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Is there an "ideal" way to begin a career in Apparel Design, and what are some internships which could be taken to gain experience in that field?

I want to know how I can best "set myself up" for success in the realms of Fashion Design or Fashion Merchandising, and I would like to know where I could receive the best hands-on preparations for a successful career. #fashion #fashion-design #apparel-and-fashion #apparel-manufacturing

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Elisha’s Answer

Yes, there is always an ideal way to begin your career, but very seldom does it happen exactly as you would like. The best steps to take are to secure an associates or bachelors degree (preferred) in fashion design. While you are in school, pay special attention to your portfolio classes. Build the most amazing design portfolio that you can. Why? This will help you secure a great internship.

Next; you want to secure an internship with a reputable fashion design company that you feel will give you the most experience and help lead you to an entry level job. Internships are tricky and there is alot of competition, so you MUST stand out. Hence, your amazing portfolio. The type of internships you want to look for are Fashion Design internships.

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Alysa’s Answer

Hi, Zachary,

This is a great question, and what’s also great about it is that these days there is no one standard “ideal” path to career in apparel design and that really leaves lots of options wide open for you. Because fashion design itself is such a creative field that allows you to be creative as to how you decide to pursue it, too. For example, if you are super talented at sketching, then you could start by taking a course in fashion illustration, maybe while you are still in high school. Perhaps you have heard of designer Tracey Reese? She is from Detroit and attended Cass Technical High School. Her fashion illustration teacher at Cass, Mrs. Stevens, also taught night classes in illustration at a local college, where I was taking that class. (This was many years ago.) Mrs. Stevens brought in some of Tracey’s illustrations to show us examples of good illustrations. She told us that Tracy had just graduated and moved to NYC to begin an apprenticeship with designer Gordon Henderson (who unfortunately has since died) and later Marc Jacobs. A few years later after that class I started seeing Tracy’s dresses and tops being sold at Anthropologie. Tracey is now a hugely successful fashion designer and even has very her own store in Manhattan, and her illustrations of her designs were her start in fashion.

If you attend a college or university that has a fashion design program, there will probably be different internships offered that you could take advantage of, like doing social media for a department store or perhaps a local designer, but even if there aren’t any available internships you can create your own opportunities. Are you good at photography and do you write well? Create your own fashion blog. This is an excellent way to showcase your skills to a global audience, and it’s a wonderful addition to add to your resume. Is there a local independent fashion designer or boutique in your area? Offer up your help to work for them for free. Just make sure that you write up an actual contract stipulating exactly what is expected from both of you so you are not taken advantage of; like if you wanted to learn pattern drafting make certain that they will teach you that in return for your free help.

Do you sew? Create your own designs and put together your own fashion show, or more than likely there is a fashion show connected to a fashion design program at your local college, university or community college, or department store in your city. Collaborate and network. Do your own publicity by calling to see if a local magazine will cover your fashion show or your designs as a story. Get your story covered in a student newspaper, or local cable TV show. Post your photos on your Instagram.

As far as fashion merchandising goes there are often programs and classes in this area within the art department at colleges and universities. Working at a store as a sales clerk is one of the best ways to get experience and work your way up to being a buyer. Plus a college program will also have internships set up with stores, too. If they don't ask the stores and check with the university if they can set up an internship for you so you can get the college credit and work experience.

Have an entrepreneurial spirit! You don’t have to immediately move to NYC or LA to break into fashion right away. Take small steps. Bloom wherever you are planted right now.

All best,

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RYAN’s Answer

Hi Zachary,

I am a designer with 10 years of experience in fashion design. I grew up in a small town in the northwest. I always knew I wanted to be a designer. When I 17 and my piers and I were getting ready to apply to college I knew I wanted to attend a fashion or art school. Being from a small town my friends were pretty discouraging of it. People thought that being a fashion designer, or any kind of designer, was an unobtainable dream. Zach, being a designer is obtainable, it's just like any other career. I'm not sure what your circumstances are, but I wanted to start off by letting you know that there is a demand for fashion designers just like any other field. With that being said, if you want to work for a company you will most likely have to work in certain parts of the country. I decided to live in LA because there is a big industry here. There is obviously an industry in New York, however, there are smaller industries too like Seattle, Philadelphia, Portland, Orange County, a little in Florida. Take Target for example, they are located in Minneapolis, they have a huge team of designers for all their private label products. So there are a lot of places you can be and do design work. Or you could always start your own company too when you're ready.

I took the traditional route to becoming a designer. I went to the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in LA. I did some internships while I was there which really helped build some experience before I graduated. After graduation I got in touch with a job placement agency, there are many that specialize in the fashion industry, and they helped me get my 1st job. Since then I have been designing for many companies doing many different types of products. I find that going to a fashion program is the best way to set yourself up for success. Some of the best schools are: FIT in NYC, Parsons in NYC, Rhode Island School of Design, Otis in LA, FIDM in LA, Kent state in Ohio, Drexel University in Philly, California College of Arts in San Francisco, and if you want to go abroad the best school in the world is Central Saint Martins in London. There are also many programs at colleges around the country.

I have also worked with people who never went to fashion school and have great careers. They usually have a knack at design and someone believes in them and gives them an opportunity. If this is the route you want to take, I suggest you get very skilled at Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. These programs are crucial in design these days. You may even want to take some local pattern making workshops, or design workshops to learn some necessary skills. Then I would suggest trying to get internships in design to get your foot in the door, or just start applying for assistant design jobs. Get in contact with agencies like 24seven, fourth floor, jbc style. Look at linkedin, stylecareers.com, indeed, craigslist. All these sites list design jobs.

If you want to start your own company, thats awesome! I'm trying to right now. The only things I suggest is that you learn a little bit first. I say this because there is soooooo much to learn in the business and you can do this while working for someone else for a few years. Get some experience, then venture out.

Well Zach, I hope this helps you. Its a fun career and I know you can do it. There are tons of different jobs in fashion and once you get started you'll figure out what you want to do. Good luck!

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Nancy’s Answer

Hi Zachery, I think that each person has their own path. Where you live, are there any clothing manufacturers? See if there are any small or start up businesses that produce/ sell the type of clothing that you're interested in .Many times, during the summer, companies may be looking for interns- getting hands on experience in the field. Where and when I went to college, they stressed teaching and retail (both of which I didn't want). Just wondering if you know how to sew, know about the different types of fabrics and fit clothing to yourself or to others. Are there any classes where you go to school that offer classes related to this field? Or maybe a vocational school or community college? With so much information on the web, I'm sure that you can learn things, too. Do you have the chance to read Women's Wear Daily (WWD)- this is a really good publication. Magazines like Vogue, Esquire, GQ can give you inspiration for designs. Particularly in Vogue, this is high couture- very expensive, that the average person doesn't wear. Then there's mass production- clothing that is sold in say Macy's, Belk's etc. School is a stepping stone but to me you get your hands on experience on the job. You may start at the bottom, though you learn what you can and go from there. I hope this helps!!