If the career fits … wear it!

by DeAnn Daley Holcomb

Are you on the cutting edge of fashion? Do you have an eye for color and style and a feel for fabric? If that describes you, there are "sew" many career choices for you in the textile and fashion industry.

Think about it--someone thinks of, designs, and produces every piece of clothing you wear. That means there are jobs for everyone from fashion designers and illustrators to pattern makers and buyers.

Fashion by Design

As a fashion designer, you'll be creating clothing and accessories (things like necklaces, earrings, and belts). Designers draw and cut patterns to make sample garments, select fabric and trimmings, and fit the finished garment--all with an eye toward the latest fashion trends.

If you're more the artist, as a fashion illustrator, you'll make drawings of clothes designed by a fashion designer. Once this is done, a pattern maker works closely with the fashion designer to create a master pattern. The pattern maker transforms the designer's sketches into actual paper patterns. He or she also makes sure that the design is workable. The patterns are then used in the manufacturing process.

With the industry going "high tech," a familiarity with computers is important. "Technology has definitely made an impact, and it's tremendous what [it] can do," says Bonnie Turnbo, a fashion design teacher in Piano, Texas. "You can put your design in the computer, and then transfer it over into an industry standard program that will plot and print the pattern out and help you pick the fabric."

Must Haves

Fashion buyers buy clothing for a company or for a particular store department. Buyers develop fashion themes and search for clothes identified as "the latest trend" or a "must have." That means buying clothes that will sell and make money for the department store.

That's what 17-year-old Kate Wiesmann wants to do--buy clothes for a living. "I'm into fashion, always looking at the magazines and at all of the different clothes and fashions," Kate says. "I'm going to college to study retail and fashion design. My goal is to become a buyer for a store."

A School for Style

Education is the first step toward a career in fashion. It will provide you with a solid foundation and the skills you'll need to succeed.

While you're in high school, focus on any fashion, design, textile, and marketing or computer classes that are offered. Kate studies in a fashion design and merchandising class available through the career education department at her high school.

"We cover it all--fashion history, how the industry works, tracing, drawing, and designing basics like learning the different sleeve, neck, or skirt styles--and we do basic sewing projects," says Turnbo, who is her teacher. "They'll finish the end of the year by studying fabrics, the different kinds of materials, and they'll design a line of six garments to present to the class."

Think about getting a part-time job at a local retail store too. The experience will increase your knowledge about fashion and the retail industry. After high school, consider earning a fine arts degree in fashion, or attend a fashion design school and earn an associate's or bachelor's degree.

A (Fashionable) Foot in the Door

You'll discover a stable job market in the fashion industry. You'll need to research jobs in your market through the Internet, and by placing calls and making contacts. Of course, your school placement counselor will assist you.

"You have to get your foot in the door to build your career and be willing to do whatever it takes to learn to get there," says Donna Sapp, director of fashion at the Art Institute of Dallas. "I've talked to many successful designers who organized a stock room for their first job, and while that may not be glamorous, they learned about fabric, so it means opening yourself up to any learning experience."

Experience counts. Work in retail. Volunteer for charity fashion shows either as a model or behind the scenes. Find local designers who might need help. Take advantage of any internship you can find. Also develop good designer habits by carrying a notepad or sketchpad with you. You never know where you'll find inspiration.

No Limits

The sky is the limit for salaries in the fashion industry. The average starting salary as an assistant to a fashion designer or pattern maker is between $20,000 and $25,000. Your salary will increase with experience.

Depending on your market size, a beginning fashion buyer or illustrator could earn between $20,000 and $25,000. With experience, that could increase to around $50,000 or more.

A fashion designer with two to five years' experience could make between $30,000 and $50,000 or more. Of course, famous designers with their own clothing lines earn millions.

If you love fashion and dream up entire clothing lines in your sleep, perhaps a career in the fashion industry is for you. If so, just remember that a good education, good skills, and hard work will help you realize that dream.

Fashion Career Quiz

Read and consider the following statements to see if you are a good candidate for a career in the fashion industry. Check off all that apply to you.

  1. I have a flair for fashion and style.
  2. I'm creative.
  3. I'm artistic.
  4. I like to draw or sketch clothing designs.
  5. I'm computer savvy.
  6. I'd enjoy working in the business world.
  7. I love to look at and select clothing--for myself and others,
  8. I love fabric and have an eye for it.
  9. I have a good sense of space and volume.
  10. I'm interested in advertising and product promotion.

If you checked off most of the items, a career in the fashion industry might be a good fit (so to speak). For a more specific result, notice which items are among those you checked off.

  • If you checked items 1,2, and 4, you might enjoy a career as a fashion designer.
  • If you checked items 3, 4, and 5, you might want to think about becoming a fashion illustrator.
  • Items 6 and 7 indicate you might have success as a fashion buyer.
  • Items 8 and 9 indicate an interest in becoming a pattern maker.
  • Items 6 and 10 indicate a flair for fashion journalism or fashion advertising and marketing.

If the Career Fits ... Wear It!

Students will become familiar with career opportunities in the field of fashion design. Career Clusters: Arts, A/V Technology & Communications; Marketing, Sales & Service.


  • How can a person prepare for a career in fashion design? (Take related high school courses; get an internship or part-time job; major in fine arts in college or go to fashion design school; get experience through a job, volunteer, or work with a local fashion designer; carry a sketchpad and draw.)
  • What are some other fashion careers? (fashion illustrator, fashion journalist, fashion marketing, pattern maker, fashion buyer)
  • What are some ways technology will affect the fashion field?
  • What personal qualities are important for each fashion job?


  1. Ask students to investigate classes at your high school that would help them prepare for each type of fashion career. How would the classes help?
  2. Ask students to identify what each of these fashion professionals does and what skills each needs: fashion designer, fashion buyer, fashion illustrator, fashion journalist, fashion marketer, and pattern maker.
  3. Ask students which of the above careers interests them most and why.
  4. Have students write want ads for their ideal fashion job.
  5. Invite students to clip examples of fashion journalism to share with the class.
  6. Encourage students to list the abilities they have that might make them good candidates for a fashion career.
  7. Assemble task forces to research the possibilities for the following in your community: Internships Part-time jobs Fashion design school Helping a local designer Charity fashion shows Junior college program in fashion
  8. Guide students in exploring college catalogs to find out about fine arts programs that could help someone prepare for a career in fashion.
  9. Assign a project to create a fashion design and an ad for it. Make sure students are able to explain their target audience and their reasons for creating the design.
  10. Hold a discussion in class on these topics: What makes good design? Is there good design and bad design, or is it just a matter of personal taste?
  11. Invite students to create a collage of photos of this season's "in" styles. Or, have them sketch their ideas for new clothing trends. Have them consider their level of enjoyment for this assignment as an indication of their interest in the fashion business.
  12. Invite a fashion designer, buyer, or other fashion professional to class. Or, encourage interested students to talk with someone on the job.