If you’ve ever aspired to a career in the fashion industry, you might have the impression that this is a business all about glamor, design, and style. But the truth is more down to earth. Fashion is a field that relies, not just on dreams, but on a healthy dose of realism. In other words, this three trillion dollar industry depends upon people who know, not just about trends, but how to market style and make it profitable. Here are just some of the careers the fashion industry offers:
- Fashion Buyer / Purchasing Agent: For those who know what’s hot and how to sell it
- Fashion Merchandiser: For those with an eye for capturing customer attention
- Fashion Inventory Planner: Got a head for numbers? Like to predict with statistics?
- Fabric Researcher & Developer: Not about new designs but what the fabric is made of—especially important in the age of sustainability
- Fashion Product Developer: For the person who must deliver the product on budget
- Fashion Designer: Here’s the glamor job—you design the look, create the trend, and see your name go up in lights
- Fashion Graphic Designer: In this role, the graphic designer is responsible for creating promotional materials that captures the soul of the brand
- Fashion Stylist: In this job your set the scene for both individuals and ads, whether on a photoshoot or a runway
- Fashion Journalist: This is a role for any writer who wants to concentrate on fashion
- Fashion Marketing Manager: The masterminds behind advertising and social media campaigns
- Fashion Market Researcher: a job for the data freaks who predict trends and develop marketing strategies
- Fashion Public Relations Specialist: Keeping the media entranced with your brand
- Fashion Social Media Manager: Draws eyeballs, gets clicks, and creates buzz
As our list reveals, those who love clothes will find a career path that is both lucrative and gratifying. Whether you’re a left-brain or a right-brain fashion lover, there is a way to put your passions and talents to practical use in this diverse industry.
What does a career in fashion involve?
Once again, fashion is more complex than just designing apparel. The industry welcomes all kinds of skills, from the visionary designer to the nerd on the computer projecting sales. Remember, fashion is as much a business as it is an art. And the relentless pressure that brands contend with is their vulnerability to change. So, what are some of the skills needed to advance your fashion career? Creativity, vision, market and customer analysis, a willingness to collaborate, as well as the flexibility and agility to evolve.
Earning Potential in the Fashion Industry
As noted above, there is a broad array of career options to choose from—each with its own range of salaries. But earning potential in the industry is highly competitive. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median income for fashion designers is just north of $75,000, with high earners making nearly $150,000. This doesn’t take into account the Tom Fords of the world. Fashion marketing managers average over $100,000 a year, and market researchers near $80,000. The salaries vary according to where you work, whether or not you have ownership in the company, and your level of experience. The point is, if you love fashion, you can make a generous living in the field.
Fashion Buyer/Purchasing Agent
Most retail companies (think Bloomingdale’s, DSW, and Urban Outfitters, along with smaller boutique stores) don’t design all of the clothes they sell. Instead, they purchase them from third-party vendors. That’s where fashion buyers come in: buyers select products that are on-brand and in-style to be sold by the retail company they work for.
Buyers have to be in-the-know about current fashion trends so they select pieces that customers will buy--that means going to fashion shows, meeting with designers, and even doing some data analysis. They need to be able to negotiate with designers and manufacturers to get products at a price that will allow the retail company to make a profit and sell products at a price the target customer won’t balk at. Buyers often begin their career with jobs in retail, as sales associates or store managers, which helps them understand what products a store’s consumers are interested in buying.
The key role of the fashion merchandiser is to ensure profitability. This is done in a number of ways. The job can entail working with retailers to guarantee that enough stock is available. They also work with designers on in-store displays to attract buyers, and they have a say in pricing, searching for that sweet spot that aligns with both profit, consumer desirability, seasonality and enticing offers. For instance, this is what Back to School and Black Friday promotions are all about. What skills are required? Fashion merchandisers have a nose for trends and a head for numbers.
Fashion Inventory Planner
In short, inventory planners are data experts who can forecast how much product will be required throughout the retail marketplace. This can include both brick-and-mortar retailers and ecommerce providers. When the market is predictable, the job is simply understanding demand and availability. But in today’s world of supply chain disruptions, forecasting can be precarious. It takes someone who has the diligence to read the tea leaves of economic events and plan accordingly.
