How to break in to the fashion industry

By Kimberly Absher

The fashion design industry includes everything from women’s and men’s everyday attire, to children’s clothing, to footwear and accessories, as well as high fashion “haute couture,” or high fashion, items.Approximately 250 schools in the United States have accredited Fashion Design programs. In Washington, the Art Institute of Seattle and the International Academy of Design and Technology are the two schools that have a specific Fashion Design program.

I asked Vivian Chesterley, the Academic Director of Fashion Design & Fashion Marketing at The Art Institute of Seattle about what qualities and background a person should have when trying to make it into the industry. She had a lot of good information for prospective Fashion Design students.

Jibsheet: What are the most important qualities does one need to have to get into the fashion industry?

Vivian Chesterley: “A good fashion designer needs to be able to interpret what is happening in the world around them and see how that will impact what consumers will want to buy a year from now. Fashion is influenced by so many things: lifestyles, the economy, what entertainers are wearing, politics, the weather, etc. So they need to be aware of what is happening in the world. They also need to be detail oriented. A fashion designer has to apply those overall trends to specific styles down to what type of thread to use and how many buttons and how much it will cost to produce.”

J: What is more important, education or talent?

VC: “Education is more important than talent. Fashion design is a creative business, but it is business; you need to learn how to get your creative concepts into a marketable reality. While you can try to learn that on your own, an education is really a more time and cost effective way of getting that information.”

J: After completing a Fashion Design program, what are the next key steps?

VC: “Even if you are interested in starting your own line of clothing, you’d be wise to get a couple of years working for a design company under your belt. You’ll learn so much by working for a company where you can see how the entire process works. Starting your own company is extremely expensive, so learning all you can while getting paid to work will save you a lot of time and financial grief in the long run.”

J: What type of fashion design is popular today? What type of designers is the industry looking for?

VC: “In the Fashion Design industry, there are more jobs for technical designers than creative designers. If you realize that a company has to manufacture the garments designed, it is easy to see that there are a lot more jobs related to creating the blue prints, called spec packs in fashion, sourcing fabrics and materials, checking colors and dyes, fitting sample garments, etc. It’s actually a wonderful thing to realize that there is a place for both creative people and technical people in the fashion design world.”

Janelle Abbott is a Seattle native who just started her first year at the Parsons School of Design in New York City. She was exposed to the world of fashion at a young age because both of her parents owned a clothing manufacturing company, where her mom did all of the designing.

“Even though my parents constantly warned me to not get involved in the fashion industry, I really can’t see myself anywhere else. I love color, and texture, pattern, and I love clothing. I like to make things, and throughout my life I’ve been come more and more entangled with fashion, I just couldn’t cut it out of my life. It’s the only thing I see myself having a career doing, out of the hobbies I’ve developed over the years.”

She agrees with Chesterley that “If you have the passion, and the sincerity behind your designs, then you’ll go a long way. If you have a perspective, a message and a voice, and you’re able to translate that into your work, I don’t see how you could fail.” But, she said, “