The Real Poop
You graduated from a toy sewing machine to a full-fledged Singer when you were six years old. You've watched every season of Project Runway at least three times, and Tim Gunn is one of your heroes. You're the acknowledged fashion guru at your high school, and your wardrobe is always absolutely fabulous, dahling. Y
ou dream of introducing a product or trend that will take the world by storm and put your name on the lips of fashionistas everywhere for a hundred years. And you're going to make about $73,000 a year doing it (source).
Your goal in life is to be a fashion designer, and not just any fashion designer, but a super-duper successful one. You want to spend your days researching and predicting fashion trends, sketching clothing and/or accessory designs, attending trade and fashion shows, visiting manufacturers to select fabrics and doodads for your creations, and turning your design prototypes into salable final products.
And, obviously, you want to see your work on the runways of Milan, New York City, and Paris and in the windows of the world's most exclusive department stores.
Of course, there are tens of thousands of other people who aspire to this career. They, too, long to follow in the footsteps of Charles Frederick Worth. Ol' Chucky Boy was a nineteenth century British draper who moved to Paris and flat-out invented haute couture (a.k.a. really expensive and trendy clothes) when he opened a dressmaking shop that catered to European nobility, famous courtesans, and other people who use the Royal "We."
Think you can just walk off the street with a purse you made out of duct tape and stickers and call yourself a designer? You could, but don't expect anyone to pay you for it. There are many criteria you must meet in order to even get entry-level work as a fashion designer.
You'll need an associate's or bachelor's degree in fashion design and work experience—probably acquired through an internship—in the fashion industry (source). You'll have to prove that, not only do you have an artistic vision for wearable design, but that you can translate that image in your head into reality via your skills with needle and thread, and not just be able to not stab yourself in the finger all the time. You'll need to be able to:
- Work well with others, be they clients, colleagues, or employers
- Accept suggestions, advice, and criticism about your designs
- Submit your creative vision to the needs and wants of your employer
- Not stab yourself in the finger all the time
But even if you have all of these things, even if you are imaginative and ambitious and hard-working and an absolute genius with a sewing machine, and even if you never ever stab yourself in the finger, you'll probably never be the head of a major fashion brand. You'll probably never have your own brand. You'll be extraordinarily fortunate if you even get the chance to work in some minor capacity at Gucci, Versace, Givenchy, or even Spelunker.
This industry is small and it isn't growing—in fact, it's doing the opposite (source). There are also lots of other people who are as talented and driven as you are who want to be fashion designers, which means that competition for even the lowliest positions can be absolutely brutal.
Fear not: this doesn't mean that your love of a good drape and that expensive undergraduate education in fashion design has to go to waste. While you may find it impossible to land a gig at one of the big companies, you might have success with a more ubiquitous apparel or accessories manufacturer.
If you cultivate your entrepreneurial skills, you could own your own small tailoring or design business (you'd be amazed how much people will pay for a good alteration). You could become a clothing or accessories purchaser for a store or chain of stores, or even become a fashion stylist or writer. If people don't pay you for your clothes, at least make them pay for your opinions.
While there's quite a bit of uncertainty in this career, one thing you can be sure of is that at some point you'll have to sacrifice your artistic vision in order to pay the bills. Sure, your creative viewpoint is what makes your designs unique and (possibly) financially viable, but don't forget that food is important, too. Don't let it get you down, you'll still be able to make the clothes you want—just be sure to also make the clothes you can sell.