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What Does it Take to Become a Top Fashion Designer

Psst, want to know the ABC's and 1,2,3's of becoming a fashion designer? Breaking into the fashion world isn't just a matter of going to design school and getting hired by Ralph Lauren, there's more to it. Are you up for the challenge?

1. Identify your Interest

What's the point of entering the fashion world if it's not something that can hold your interest? You need to have the fashion bug; as in you live, eat and breathe fashion. Some signs that you have 'the bug':

  • You'll spend your last dollar on the latest issue of Elle;
  • You'll spend your last dollar on a pair of cute boots;
  • You love to sketch clothes;
  • You designed and made your own doll clothes;
  • You designed and made clothes for your pet; or
  • You designed and made your own clothes using your kid brother as a sewing form (hear he's in therapy now and doing quite well).

2. Identify your Aptitude

Some people have an aptitude for fashion design, and design school is a natural progression for them. Others are better left to find another way to enter the fashion world. Not everyone has what it takes to be a top fashion designer. Consider other fields in the industry – photography, makeup and fashion merchandising can put you right in the thick of things even if you don't have what it takes. Remember that you do have other options, so be brutally honest with yourself.

But how do you know if you have the aptitude to be a fashion designer? You need a strong sense of creativity – you're going to be the creative force that will make trends in fashion design. You'll also need to be on top of current trends and of course, have a strong sense of style and color.

Some of the skills you need if you're considering a career in fashion design:

  • Communication;
  • Business;
  • Creativity;
  • Drawing;
  • Sewing;
  • Visualization; and
  • Team Building

3. Identify Fashion Design Schools

Find the right fashion design school for your situation. Factors to consider when choosing a design school are:

  • Reputation – The better the reputation of the school, the better the chance of job placement.
  • Staffing – What background and training do the instructors have?
  • Convenience (online vs. attending) – Where, when and how long?
  • Former graduates – Word of mouth and real life advice is the best way to find information on a school. Google "Graduate of 'School'" and see if you come up with anything, or just ask around if you know anyone in the fashion world.
  • Cost – Check if grants, scholarships and/or financial aid is offered.
  • Degrees – Is the design school accredited and do they have degree programs? Many schools offer degrees such as a Master of Fine Arts, Bachelor of Fine Arts and Associate of Arts degree programs.
  • Curriculum – The courses should refine and focus the student's individual vision for fashion, offering courses in design, merchandising, visual merchandising, textiles, and knitwear. They do not teach you how to be fashionable. Studio courses in fashion design school hone your mastery of fashion industry standards in design and construction and offer practical learning.

4. Make a Portfolio

Most fashion design schools want to gauge your ability and potential. They'll ask you to submit a design portfolio with any admissions form. Put together a portfolio of your work that shows you understand the basic concepts of fashion design. Concepts a design school is interested in are:

  • Proportion - the design principle concerned with the relation to the size of the parts to the whole and to each other;
  • Movement – the sketch that shows the movement of the human body;
  • Communication – Communicating both through writing and drawing;
  • Sewing – understanding the basic concepts of sewing and its relationship to design; and
  • Manufacturing – an understanding of the world of apparel manufacturing, including production, sourcing, control, planning, costing, resource allocation and feasibility

5. Meet and Greet

The best way to understand a career in fashion design is to meet a designer. Many established fashion designers are interested in mentoring or helping design students. Having contacts in the design world is one way to get your foot in the door.

Another way to test the waters of fashion design is through an internship. Interns, both paid and unpaid, assist designers and design companies. While the tasks start as menial, at best, like getting coffee, making copies and picking up dry cleaning, you do get to see and learn the business up close and personal. You can create opportunity in internships, just making the contacts in the industry is an important step in the right direction.

6. Identify Prospective Employers

Many of the top designers are looking for new talent, and many of today's top independent designers started their careers working for other firms. Some of the best known names in the fashion world, and their career pages, are below:

7. Think about your Career Path and Goals

Do you want to learn the business from the ground up? Starting in retail is an excellent way to learn every aspect of fashion – from merchandising to marketing. On the other hand, if the thought of sales turns your stomach, you should learn business skills and what it takes to put a design team together so you can focus on the creative aspect.

8. Read, Learn, Watch…

Read every fashion magazine you can. Learn about trends, what makes them, what breaks them and what gives them staying power. Online resources for trends include:

9. Start Networking

Many job opportunities come from knowing the right people and being in the right place at the right time. Find some of the fashion world's hotspots for hobnobbing with fashion icons by reading the social or fashion section of the top newspapers:

10. Take the First Step in your Career in Fashion

Planning, identifying and analyzing are all important steps in starting a career in fashion. But it will be for nothing if you just dream and don't do. Take the first step in becoming a fashion designer. It may be a leap of faith for you, just make sure it's an intelligent one to guarantee your success.

11. Take a look at who's doing what. Here are some great fashion blogs to look at in order to keep ahead of the design game:

  • Barcelonette--The blog is in Spanish, but regardless, it can keep you informed of all the hot European looks on the runways this season.
  • Style Salvage-- Discovering hot emerging fashions for men.
  • Couture in the City--The lastest in fashion designers, beauty, celebrity style, trends and what to wear today!
  • Tea with BG --Fashion, real-world topics, and travel talk.
  • Bryan Boy--Bryan Boy is crossing the globe and reporting on his fashion outlook, fashion trends, and fashion gossip.
  • The Cherry Blossom Girl--This is an exquisite fashion blog by Alix, a young fashion designer and great fashion blogger.
  • The Blag Blog--A weblog all about bags, pocketbooks, purses & what have you.
  • Fashion Herald--Blogging about shopping in midtown's 34th street district- NYC blog.

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