Not every fashion-design student wants to become a designer. The good news is: the world of fashion is huge and there are loads of other careers in fashion design, apart from designing, to get excited about.

Fashion Designer

When you start out as a first-year fashion-design student, you might dream of seeing Candice Swanepoel or Gisele Bundchen swanning around the runway in your creations. And when you reach third year that might still be your end goal.

Or maybe not? Perhaps you’d rather explore a career in garment technology? Or merchandising? Or costume design?

The three-year diploma at the Elizabeth Galloway Academy of Fashion Design will not only give you a general understanding of all of the aspects of the fashion industry – from pattern-making and design, to marketing, merchandising and sales – it will also equip you with a set of invaluable skills that will stand you in good stead, no matter which fashion path you choose. These skills include: learning to work to tight deadlines, coming up with design ideas, working as part of a team and on your own, doing presentations, and managing your time. By the time you graduate, you will have a clearer idea of where your specific talents and interests lie so that you can land the fashion job best suited to your skills and personality. Here are some options:

Fashion Buyer

A Fashion buyer’s main job is to purchase clothing and/or accessories for a store or a chain of stores. Their goal is to purchase fashions aimed at a specific customer and price bracket. Retail clothing stores make their profits from product sales; if customers aren’t buying the products, the store doesn’t make a profit. In this sense, the role of the fashion buyer is critical & they need to have a very good picture of the store’s target/typical customer: their clothing needs, desires, and budget.

A fashion buyer’s daily duties include constant email and/or phone communication with the suppliers who supply the items. So, building and maintaining good relationships with these suppliers is a key part of the job.

When ordering clothing and/or accessories, buyers must negotiate prices and delivery times with suppliers. They always have to be aware of what the store’s selling price on each purchased item will be, as well as what to have in the store for each season.

There are various levels of seniority within a buying team. In the big chains like Woolworths, Truworths and Foschini, there’s usually a senior buyer per department, who manages a team of trainee buyers, assistant buyers, and junior buyers. Fresh out of fashion-design school, you’re likely to start as a trainee, or in an entry-level position, and learn lots on your way up!

Pattern maker

A pattern maker works with spatial concepts. He or she must be able to visualise how shapes fit together in three dimensions. In order to complete a full-size paper pattern, he or she must be aware of body proportions, as well as various fabric types and how they work together. A pattern maker should also have an eye for detail, like where buttonholes should be positioned, and so on.

The nice thing about this position is that you can do it freelance or full-time – there is always a demand for really great pattern cutters who understand the design process.

Fashion merchandiser

If you’re interested in a career as a fashion merchandiser, you should have an eye for style, but more important is a head for tracking fashion and consumer trends. Broadly speaking, merchandisers are involved in the marketing and display of a store’s products, with an end to selling as many garments as possible! Like fashion buyers, merchandisers should be au fait with their store’s target market and, as such, merchandisers usually have a very good understanding of buyers’ tastes and purchase behaviour. If a store commissions garments from a fashion designer, the merchandiser is usually the one who can advise on which styles, textiles and trends are good sellers.

Fashion designer

A fashion designer’s job extends way beyond creating a new design, he or she is actively engaged in just about every aspect of the process – from sketches and storyboards to the final garment, overseeing aspects of pattern-making, and even model selection for fashion shows.

Final decisions about colours, fabrics, buttons, zippers, and so on, also fall under the designer’s responsibilities. And it doesn’t end there… upon completion of the garment, the fashion designer (if they have their own label) will also be involved in arrangements for a showing, often selecting the models, arranging the presentation of the garments in the collection, and determining the final price of each garment. While most big-name couturiers have assistants to handle the finer details, most young designers usually end up doing everything themselves – from the initial vision to the first public presentation of the garment!

Of course, the process will differ depending on whether you are designing a range of garments for your own label, a large retail store, or if you’ve been commissioned to make a one-off wedding dress for a private client.

Which one do you see yourself as? Please share your thoughts below – we’d love to hear from you.

Garment technologist

A garment technologist is involved in choosing the most appropriate fabric and production method for a design, within a specified budget. As such, he or she works closely with the designers, pattern makers and buyers, and it would not be uncommon for a garment technologist to be involved in discussions about adjustments (to the pattern, fabric or production methods) at various stages of the process. The not-so-fun aspect of this job might involve analysing product returns and faults, and dealing with complaints and queries.

More options

This post is a general overview of career options for fashion-design students – it is by no means a comprehensive guide to all your job prospects in the fashion industry. Some fashion-design graduates have started their careers selling clothes on a market stall, while others have taken to launching a fashion blog (also a highly competitive and difficult field to break). Costume design for theatre, film or TV is another possibility. And then there are the worlds of media and publishing, where many opportunities exist for fashion editors, illustrators and stylists.

Do you have any idea which fashion path you would like to follow? What aspects of the process are you passionate about? Please let us know – we’d love to hear from you.