5 ways to get into fashion design

Jemma Smith, Editor
December, 2016

The fashion industry is infamously competitive but there are a number of ways to get your talent noticed. Learn more about the different paths you can take to a successful career in fashion design

Fast-moving and diverse, the fashion industry has traditionally been difficult to break into. However, thanks to the flourishing creative arts and design sector, making your name in fashion is easier than you think. Here are five different routes to consider when planning fashion world domination.

Fashion degrees

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

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 and merchandising etc.

University programmes provide you with historical and contextual knowledge that other routes may not, and such courses 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. As part of the programme you'll have the opportunity to collaborate with professionals and sponsors including L'Oreal Professional, Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton, Liberty, Paul Smith and the V&A Museum. 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. For entry onto the course you'll need:

  • 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 four-year Fashion Design BA at Sheffield Hallam University you'll gain knowledge in a range of areas including fashion design, fashion illustration and presentation, traditional pattern cutting, CAD and fashion technology, garment manufacture, fashion styling, and self-promotion. In your third year you can apply to do a placement with companies such as Burberry, Reiss, Jonathan Saunders, ASOS, All Saints and more. At the end of the course you'll showcase your abilities with a collection of 2D and 3D work. All students have the opportunity to show their collections at Graduate Fashion Week in London and Sheffield.

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

Both CSM and Sheffield Hallam University offer Masters programmes in fashion design, as do a range of other institutions. To find a relevant Masters course, search for postgraduate courses in fashion and textile design.

Industry 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 competition for posts is fierce. Voluntary work experience placements typically last between one and three months.

For work experience and intern opportunities look to designers, fashion magazines and retailers.

The speculative approach often proves successful, especially when trying to seek out unadvertised opportunities. Do some research into the designers 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 at university and any industry connections you make while studying. Design houses such as Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood, Erdem, Julien McDonald, Self-Portrait and J.W. Anderson all advertise internship placements.

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, Jules B, Dune London, Kurt Geiger and L.K.Bennett also take on interns and work experience students.

If you're struggling to find specific design experience with a design house or retailer, try widening the net as any fashion experience will impress on your CV. Contact fashion magazines such as Vogue, Elle, InStyle, Harpers Bazaar, and Glamour etc. for work experience within their fashion teams. It's also worth looking into the less obvious areas of fashion design 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.

Other sources of useful experience include London Fashion Week and Graduate Fashion Week so keep your eyes open for any opportunities that arise around these events.

Find out more about work experience and internships.

Fashion blogs

Blogging has become increasingly popular in recent years and is a great platform from which to showcase your creative talent. If you want to make it in fashion, the most important place you can be is online so setting up a fashion blog to display your designs could be a smart career move. The online blogging community is vast and via blogging networks you'll be able to follow other fashion bloggers for inspiration and professional support. To promote your blog you'll need a wider social media presence.

Having an online presence is incredibly important for showing potential employers that you're internet savvy and for getting your name out into the industry. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn are useful tools not only when promoting your own work (and blog) but also for keeping up to date with industry happenings. Pinterest boards are also 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.

Create a profile on each of these sites; you never know who might be looking. Take advantage of every opportunity to get your work noticed.

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.

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 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 blog and social media updated with all of the goings-on. These kinds of events show your passion and dedication to the profession.

Fashion apprenticeships

Apprenticeships are perfect for those seeking an alternative to university study 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 apprenticeships are good way to build up industry contacts while actually doing the job. Thanks to the apprenticeship levy, set to take effect in April 2017, there are now more opportunities for aspiring apprentices' than ever before.

Creative Skillset, the sector skills council, has created a range of Fashion and Textiles Apprenticeships at foundation and advanced level (equivalent to GCSE and A-level passes). These apprenticeships are available in a number of pathways including:

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

Creative Skillet also offers higher (Level 4) Fashion and Textiles Apprenticeships in product development and technical textiles.

Fashion Enter, sister company to FashionCapital.co.uk, is England's leading provider for the Fashion and Textiles Apprenticeship programme offering:

  • 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.

The Textile Centre of Excellence also offers a range of intermediate and advanced fashion and textile apprenticeships.

For more information and to apply for apprenticeships see GOV.UK - Fashion and textile apprenticeships.

Find out more