California Occupational Guides

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Detailed Guide for

Fashion Designers in San Diego County

May also be called: Designers; Fashion Advisors; Costume Designers; Custom Furriers; and Stylists

Specialties within this occupation include: Head Designers; Assistant Designers; Specialty Designers; and Theatrical Costume Designers

What Would I Do?

Fashion Designers create original garments and accessories. They sketch designs of clothing and accessories and select colors and fabrics. They also research fashion trends and make predictions of future trends. Some Designers conduct their own research, while others rely on trend reports published by fashion industry trade groups. Designers may plan and manage the final production and marketing of their creations. Those who work for apparel manufacturers do less original work; however, they adapt fashions set by other Designers for the mass market.

Designers typically specialize in one type of garment or accessory, such as men’s or women’s wear, children’s garments, swimwear, lingerie, handbags, or shoes. For instance, Accessory Designers help create and produce items that add the finishing touches to an outfit, such as handbags, belts, scarves, hats, hosiery, and eyewear. Footwear Designers help create and produce different styles of shoes and boots.

Some high-fashion Designers are self-employed and design for individual clients. They make fashion news by establishing the silhouette, colors, and kinds of materials that will be worn each season. Others sell their designs in their own retail stores or cater to specialty stores or high-fashion department stores. These Designers create a mixture of original garments and those that follow established fashion trends.

Depending on the size of the design firm and level of experience, Fashion Designers may have varying levels of involvement in different aspects of design and production. A large manufacturer generally has a Head Designer and several Assistant Designers. They also employ their own patternmakers, tailors, and sewers who create the master patterns for the design and sew the prototypes and samples. Designers working in small firms, or those new to the job, usually perform most of the technical patternmaking and sewing tasks, in addition to designing the clothing. Many small firms, however, do not employ Designers but purchase ready-made designs or copy higher-priced designs.

Head Designers are responsible for executive and creative functions. They are responsible for creating the designs, choosing the colors and fabrics, and managing and supervising other design room staff that turn the designs into a final product. Those with less experience may be responsible for small divisions or specialized garments.

Assistant Designers are generally all-around assistants to Designers. They make first patterns and samples or may supervise sample makers. They typically acquire the knowledge of what creations will sell at a profit in an intended market, within a defined price range, at a particular time of the year. They also learn the personality of firms, types of stores that buy the merchandise, and the age and tastes of the stores’ clientele.

Specialty Designers work with other Designers to coordinate special lines of clothing, such as sweaters. They often arrange for styles to be made in foreign countries.

Theatrical Costume Designers create costumes for performing arts, motion picture, and television or theatrical productions. They perform extensive research into the styles worn during the period in which the performance takes place or work with directors to select appropriate attire for performances.

Computer-aided design (CAD) is increasingly being used in the Fashion Design Industry. While most Designers initially sketch designs by hand, a growing number also translate these hand sketches to the computer. Designers use CAD to view designs of clothing on virtual models and in various colors and shapes, thus saving time by requiring fewer adjustments of prototypes and samples later.

Important Tasks and Related Skills

Each task below is matched to a sample skill required to carry out the task.

View the skill definitions
TaskSkill Used in this Task
Attend fashion shows and review garment magazines and manuals in order to gather information about fashion trends and consumer preferences.Active Learning
Design custom clothing and accessories for individuals, retailers, or theatrical, television, or film productions.Originality
Draw patterns for articles designed; then cut patterns, and cut material according to patterns, using measuring instruments and scissors.Design
Examine sample garments on and off models; then modify designs to achieve desired effects.Visualization
Select materials and production techniques to be used for products.Operations Analysis
Sketch rough and detailed drawings of apparel or accessories, and write specifications such as color schemes, construction, material types, and accessory requirements.Fine Arts
Adapt other designers' ideas for the mass market.Active Listening
Collaborate with other designers to coordinate special products and designs.Coordination
Confer with sales and management executives or with clients in order to discuss design ideas.Sales and Marketing
Determine prices for styles.Judgment and Decision Making
Source: U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Information Network (O*NET)

Working Conditions

Designers tend to work independently but spend much of their time coordinating their work with workroom personnel, buyers, sales personnel, firm members, patrons, and other artists. Some work in quiet, spacious, well-lit, and well-ventilated areas, while others may work in small areas close to crowded workrooms. Regardless of their work setting, all Fashion Designers occasionally work long hours to meet production deadlines or prepare for fashion shows.

