You love fashion! What does fashion mean to you? It may be a way to express your artistic eye or to help people create an alternate persona. On the other hand, you may see it as the way to motivate shoppers to buy exciting, trendy products, or to keep your finger on the pulse of the economy.
However you dream of using your talents and skills in the exciting world of fashion, in order to carve out your place in it and set off on a fulfilling career, it’s best to start with a solid background and the right kind of fashion degree. If you are unsure about the kinds of jobs offered in fashion, review listings on web sites of some top New York fashion agencies for a better idea of real-world job possibilities.
I Have Talent. Do I Need a Degree?
Fashion is a demanding industry, and though some succeed strictly by learning on the job, more employers than ever require some form of fashion certification or degree. The competitive nature of the business, together with the growing complexities of global manufacturing and new technologies demand greater levels of training.
Starting a career depends on the very first step—getting your foot in the door somewhere, ideally in a job filled with challenges and lessons you can build on as you grow into your chosen field. A degree or certificate in basic fashion courses, at minimum, is the key to getting that door to open.
What Kind of Program Should I Choose?
Take steps to increase your value to future employers by choosing the right degree program for your interests, budget, and abilities. There are differing levels of degrees, each with its mix of course requirements. However, the basic foundation courses will be similar in all programs.
First, it is fundamental to know that a fashion career can take one of several directions. You may start out in one area, then decide you are more suited to a different job, so look for a program that offers coursework in several areas of interest. Career options can include fashion design, marketing and merchandising, retail management, textile design, and more. If you are unsure about the types of jobs offered in the fashion industry, do a survey of jobs listed with fashion staffing agencies to see where the need might be greatest.
Degrees range from an associate’s degree (usually one to two years), to a bachelor’s (usually three to four years), or master’s degree (following a bachelor’s degree, often another year or more). Doctorate programs offer very advanced, specialized study leading to research or academic work, or high-level consultation in fashion design and manufacturing. Generally, starting pay and future increases will be higher, depending on your level of preparation.
Associate’s, Bachelor’s, or Master’s Degree?
The associate degree in fashion design will prepare you for an entry-level job. You may work your way into becoming a designer or a related job such as pattern-maker. If your aim is a career as a fashion buyer, look for a degree in merchandising management. Related jobs in this field include visual merchandising, merchandise planning, and sales.
The bachelor’s degree prepares you in greater depth for an entry- or mid-level job, whether in fashion design, marketing, or merchandising. A fashion design bachelor’s can prepare you to become a designer, visual merchandiser, consultant, or other creative role. The merchandising or marketing bachelor’s degree leads to a mid- to upper-level career in marketing, buying and sales for clothing and accessories, or related fields.
The master’s degree in fashion can take several directions with greater potential for advancement. The Master of Fine Arts prepares you to become a designer, ultimately as a design supervisor, or a fashion show manager, chief designer, or related position. The Master of Business Administration (MBA) prepares you for a management career in almost all aspects of the fashion industry, from retail to manufacturing, marketing, and more.1
Am I Done Yet? What About Continuing Education?
Once you have completed your degree, ideally including some internship or trainee experience, you will be ready to start on an exciting career path. How far you go and future opportunities will depend on how well you perform and how willing you are to continue learning along the way. The ability to adapt to change is a great asset. Those years of study and training leave you better prepared for the many industry and economic changes that are impossible to anticipate.
Depending on your chosen field and your employer, continuing education courses may be a requirement, particularly in more technical fields, like computer-aided design (CAD), or photography. Manufacturing and global distribution in fashion are subject to frequent change, subject to forces in international trade and law. Few industries are more influenced by continual, fast-moving changes than fashion—just think of the popular term, “fast fashion.” Fashion tip: fast fashion refers to the now-established trend of moving new designs from the runway to ready-to-wear in stores at impossible speeds, influencing the industry from beginning to end.2 Employers will expect you to keep up with new trends, not just in styles, but in design methods, technologies, textiles, distribution, and other factors. If you hope to keep advancing with your current employer or a new one, continuing education courses will demonstrate your commitment, add value to your resume, and ensure that you are ready to handle new challenges.
How Do I Find the Right Job?
You have your degree, and endless enthusiasm for fashion. You are ready to start putting it all to work. Finding the perfect first fashion job, or the next one, is a daunting challenge, but there are resources available to help you narrow down your search and land in the right place at the right time.
Check your school’s web site for valuable tips and links to career guidance resources. All schools offer job boards with new openings in a variety of fields. If you are a grad of a fashion college, you will find postings that are all fashion-related, and no doubt, some that match your background. You may find opportunities for posting your own fashion portfolio.
Whether you are a new grad or an experienced fashion executive, a fashion recruiting agency may be the most direct route to an interview. The top fashion staffing agencies in New York City have established relationships with the biggest companies, and often carry exclusive listings for certain job openings. In addition, many of them offer help with polishing your resume and even your reputation, to increase your chances of being chosen for your dream job.