We’ll walk you through what education is needed to become a fashion designer, including information on fashion degrees, online courses, and job opportunities.
People entering the field of fashion design usually acquire one of the following degrees:
- Associate’s Degree in Fashion (approximately two years of study)
- Bachelor’s Degree in Fashion (approximately four years of study)
- Master’s Degree in Fashion (two additional years following the bachelor’s degree)
The most common degree aspiring designers acquire is a Bachelor’s degree. In this article, we will outline the reasons why students choose one degree option over another. We will also touch on the Certificate in Fashion Design (usually one year of study). Then, we will describe the careers and opportunities available through these different degrees.
Do You Need a Degree to Become a Fashion Designer?
While it can be much more difficult to find a job in the fashion industry without a degree or certification in fashion design, it is possible. Fashion icons like Coco Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld, and Miuccia Prada have all succeeded in fashion without a degree. However, for every name in fashion that succeeded without a degree, there are more success stories that utilized a formal education in fashion design to propel their careers forward. For example, Tom Ford, Anna Sui, Derek Lam, and Bill Blass all received a degree in fashion design from Parsons / The New School.
Associate’s Degree or Certificate in Fashion
Associate’s degrees or Certificates in Fashion require fewer years of study than a Bachelor’s degree. Both serve as a good introduction to the field for those still deciding if a future in fashion design is for them.
Can you obtain a full-time job in fashion with simply an Associate’s degree or a Certificate? It is possible, and you may even get a jump start on working in the fashion design industry. However, your earning potential may be limited. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, students with a Bachelor’s degree earn about 40% more per year than those with an Associate’s degree.
Also, with just an Associate’s degree or a Certificate, you may find it harder to move up through the ranks. Without a 4-year Bachelor’s degree, it is likely you will hit a snag in your career at some point. Most fashion businesses are looking for people with credentials, such as a fashion design degree, a degree in fashion merchandising, or training in textiles and marketing. It can be hard to advance beyond a junior-level position without at least a Bachelor’s degree in one of these specialties.
Bachelor’s Degree in Fashion Design
A Bachelor’s degree is the gold standard for those aspiring to a career in fashion. Keep in mind that fashion design is a broad field, so it is important to discover and hone in on the areas of fashion that appeal most to you. According to College Grad, the jobs of fashion designers cover all aspects of the industry. Disciplines within fashion design include:
- Analyzing the consumer market to anticipate the next hot trends
- Coming up with a theme for a new fashion collection
- Using digital technology to create designs and prototypes
- Focusing on fabrics, particularly sustainable options
- Showcasing collections or concepts at trade shows
- Using social media and other marketing channels to attract consumers
- Rolling out a new collection at seasonal events and online
If you have ever watched the show “Runway”, you know that most of the competing designers have a bachelor’s degree in fashion or an apparel design, textile design, or a fashion merchandising degree. And even if a job description doesn’t specify a major, the vast majority of fashion-related jobs will require a bachelor’s degree in something. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has this to say, “Most fashion designers have a bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as fashion design or fashion merchandising. Employers typically look for candidates with technical knowledge of the production processes for apparel, accessories, or footwear.”
One way to compensate for a lack of fashion-specific coursework and experience is by getting jobs and internships in the fashion industry while you’re still in college. A fashion design school such as Parsons offers a robust internship program where students can make valuable contacts and get inside knowledge of the industry.
Is a Master’s Degree Required for a Career in Fashion Design?
Master’s degrees may not be required for jobs in the fashion industry, but they can help you advance in your career. Unless you’re applying for a management position at a fashion company, in which case an MBA or a Master’s in the Business of Fashion might be a requirement, most employers will care more about your work experience than they will about education beyond a Bachelor’s degree. That being said, there are some attractive benefits to getting a Master’s degree in fashion:
- A Master’s degree in a fashion-related field of study can help develop expertise in a specific discipline. If you got a Bachelor’s in studio art, for example, going back to school and getting a Master’s degree in Fashion Merchandising or Fashion Design can make you attractive to a wider range of employers.
- Master’s degree graduate programs in fashion usually offer ample opportunities for internships—a great way to build your fashion design portfolio and your network of contacts.
When to Begin Your Fashion Design Education
Believe it or not, if you are currently in high school, or in the first year or two of college, you will have more options than people who decide later in life to pursue a fashion degree. A job in the fashion industry right out of high school is not likely. But you can use that time to prepare for your future with online fashion design courses—a great way to familiarize yourself with the many different career options available.
Online Fashion Design Degree
Leading fashion design schools are offering more opportunities for online education. For example, at Parsons, it is possible to earn a Certificate in Fashion online, as well as a Master’s Degree. If you are currently a high school student, you can take pre-college online courses that introduce you to fashion design, the business of fashion, and how to build a brand.
What You Can Do With a Fashion Degree
Depending on the fashion degree you acquire along with your design skills and commitment, you will find a wealth of career options. These job opportunities include:
- Fashion Designer
- Creative Director
- Graphic Designer
- Fashion Business Marketer
- Interior Designer
- Sales Associate
- Fashion Journalist
- Fashion Critic
- Personal Stylist
- Inventory Planner
- Retail Buyer
- Account Manager
If you are not in fashion design today, don’t let that discourage you. A recent article noted that Vera Wang started out as a figure skater. Tom Ford’s odyssey went from studying Art History to interior architecture at Parsons, which sparked his interest in fashion. Giorgio Armani wasn’t even interested in fashion at first; he wanted to be a doctor. After several twists and turns, he became a menswear designer, and ultimately one of the leading names in fashion design.
The point is fashion welcomes all sorts of individuals from a diversity of backgrounds. We encourage you to investigate this fascinating and fast-evolving career path. Start by acquiring the background through a degree. Once you are studying among like-minded fashionistas, the future will reveal itself.
Key Takeaways for Aspiring Fashion Designers
What are the education requirements for a fashion designer?
- A 4-year Bachelor’s degree is the most recognized path to a fashion career. Through this degree you can specialize in fashion design, fashion merchandising or a related fashion discipline that gives you the skills to stand out among peers.
- A 2-year Associate’s degree may give you a cost-effective way to enter the fashion industry sooner, but your potential earnings may be limited.
- A Master’s degree enables you to develop expertise in your preferred discipline and opens the door to management possibilities.
What careers are open to you with a degree in fashion?
There are a wide array of possibilities available, from actual design, to journalism about the industry, as well as merchandising, sales, retail buying and even interior design. (See list above).