Designers employed by manufacturing establishments, wholesalers, or design firms generally work regular hours. They frequently adjust their workday to suit their clients’ schedules and deadlines, meeting with the clients during evening or weekend hours when necessary. They may work under pressure for long periods to meet deadlines and budget limitations. Designers’ Assistants in apparel manufacturing are exposed to the fast pace of production schedules while performing routine aspects of the job. Many Designers are busy all year preparing styles for the following seasons. Others work intermittently and are laid off when a line is completed.

Freelance Designers generally work on a contract or job basis and tend to work longer hours in smaller, more congested, work environments. They typically are under demands to please clients and to find new ones in order to maintain a steady income.

The global nature of the fashion business requires constant communication with suppliers, manufacturers, and customers all over the United States and the world. In essence, Designers may travel in and out of the country several times a year to attend fashion and trade shows or conferences, visit suppliers or manufacturers, or shop.

There are a number of professional organizations that Fashion Designers can join, such as Fashion Group International, Inc. and the Costume Council, but there is, as of yet, little or no unionization of this occupation.

Will This Job Fit Me?

The job of Fashion Designer will appeal to you if you enjoy activities that promote self-expression and deal with the artistic side of things, such as forms, designs, and patterns. This occupation satisfies those with artistic interests. Artistic occupations also include activities that can be performed without following a clear set of rules.

What Wages and Benefits Can I Expect?

Earnings of Fashion Designers can vary widely based on the size of the employing firm, the kind of fashion designing involved, and the years of experience. Starting salaries in fashion design tend to be very low until Designers are established in the industry. Salaried Fashion Designers usually earn higher and more stable incomes than self-employed or freelance Designers. However, incomes of self-employed and freelance Designers vary with their talent, business ability, reputation, and type of clientele. A few of the most successful self-employed Fashion Designers may earn more than the highest paid salaried Designers.


The median wage in 2020 for Fashion Designers in California is $84,331 annually, or $40.54 hourly. The median wage for Fashion Designers in San Diego County is $60,643 annually, or $29.16 hourly. The median is the point at which half of the workers earn more and half earn less.

Change to Hourly Wages
Annual Wages for 2020Low
(25th percentile)
(50th percentile)
(75th percentile)
San Diego County$46,047$60,643$89,428
Source: EDD/LMID Occupational Employment Statistics Survey, 2020 Wages do not reflect self-employment.
View Wages for All Areas


Benefits vary with employers. Designers often negotiate their salaries and benefits individually with employers. Some firms provide vacation and group health insurance plans. Self-employed Fashion Designers must provide their own benefits and retirement.

What is the Job Outlook?

Some employment growth is expected in fashion design, but most job opportunities will stem from the need to replace workers who retire or leave for other types of work. Job competition will be keen as many Designers are attracted to the creativity and glamour associated with the occupation. Fashion Designers will be needed to design comfortable and more affordable items for the mass market and everyday wear. They will also need to keep pace with new clothing technology and create garments using new materials, such as moisture-wicking fabrics.

Projections of Employment

In California, the number of Fashion Designers is expected to grow slower than average growth rate for all occupations. Jobs for Fashion Designers are expected to increase by 3.7 percent, or 300 jobs between 2016 and 2026.

In San Diego County, the number of Fashion Designers is expected to grow much faster than average growth rate for all occupations. Jobs for Fashion Designers are expected to increase by 24.0 percent, or 60 jobs between 2016 and 2026.

Estimated Employment and Projected Growth
Fashion Designers
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-Projected Year)
San Diego County
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Projected Growth for All Areas

How Do I Qualify?

Education, Training, and Other Requirements

In fashion design, employers seek individuals with an associate or bachelor’s degree from accredited colleges, universities, and private art or design schools. Some Fashion Designers also combine a fashion design degree with a business, marketing, or fashion merchandising degree, especially those who want to run their own business or retail store. In addition, vocational schools typically offer a two-tiered certificate program complementary to the Associate of Arts degree. A first-level certificate of proficiency is usually offered to those who want to enter the field quickly, preparing individuals to work as Design Room Assistants. The second-level certificate of proficiency takes more time to complete, but upon completion applicants are more competitive for Assistant Designer positions. Some industry leaders feel that community colleges and vocational training schools provide better preparation than four-year institutions because they are more closely allied with the garment industry.


Previous work-related skill, knowledge, or experience is usually required for the job of Fashion Designer. Employers often prefer applicants who are knowledgeable about textiles, fabrics, ornamentation, and fashion trends. Sometimes a portfolio of a Designer's best work is more influential in finding a job than an extensive education. However, most employers usually prefer applicants who have one or two years of training involving both on-the-job experience and informal training with experienced workers. Aspiring Fashion Designers can learn job skills through internships with design or manufacturing firms. Some Designers also gain valuable experience working in retail stores, as personal stylists, or as custom tailors.

