Design jobs are attained through many means: industry connections or contacts, headhunters, internships, and fashion publications. One associate designer who found her job through a headhunter asserts, "you have to push to get what you're looking for. The designer I worked with had faith in my skills, but the company wanted to hire someone with more experience. It's a matter of dealing with the powers that be, not the powers that see." Another designer adds, "Up-and-coming designers should always keep their eyes on the newest and hottest designers. As a matter of habit, they should read fashion publications and magazines such as Women's Wear Daily." Some designers also begin their careers as freelancers. However, one source warns, "freelance jobs, especially in New York City, tend to be short term - no more than 10 months. Companies like people who are fresh and ready for training. Ironically, the more experience you have, the harder it is to find a job."~
Designers stationed in large companies and design companies often have an easier time moving up the ranks. Claims a source: "Opportunities arise during expansion. Smaller companies may not take on more work. And if they are not taking on more work, people remain within their set roles. That means low growth opportunity." She continues, "The industry is getting smaller. A lot of places are closing down. Newcomers to the field need to have savvy as well as patience."
Common jobs for fresh-out-of-school fashion lovers include assistant designer and assistant technical designer. According to insiders, assistant designers are involved in sketching, flat sketches, assisting the designer, and preparing the presentation material for the line. They may also assist in sourcing fabric and trim, helping the designer get the line ready, and any other preliminary presentations before the line is even made. In contrast, assistant technical designers assist the technical designer in grading garments, coming up with prototypes, doing spec sheets, and generally taking the creative concept to the production stage. A contact classifies technical designers and their assistants as "people who are interested in design, but who are not creative designers by nature."
Pay and Perks
Like many fashion professionals, designers love to see their work metamorphose from sketch to tangible creation. "It's an exhilarating feeling!" declares a source. Free and heavily discounted clothes, which are often the newest and trendiest in the business, are another perk. By New York City standards, the pay scale for designers is roughly as follows: $22,000 to $30,000 for assistant and entry level designers, $30,000 to $45,000 for associates; and $40,000 to more than $100,000 for full-fledged designers.
Although fashion companies vary, almost all need to see a designer's portfolio before they will make a hiring decision. A portfolio typically contains four or five collections, each of which tells a story and a concept. A collection contains between eight and 15 drawings. Typically, it demonstrates basic art design skills as well as flat sketchings and full-figure fashion illustrations. The stronger and more dynamic the portfolio, the better one's chances of employment. Says a design source: "The portfolio is the main selling tool for a fashion design graduate. It needs to be current, fashion-forward, and a reflection of the designer's sensibility and knowledge of the industry." She adds, "The portfolio should also be directed toward the company you're applying to." In others words, applicants should not submit high-fashion drawings to a company that specializes in casual clothing. On many interviews, employers will check a prospective designer's sketching abilities, use of color, and technical work. They may ask him or her to do additional flat sketches, technical sketches, or specs.