Careers in fashion aren’t all like The Devil Wears Prada. Depictions of fashion industry careers often tease the promise of creative fulfillment, notoriety, and glamor. However, real fashion designers often comment that the media fails to truly reveal what it’s like to work in the industry and as a fashion designer. Although it is certainly possible to find fulfillment in owning a fashion brand, it's also essential to be in tune with the reality of what it will bring to your professional experience. Determine if the fashion industry is right for you by learning about the 5 challenges of working in the fashion industry as a designer.
1. It’s About Who You Know
While hard work and passion contribute largely to fashion designer success, being connected to accomplished and well-positioned professionals is also a huge help. It’s helpful to know successful models, photographers, and manufacturers, and if the relationship is close, people can call in favors for you or refer you to their professional peers.
This also points to another phenomena common in the industry: nepotism. For example, powerful families like Versace and Prada often run luxury brands, and their immediate relatives tend to inherit already iconic legacies. On top of this, having financially successful parents can allow aspiring designers to attend pricy fashion schools and afford working unpaid internships — also common in the industry. Of course being well connected does not necessarily mean the beneficiaries of these situations are unworthy. However, it does give them a boost that not everyone can access.
If you don’t have a network already, we recommend cultivating one through industry events and social media. With Covid-19 restrictions now lifted, you can attend more in-person fashion industry events in your community, such as trade shows, pop up shops, and fashion shows. Check out Eventbrite to find local events.
Virtually contacting people through social media platforms like Linkedin, Facebook, or Instagram is also an option. Don’t forget to connect with people using your alumni network from university or college, especially if it’s a school with a focus in a creative field.
Whether it’s in person or online, don't be afraid to show genuine interest to fellow fashion professionals. You can schedule a brief meeting with new and existing connections to ask for advice or share interesting articles they may like. People want connection, so networking can be successful if you’re respectful, genuine, and enthusiastic.
2. The High Cost of Investment
Launching a fashion brand is the one the most costly companies to start and maintain. It is estimated to take at least a couple thousand dollars. The financial challenge of producing, storing, and moving apparel products can be a major reason that newer companies in the space fail.
The realities of cost and access to a good well-positioned network can intertwine here, as personal connections to independently wealthy friends or family may mean greater investments into a growing fashion business. However, you can still procure the funds on your own through resources like bank loans, pitching to investors, and crowdfunding. Check out this blog post to learn more about how to finance your business.
3. Fashion Design Isn’t as Free Spirited as You Think.
Your position as a fashion designer requires creativity. You are in charge of creating and executing on unique garment designs. However, you won’t have complete creative freedom. Other factors like commercial viability inform the end result of your garment ideas. You will need to take into account how well your previous designs performed as well as consider opinions from teammates like marketers and manufacturers.
Another misconception about fashion designers is that they mainly create designs for runway shows. In reality, most designers will be creating apparel, handbags, and shoes for commercial use because that’s what sells. Some pieces on the runway are not even for sale, but are instead used for advertising purposes. Therefore, most of your designs will need to be more basic to suit the everyday wearer instead of artistic concepts for the couture features of Vogue.
You will also have to confront rampant copying. For instance, whenever a piece of apparel finds success like Adidas’ striped track pants or Lululemon’s Everywhere Belt Bag, a more affordable brand comes up with a knock off. You may even find some of your design elements repeated – especially if they launch a trend like an asymmetrical zipper or drawstring waistband.
While taking inspiration from other designs is completely normal, outright stealing them can have legal repercussions. Small businesses have struggled against big brands like Shein, Cider, and Amazon copying design elements like original artwork on t-shirts. Sometimes you can take legal action if you are on the victim’s end in this equation, but most of the time it’s not worth the hassle and expense.
4. Being a Fashion Designer Is a High Stress Job
Working in fashion is an investment of time and energy. It’s one of the most competitive and stressful industries. It requires someone who can handle a fast-paced and detail-oriented working environment. You will need to meet tight deadlines for ordering samples and approving production orders to ensure each collection launches on time, in the correct season. In addition, fast fashion has created an expectation for brands to constantly be producing and big companies like Zara, Forever21, and Shein have set a precedent that small brands would struggle to compete with directly.
Working in fashion also requires a sharp eye for detail. You will create, assess, and approve each detail of your design including its measurements, embroidery, stitching, and more. On top of that, social media has the added pressure of constantly reminding you of how well others are doing.
Even though it may seem counterintuitive, you should strive to find time to rest in your career and find a work and life balance. A career in fashion design will be difficult and might mean working overtime, but getting ahead of burnout before it hits will be critical to sustaining a successful fashion business.
5. Fashion Has A Sustainability Problem
The fashion industry is one of the most damaging industries to the environment because of overproduction, overconsumption, and inefficient end of life practices. Garment production contributes to 10% of the world's carbon emissions and uses 79 trillion liters of water annually. Beyond this, water pollution occurs at all stages of fashion production, including during fiber harvesting for textiles, the fabric dyeing process, and the industrial stage of production.
Additionally, the Australian Circular Textile Association (ACTA) found that fashion brands worldwide overproduce their clothing by 30%. This results in many companies throwing away unsold inventory. Fast fashion is often blamed for this reality due to its large output, but luxury companies also throw away extra inventory. In this case however, the brand does so to create scarcity. And unfortunately, attempts to implement a circular fashion system are complicated and most clothes can’t be recycled.
Even though large brands contribute the most to waste, growing brand owners have a unique opportunity to work toward making the industry more sustainable by implementing sustainable practices from the start of their lines. Plenty of guidance exists on strategies to help fashion brands act more sustainably from the slow fashion movement philosophy to using environmentally friendly fabrics.
Despite These Challenges…
This article is not to dissuade you from your ambitions of owning and selling your own clothing designs. Like many pursuits, it involves challenges and risks, and thoroughly understanding the good, the bad, and the ugly will help you confront it all head on, with realistic strategies that enhance your chances of a successful long-term career.
These investments come with payoffs. Nothing beats seeing your own designs fully realized in a physical garment you can hold in your hands and see others wear. If that future is priceless to you, then you should absolutely consider pursuing fashion design