Any material on any piece of clothing or furniture you see has been developed by meticulous research and lots of trial and error. People working in the field of fabric research and development develop new textiles based on a number of criteria, including environmental footprint, ease of production, comfort, and performance. If working for an athleisure company like Lululemon or Athleta, for example, fabric researchers and developers might be charged with creating a textile that doesn’t retain moisture, doesn’t stretch out, and wears well over time. Fabric researchers and developers would be able to create a textile that meets all the specified criteria and can then be implemented into the company’s clothing designs.
What kind of preparation do you need to enter the field of fabric and texture design? Many top design schools offer both undergraduate courses and master’s degrees in this area. If this is truly your wheelhouse, you may want to do some online search and see what design schools in your area have to offer. Adding a course to your resume will put you in good stead for the future.
Fashion Product Developer
Fashion product developers are like movie producers, but instead of blockbusters or indie flicks, they bring great fashion to life. Fashion product developers oversee the process of creation, from the idea in a designer’s mind, to a piece of clothing on the rack. They choose the factories where the garments are made and coordinate the manufacturing process with their clients. They source fabrics, devise timelines, and are key players when it comes to quality control. To sum up their complex duties in a phrase: fashion product developers bring in apparel on time, on budget, and “on standard” — i.e., meeting the quality consumers demand.
To become a fashion designer, you will need a degree. The best places for this are top fashion design schools such as Parsons School of Design. Of course, New York City is considered the center of fashion in the U.S., but London, Paris, and Milan are other major centers of education for fashion. Regardless of where you get your degree, internships at major fashion houses are also a great way to get hands-on experience. Keep in mind, they are most likely to consider students who are currently enrolled in fashion degree programs.
Where do you get your ideas? That too is part of the fashion design education and advancing your fashion design career. You’ll be expected to present your ideas, be fluent in the technologies for creating digital renderings, and be able to sew, drape, communicate your ideas, and demonstrate a knowledge of your target consumer.
Fashion Graphic Designer
Graphic design is taught in many colleges. But fashion design is its own specialty. While many with degrees in graphic design work in advertising agencies, fashion graphic designers are typically employed by fashion brands where the focus is on apparel and accessories. They must have a talent for drawing and illustration. Plus, they must be trained in CAD software.
Typography, used in logos, is an important part of designer brands, and how they appear on clothing is the job of the fashion graphic designer. Think of the iconic Nike swoosh. It is used on everything from shoes and workout apparel to shirts and dresses. Even designer fabrics require the artistic eye of a graphic designer.
Runway shows, fashion photoshoots, movie sets, and style consultation—these are all situations that demand a fashion stylist. If you have a passion for creating a complete look, from head to toe, or setting a cohesive scene so that it evokes a mood, the job of fashion stylist is right for you. A fashion stylist can work on runway shows, photoshoots and movie sets. Celebrities also have their own personal fashion stylists.
The leading design schools typically offer exposure to this discipline, and internships are a great way to learn. Fashion programs offer workshops that give upcoming fashion stylists the skills to balance commercial success with creative practice, in order to generate beauty and meaningful appearances for changing societies.
Anything you read or see about fashion in the news, on a blog, or in fashion publications was created by a fashion journalist. Fashion reporters, critics, photographers, and bloggers are all fashion journalists; their job is to create media about fashion. Fashion magazines and websites hire experienced writers and photographers with an eye for fashion to document current fashion trends, events (like the Met Gala and runway shows), and news.
Fashion journalism is a major way in which current fashions are documented; if you’re an avid journal-writer or Instagrammer with a strong interest in fashion, fashion journalism could be a good fit for you. And remember: you don’t need to start out as a reporter for Vogue. Starting a fashion blog and posting #ootd pics a few times a week is a great place to start.
Fashion Marketing Manager
People working in fashion marketing are in charge of building a brand for their client and advertising that brand to potential consumers. Every logo, Instagram picture, and ad you see has been created by a company’s marketing team with the intention of creating hype and developing a particular aesthetic for their brand. Their entire focus is on how their brand is perceived by the media and by consumers. This sometimes means organizing celebrity sponsorships (like Brooke Shields with Calvin Klein, Steph Curry with Under Armor, Keira Knightley with Chanel, etc.) and, when necessary, rebranding.
