important place to be is online so 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.

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 (e.g. Manchester Fashion Week) and get involved in London and Graduate Fashion Week; attend the Clothes Show and any fashion-related exhibitions.

Attending and 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 available 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 these kinds of opportunities for yourself shows tenacity and drive.

Fashion apprenticeships

Apprenticeships are perfect for those seeking an alternative to university and are an excellent way of opening doors to creative careers. Apprenticeships 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 good way to build up industry contacts while actually doing the job.

Fashion and textiles apprenticeships can be undertaken at intermediate (level 2) and advanced (level 3) - equivalent to GCSE and A-level passes. These fashion apprenticeships train you in the technical and practical skills required for a range of roles. You can specialise in:

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

Fashion Enter, sister company to FashionCapital.co.uk, also provide a number of fashion apprenticeships:

  • a Level 2 Apparel Apprenticeship
  • a Level 3 Diploma in Apparel Footwear, Leather or Production
  • a Certificate in Apparel Manufacturing Technology
  • a Level 4 Technical Textiles - Product Sourcing and Development Apprenticeship.

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

Jobs in fashion

The above opportunities will help you get your foot in the door but fashion design jobs are fiercely competitive and you'll need a combination of good qualifications, relevant industry experience and an impressive portfolio to secure a job with a high-profile design house.

Learn more about the employers and career prospects of fashion designers.

Self-employment is also an option. If you're struggling to secure a design job you could set up on your own. You could design pieces to sell in pop-up shops or online via eBay or Depop. If you don't fancy going it completely alone you could team up with course mates or contacts made through your experience and start a joint venture.

Your qualifications and experience equip you for lots of different jobs in fashion so don't restrict yourself solely to design roles. You could move into:

  • garment technology
  • trend forecasting
  • buying
  • fashion journalism.

Find out more