The pay: The average annual starting pay ranges from the low $30,000s to high $40,000s, depending on firm size, says Judy Nylen, director of career services at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, N.Y. Experienced designers generally make $150,000 to $300,000 annually, she adds. Professionals who work independently earn incomes according to their level of success, and competition is fierce, she says, noting, "There are very few Calvin Kleins out there."
The hours: Because fashions are typically constructed with the seasons in mind, designers may be expected to work longer hours at certain times of the year. For example, Debi Jones, a senior designer for Amsale Bridal in New York, says she works from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. most of the time. But in March and September she typically stays until around 11 p.m. and comes in on weekends.
Benefits: Standard health-care coverage is common for company staff designers. Free-lance professionals are responsible for their own benefit packages.
Other incentives: "If I have events to go to there's always a dress available that I can borrow," says Ms. Jones. Designers also often get free duds and attractive discounts. Those in high-end fashion may be assigned to create custom designs for celebrities.
Career path: Many fashion designers receive training at art schools such as New York's Fashion Institute of Technology and Pratt. Students also commonly seek out internships, and the temporary jobs can lead to offers for full-time positions. By contrast, some designers learn the craft independently and generate job offers by networking and presenting samples of their work in fashion shows.
Best part of the job: "Coming up with the initial concept for each season and putting it all together," says Beverly Gayle, a senior boy's designer at Steve & Barry's LLC in Port Washington, N.Y. "And when you actually get to see your first prototype come back, that's pretty cool."
Worst part of the job: "It's a lot of work for one season's collection," says Daniel Vosovic, a free-lance women's wear designer in New York. "The entire process of designing is very tedious and arduous, and that can become very emotionally and physically draining."
Hiring: Fashion designers often learn about job opportunities by networking at industry events, says Helen Goworek, author of "Careers in Fashion and Textiles" and a senior lecturer at the School of Art and Design at Nottingham Trent University in England. To make connections, she suggests volunteering at runway showstrade exhibitions and industry seminars. On the Web, find job boards that cater to the industry such as fashioncareers.com and 24seventalent.com, as well as company sites.