You'll need creative flair and drive to succeed as a fashion designer - discover the different routes you can take to break into this fast-paced, vibrant industry
The fashion industry has traditionally been difficult to break into, although thanks to the flourishing creative industries there are more opportunities to make your name in fashion than ever before.
Consider the following five paths when taking your first steps towards fashion world domination.
Fashion design courses
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 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. 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:
- 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.
In the first year of the three-year Fashion Design BA 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, while modules such as Menswear and Fashion Design Practice will help deepen your understanding of how trends inform the design process. You'll learn historical and contemporary fashion context, and gain experience of pattern cutting and garment manufacture. You'll consolidate your learning and 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.
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.
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 in length. 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 build 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 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.
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.
Find out more about work experience and internships.
Fashion 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 to find out more about building your online presence.
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. 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 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 your own opportunities shows tenacity and drive.
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:
- leather goods
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.
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.
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 a range of different jobs in fashion, so don't restrict yourself solely to design roles. You could move into:
- fashion journalism
- garment technology
- trend forecasting.
As the industry is so competitive it's more important than ever to make a stand-out first impression. Discover how to perfect your CV and cover letter, brush up on interview tips and find out more about putting together a creative portfolio.
Find out more
- Gain an insight into the creative arts and design sector.
- Learn how to get into buying and merchandising.
- See what the retail sector has to offer.