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March 10, 2009

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Prestigious fashion schools like the Fashion Institute of Technology still thrive, but the industry has broadened its career reach. Fashion strongholds across the world -- from major department stores to specialized, upscale boutiques -- are now on the lookout for qualified candidates from all backgrounds. Companies are scouring colleges and universities, design programs and business schools for positions in retail, finance, buying or merchandising.

New York, New York

Rumor has it that New York City is the only place for fashion. And while New York is inarguably a fashion bastion, not all is ripe and juicy in the Big Apple. Fashion openings are not only extremely competitive in NYC; they are also low-paying. Sometimes, a fashion career counselor confesses, it is better to start your career elsewhere. "NYC may be the fashion capital of the world, but the truth is, companies outside of the city pay more because they need new talent. Besides, if you work with a large company, you can always relocate."

New York is probably the best city in the United States to study the industry because it's home to the biggest concentration of fashion companies. (Design and fashion degrees are often important for design jobs, as well as for potential entrepreneurs.) The city's three leading fashion schools are the Parsons School of Design, the Fashion Institute of Technology, and the Pratt Institute (located in Brooklyn). These schools funnel graduates into entry-level positions at the top design studios/houses. Each school has a year-end fashion show, which is always well attended by industry insiders looking for fresh talent. And New York City isn't the only New York educational option. "I earned my degree at Syracuse in upstate New York," says an assistant designer. "And I can't think of a better school."

A career counselor at a major school declares, "New York companies recruit predominately from New York schools and other New York companies." This is good news for New York fashion grads, although the pay scale isn't quite as pleasing. Fashion school graduates who opt to stay in New York can expect to make between $20,000 and $30,000 in entry-level design and retail jobs. Fashion associates, or those with two-year degrees, tend to earn less. Fortunately, in fashion, work experience soon becomes more important than educational background.

Outside the Big Apple

The West Coast is also home to top fashion schools, most notably the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising and Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles. There are also excellent design programs at many colleges and universities on both coasts -- and in between. Check the appendix for a listing of schools.

If you're looking for a career change into fashion, a graduate program may be a wise choice. Many of these schools also have graduate programs. Go to http://www.gradschools.com/listings/menus/design_craft_menu.html to see a listing of graduate schools and their programs. Unfortunately, there are few continuing education classes for those already established in the industry. Most people go to trade shows or seminars thrown by industry groups to keep up with new trends, innovations and developments.

Decide what area of the fashion industry interests you most, as that will determine the type of school you should attend. If you prefer to do something on the business side, you may not need to attend a fashion school. You just need to get a solid background in business, accounting or economics. On the other hand, if you want to pursue a career in design, attending a fashion school will be a big plus.


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