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Who Hires Fashion Designers?

It's safe to say that the majority of design school graduates realize that they won't be the next Michael Kors, Vera Wang, or Marc Jacobs straight out of school. It is understood that a certain amount of dues need to be paid in order to reach such heights of success no matter how talented the new graduate is. They have to work in the meantime, so where do they work? Who hires fashion designers?

Fashion houses such as Michael Kors and Marc Jacobs hire fashion designers to work in-house as employees. They are hired to follow instructions and further the vision of the designer that owns the house. Newly minted fashion designers would not work in-house jobs and be expected to create their own ideas and designs. They're basically worker bees, albeit highly skilled worker bees. Everything they make or offer as an idea is property of the house's designer - the new designer's name does not go on any labels, nor can they sell those ideas to anyone else. This path is a treasure trove of hands-on knowledge and business experience spanning all stages of putting out a fashion line.

There are some department stores, like Target, that hire in-house fashion designers. While it's similar to working for a high-end fashion house in that the designer does not own any of their work and cannot sell it to anyone else, the overall vision is more of a mass appeal and feasibility. Mass appeal and feasibility means that the garments can be made in sizes to fit different body types, and are affordable for the everyday person.

Another option the designer has in advancing their career is to work freelance. Working freelance entails selling their garments directly to boutiques and shops, or selling their designs to fashion houses and clothing manufacturers. The difference is that the garment is a finished product and the design is a sketch with maybe a little extra visual aid with fabric swatches included. While the designer is getting their name out into the industry, their name still does not appear on the label, the garments and designs are property of the buyer.

Another avenue of employment is corporations like airlines, the U.S. Post Office, and other large entities that have specific uniforms required for their large numbers of employees. Fashion designers are utilized for the new uniform designs - they're not updated twice per year after Bryant Park, but their uniforms are updated and revamped from time to time and need a skilled talent to accomplish this task.

Toy companies also hire fashion designers. The most famous fashion icon toy is the Barbie doll. Barbie and her friends all have extensive wardrobes, all designed by fashion designers. The Bratz dolls, that are fairly new on the market, are also using fashion designers.

Once the designer reaches the respect and accomplishment levels as Diane von Furstenburg and Betsy Johnson and have their own label, they are still hired for specialized jobs. The very rich will often engage fashion designers to create special garments for them, a one of kind, without the couture prices – not that they'll be, by any means, inexpensive either.

Oftentimes, celebrities will commission gowns for awards shows, however most times there is a different arrangement when it comes to celebrities. The celebrities will wear the designer's garments for the Oscars, or BAFTA, the Emmys, or other highly photographed or filmed events. The celebrity does not buy the garment, and it gets returned after the event. The payoff for the designer is that they will have high profile exposure that runs at least one year. Even though it's not a traditional job for hire, the barter system of sorts has benefits for both parties.

by Chad Morrison


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            Fashion Design (BFA)
            • Alumni have appeared in reality competition shows such as Top Chef and Project Runway.
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            BA/Service Management - Mass-market Retail Enterprise Management
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