Did you know that Banana Republic started out as a safari-themed clothing store? Over time, they’ve rebranded and worked to shift their image to fashion-forward professional clothing. That was all the work of Banana Republic’s marketing team; they did research to find out what was and wasn’t working for their brand, and they pivoted accordingly. Fashion marketing managers need to stay on top of fashion trends and use that info to make decisions about future styles.
Fashion Market Researcher
The work of a fashion market researcher is behind every product’s design, price, and placement in a store. Based on previous data about what products have sold — when, for how much, and to whom — retailers and designers employ fashion market researchers to predict upcoming trends. When fashion market research shows that a particular product is popular, retailers and designers can use that information to inform their next purchases or designs. These specialists can be found in clothing subscription companies like StitchFix; fashion market researchers create algorithms that, with the help of stylists, determine what clothes to send you.
An ability to identify trends and analyze research findings are essential skills for a fashion market researcher. These skills are also ideal if you aspire to be a brand strategist, a media planner, or someone who forecasts trends. To prepare for a job in this field, look for courses such as:
- Consumer Behavior
- Fashion Merchandising
- Retail Buying
- Fashion Business
Fashion Public Relations Specialist
Public relations specialists create and maintain a brand’s public image. This exciting career also includes planning events that raise awareness and interest in the brand and product. A fashion public relations specialist is also responsible for developing media kits and handling media inquiries. If you seek a career that is fast-paced, exciting and ever-changing, then fashion public relations specialist is perfect for you!
A typical career path leading to a job in fashion public relations might include courses specifically in this field. You will learn how to make a pitch to the media, how to earn coverage through social, digital and traditional media platforms. You will also get training in writing skills, so important in a career that requires excellent communication skills.
Fashion Social Media Manager
The social media manager of a fashion company controls the company’s social media presence. That usually includes a fair amount of work creating a social media strategy that coincides with the company’s overall marketing strategies and planning content for channels such as Instagram, Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, and Pinterest. The posts need to be varied, original, and relevant; it’s often as appropriate to post about major world events and holidays as it is to post about a Labor Day 50% off sale or a new fall collection.
Social media is also used as a way for customers to connect with brands they love, and social media managers are usually the ones to manage these relationships; that means tracking customer engagement with social media content and providing customer service by responding to customer comments and messages.
Fashion Career Earning Potential
Here is the median income for key fashion industry jobs.
FASHION CAREER EARNING POTENTIAL (2021):
- Fashion Buyer/Purchasing Agent - $77,000
- Fashion Merchandiser - $44,000
- Fashion Inventory Planner - $60,000
- Fabric Researcher/Developer - $50,000
- Fashion Product Developer - $65,500
- Fashion Designer - $42,000
- Fashion Graphic Designer - $50,000
- Fashion Stylist - $53,000
- Fashion Journalist - $42,000
- Fashion Marketing Manager - $110,000
- Fashion Market Researcher - $58,000
- Fashion Public Relations Specialist - $58,000
- Fashion Social Media Manager - $49,000
- Careers in the fashion industry offer a wealth of opportunities and include jobs, such as Fashion Designer, Fashion Stylist, Fashion Merchandiser, Fashion Journalist, Fashion Social Media Manager and much more.
- If you are seeking a fashion business career, you’ll want to check out the top fashion schools to see which courses and degrees fit your ambitions. Remember, being a fashion designer is only one discipline. This business requires all kinds of talent, whether creative, analytical, or social media-focused.
- If you aspire to a career in fashion marketing, there are also many opportunities available in fashion.
- Not everyone in fashion makes it to the level of an iconic designer where earnings can be sky high. There are a host of jobs, as mentioned above, where you can achieve a successful fashion career and a healthy income.
How to Get Started in a Fashion Career
You can sign up for introductory online courses covering fashion careers through Parsons. Review the choices available—one may be a perfect fit for your interests.