Do you get shivers of excitement when you hear names like Louis Vuitton and Versace? Do you use every invitation as an excuse to go shopping for a new outfit? Have you ever sported a unique style that ended up wildly popular six months later? If the answer to any of these questions is “yes”, you might have an exciting career ahead of you in the fashion industry.

What does a career as a fashion designer entail?

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, about one quarter of fashion designers are self-employed. This means that they have their own labels and sell designs to stores, work as freelance designers for high-profile clients, or run their own boutiques. The highest concentrations of fashion designers are in New York and California (where the field grew by 36.4% between 1998 and 2008), but if we’ve learned anything from Project Runway, it’s that great fashion design can happen anywhere. Many other fashion designers are employed by individual clients or by retail establishments.

What does a fashion designer do?

Put most simply, a fashion designer creates clothing and accessories. Everything you wear, from jeans to ball gowns, earrings and shoes are dreamt up by fashion designers. Fashion designers are also responsible for designing accessories that wouldn’t immediately come to mind, like luggage and iPod skins. Project Runway’s Santino has designed boxes for Camel cigarettes, and Chloe Dao designed an electronic accessory line for Circuit City.

A designer must be able to sketch, make patterns, choose fabric and materials, and sell work to buyers. In addition, a successful designer must keep up with current industry trends by reading magazines, attending fashion shows, and visiting textile showrooms. Artistic talent, organizational skills, ambition, and business sense are important traits for any fashion designer to have.

A fashion designer will specialize in one of three areas. An haute couture designer will design an outfit for a single client. It will be made once, usually by hand, and the end product will be a high-quality, expensive garment. The fabulous dresses movie stars wear to award shows are examples of haute couture.

A mass market designer makes clothing or accessories to be mass produced cheaply and sold at retail establishments. Most, if not all of the clothes in your closet, are considered mass market.

A ready-to-wear designer will create a collection (usually for Fashion Week) to be produced in small quantities for buyers. These clothes are expensive and considered a hybrid between haute couture and mass market.

How do I get started as a fashion designer?

Competition for fashion design jobs can be fierce. According to the California Employment Development Department, many employers prefer to hire designers who have attended a career school or a community college over people who attended traditional four-year colleges. This is because vocational and community colleges tend to work more closely with the garment industry.

Career schools are a great way to learn how to sketch, make patterns, sew garments, and develop the necessary business skills without taking other unnecessary classes. In addition, you’ll gain real-world industry experience through fashion shows and internships that will prepare you for a career when you graduate.

There are many career schools across the country with fashion design programs. If you want to put yourself in the middle of the action, Gibbs College in New York and The Art Institute of California Los Angeles both offer associates degrees in fashion design.

Another big city option is the Illinois Institute of Art-Chicago, which is located inside the Merchandise Mart, Chicago’s design and apparel center so large it has its own zip code. The Illinois Institute of Art-Chicago has a unique accessory design program in addition to their fashion design program.

If you’re unable to move to attend college, the International Academy of Design and Technology offers fashion design programs in Orlando, Tampa, Seattle and Nashville, as well as Chicago. Bauder College in Atlanta also has a fashion design degree program. To find even more locations, you can use the search option at JustColleges to browse schools offering fashion design programs, or you can type in your zip code to find career schools near you.

What other careers are available in the fashion industry?

When you first start out in the fashion industry, you probably won’t become a head designer or business owner overnight. Assistant designers usually make the first patterns from a head designer’s ideas. Pattern makers make patterns and pair fabrics with designs. Design room assistants perform maintenance tasks such as updating sample boards and cataloguing fabrics.

If you’re interested more in fabrics than in clothing, you might consider a career a textile designer. These are the behind-the-scenes folks who design fabric prints and weaves.

Costume designers work in film, television or theater to create clothing for characters. If you prefer whimsical over practical aspects of fashion, this might be a career path that suits your particular kind of creativity.

A fashion illustrator works for a designer, a publication, or a company drawing designs or sketching already-made clothes. If you find that you love designing garments on paper but don’t feel the need to make them, this could be the job for you.

If you’re interested in how complete looks come together, you might consider becoming a fashion journalist or a stylist. A fashion journalist identifies trends and writes about them for publications or the internet. A stylist creates a look by combining clothing, makeup, hair and accessories. Stylists can work for publications, photographers, or individual clients (like celebrities).

Perhaps you want to combine your business savvy with your love of fashion. A fashion buyer predicts upcoming fashion trends and makes purchases for retail stores. To be a successful buyer, you must be trained in fashion marketing and merchandising.

Where can I get that kind of training?

To find programs that deal with the business side of the fashion industry, use the search feature at JustColleges to find career schools by location or program. Here are some examples of the types of career schools featured at JustColleges.

Berkeley College offers both associates and bachelors degree programs in fashion marketing and management at their campuses in New York City and Paramus, New Jersey.

Westwood College offers degrees in fashion merchandising at many of their campuses across the U.S. They are located in Los Angeles and three other California cities, Chicago, Atlanta, Denver, and Arlington, Virginia. If you want to elevate your existing skills, you could pursue a masters in fashion merchandising from LIM College in New York, NY.

No matter what kind of career you’re looking for in the fashion industry, there’s a program out there for you!