Artistic talent is crucial in fashion design. People in this field need a good sense of line, color, form, balance, and proportion, as well as an eye for detail. In addition to creativity, Fashion Designers also need to have sewing and patternmaking skills, sketching ability, and strong sales and presentation skills in order to persuade clients to purchase their designs. The work also requires initiative, resolve, and the ability to organize. Good teamwork and communication skills are necessary due to the increasingly international nature of the business. Communication skills are also needed to coordinate, supervise, manage, or train others to accomplish goals.

Early Career Planning

High school students interested in fashion design should take courses in sewing, art, mathematics, business, speech, and English.

Work Study Programs

California offers Regional Occupational Programs (ROP) for students interested in fashion design. A few of the programs offered are Clothing and Textiles, Fashion Merchandising, and Fashion and Textile Design. To find an ROP program near you, go to the California Association of Regional Occupational Centers and Programs Web site.


Fashion Designers may hold one or more of the following certificates: Family and Consumer Sciences Certification, Computer Fundamentals (WIN 2000), Reading Comprehension-English, and Heartsaver First Aid. For more information, go to the U.S. Department of Labor's Career InfoNet Web site and scroll down to "Career Tools." Click on "Certification Finder" and follow the instructions to locate certification programs.

Where Can I Find Training?

There are two ways to search for training information:

  • Search by Field of Study to find what programs are available and what schools offer those programs. You may use keywords such as: Apparel and Textile Manufacture; Fashion Merchandising; Fashion and Fabric Consultant; Fashion/Apparel Design; and Textile Science.
  • Search by Training Provider to find schools by name, type of school, or location.

Contact the schools you are interested in to learn about the classes available, tuition and fees, and any prerequisite course work.

Where Would I Work?

The largest industries employing Fashion Designers are as follows:

Industry TitlePercent of Total Employment for Occupation in California
Motion Picture and Video Industries25.1%
Merchant Wholesalers, Nondurable Goods18.8%
Cut and Sew Apparel Manufacturing12.1%
Management of Companies and Enterprises6.8%
Specialized Design Services6.6%
Source: EDD/LMID Staffing Patterns

Finding a Job

Direct application to employers remains one of the most effective job search methods. Applicants may find jobs through their school or training facility’s job placement office. Also, Designers can gain exposure to potential employers by entering their designs in student or amateur contests. In addition, they can locate jobs through other people in the industry, professional affiliations, or advertisements in trade journals or newspapers.  Online job opening systems include JobCentral at and CalJOBSSM at

To find your nearest One-Stop Career Center, go to Service Locator. View the helpful job search tips for more resources. (requires Adobe Reader).

Yellow Page Headings

You can focus your local job search by checking employers listed online or in your local telephone directory. Below are some suggested headings where you might find employers of Fashion Designers.

  • Fashion Designers
  • Fashion Consultants
  • Women’s Apparel
  • Women’s Accessories-Retail
  • Display Designers and Producers
  • Department Stores

Find Possible Employers

To locate a list of employers in your area, go to "Find Employers" on the Labor Market Information Web site:

  • Select one of the top industries that employ the occupation. This will give you a list of employers in that industry in your area.
  • Click on "View Filter Selections" to limit your list to specific cities or employer size.
  • Click on an employer for the street address, telephone number, size of business, Web site, etc.
  • Contact the employer for possible employment.

Where Could This Job Lead?

Beginning Designers often start out working for more experienced Designers as Assistant Designers; as trainees in design departments; or as pattern makers, pattern graders, or sketchers. Those who prove their ability are usually promoted to Designer status within two to four years. Experienced Designers may advance to chief designer, design department head, or other supervisory positions. Some Designers may start their own design company or sell their designs in their own retail stores. A few of the most successful Designers can work for high-fashion design houses that offer personalized design services to wealthy clients.

Related Occupations

Below is a list of occupations related to Fashion Designers with links to more information.

Art DirectorsProfile
Commercial and Industrial DesignersProfile
Costume AttendantsProfile
Fabric and Apparel PatternmakersProfile
Floral DesignersProfile
Interior DesignersGuide

Other Sources

These links are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement by EDD.

For the Career Professional

The following codes are provided to assist counselors, job placement workers, or other career professionals.

SOC - Standard Occupational Classification27-1022
O*NET - Occupational Information Network
   Fashion Designers27-1022.00
   Interest Codes (RIASEC)AER
CIP - Classification of Instructional Programs
   Apparel and Textile Manufacture 190902
   Fashion/Apparel Design 500407
TOP - Taxonomy of Programs (California Community Colleges)
   Fashion Design130310
   Fashion Production130330