So do a lot of you out there in webland!! Here are the answers to some of the questions I frequently get asked by all you aspiring designers.
1) How did you go about making this career choice? What was personally important and appealing to you about this career?
I never felt like I had a choice. I always wanted to be a designer and decided early on I would succeed at it. I'm not sure why I like it, I just know that I get so many design ideas in my head that I would eventually explode if I didn't find and outlet for them all. It just seemed natural to translate them into fashion.
2) What type of education did you have and knowing what you know now what route would you recommend for aspiring designers?
I went to the University of Wisconsin at Madison for 3 years and to the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City for one year. The program I was in was perfect because the two schools I attended had an agreement that allowed me to go to university for 3 years and finish my senior year at FIT and receive two degrees; a bachelor of science in fashion design from UW and an associates degree in fashion design from FIT. Personally I feel it is beneficial to go to University for the simple fact that it is a good learning experience, super cool fun, and helps you grow up. There are a number of other Universities that have a program similar to this. If you plan to work in NYC it is helpful to go to fashion trade school here (Parsons, FIT, Pratt etc). The New York market responds well to an individual schooled here and you will find it easy to get a job (if your not picky about working for someone famous)
3) What type of salary can you expect to make as a designer?
It depends on the job. An assistant right out of school will make on average, in New York City, about $25,000 - $30,000 a year. As a Head Designer you can make a 6- figure salary depending on where you work. The more corporate the company, the more money you make and the more benefits you get. The smaller the company, the more experience you get in all aspects of the design business, and most famous designer companies are considered small companies (with some exceptions). You more than likely can expect health insurance.
4) What is a design environment like to work in?
Again it depends a lot on where you work. Most design companies have a crazy fast paced environment. What most people don't realize about a piece of clothing is how many people had to collaborate in order to produce it. Unless you are producing a line totally import (where the import vendor handles all of the variables and simply ships you a finished garment) there are a lot elements to juggle. In making just one garment, many people must be involved, from the patternmaker, fabric vendor, marker and grader to the contractors and shippers. All of the people involved are from different companies, in different areas, and all must come together at specific stages of the production of a garment to make it work. Sometimes it is tough to orchestrate all of those involved to do everything timely. That can make the work environment very stressful. Another element of stress comes from the fact that fashion seems to move at such a faster rate than the past. Therefore, clothing lines are generated quicker than ever before. It's not all stress though. I mean, you must remember that we are not saving lives or sending people to the moon. It's just clothing and can be a flaky and fun environment as well.
5) What are the benefits of your career? What do you find most rewarding?
The part of the job that makes all the stress worthwhile is knowing that you are actually getting paid to shop, look at magazines and draw. The most rewarding part of the job, I feel, is seeing someone on the street wearing your designs, getting good press on your collection and getting email from fans of your work. All of these things are the reason designers design; to create something and know that your design is worthwhile and something someone loved so much that they put money down for it and feel good wearing it.
6) What sacrifices did you have to make to have this career?
As a designer working for a company, you don't really have to make any sacrifices that any other job wouldn't force you to. On the other hand, if you choose to have your own collection, you must make tremendous sacrifices. NYC is very expensive anyway, but trying to fund your own line, pay your rent and eat is a tough one to balance. Also you tend to have to sacrifice having a social life. Owning your own company means living and breathing the business 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, which leaves little time and money for fun.
7) What are the main duties of your job?
With your own line you are responsible for every aspect of the business, unless you can afford to hire people straight away. You may have to become the roles of designer, assistant, salesperson, web developer, sample maker, production head, and shipper etc. In a regular job it all depends on the size of the company and your title. A designer in a large company would most likely be assigned to design one part of a collection (i.e. knitted tops or woven bottoms). A designer at a smaller company usually designs the whole line with some associates and has many other responsibilities besides just design (i.e. fittings, merchandising, fabric research, trend research etc).
8) What is a typical day for you like?
Hectic!! Depending on where you work you may be responsible for seeing fabric vendors, go to meetings, designing, following up on pattern making, paperwork, attending fittings, designing graphics on the computer etc. Every day is different for me because I always choose to work at a small companies. Some days I do more design; other days I work only on getting ready to release the line or designing graphics, it just depends on where you are in the cycle of the season.
9) Do most people become successful as entrepreneurs or with a company?
I think it depends on your definition of success. There is a lot of competition in the industry and I have found with the right schooling you can easily get a job in the industry working for a company. If you are only interested in working for companies with status or a name you will find it more challanging. To be a successful entrepreneur you have to have many things in your favor (in my opinion) a) A truck load of money b) Good business sense c) A lawyer and accountant d) A creative mind that know in the end you must actually sell your product to keep your business afloat e) Friends and family willing to help you f) More money g) Have the stamina to spend every moment of your life working.
10) Do you have to be an excellent artist to succeed?
No. Most of the designers I worked for in the early 90's could not draw at all! It is very helpful, although, to be able to draw because it is easier to express to others exactly what you want the design to look like. Also, if you are up for a job against someone who can draw, the employer would be foolish to not pick the most competent person.
11) What should young people do to prepare to become a designer?
Immerse yourself in the fashion through TV and magazines. Fashion is a cycle and if you are very aware of what is trendy now you will begin to see the cycle and understand how it works by the time you finish school. I would also take art classes in high school to help prepare you for drawing and thinking creatively. I used to take a sketchbook to high school every day and practice drawing (not just fashion, but draw anything and everything). By the time I got to college I felt more prepared and a bit ahead of the game. Keep your sketchbooks to refer to and you will see how your design influences change over time.
12) What inspires you?
Anything and everything. Designers get their inspiration from all different places including: the street, magazines, books, vintage, exhibits, art, movies, the news, nature, cultures, history etc. Your inspiration comes from the elements that affect your thinking and make you feel the need to express your views or thoughts on the subject using clothing as your canvas.
13) How do you start designing a collection?
Different designers have different methods. I gather up magazine photos or other inspirations items and then start designing silhouettes within that theme. Then I find fabrics and trims and stir it all together and in the end you have a cohesive thematic collection.
14) What qualities or qualifications do you need to be a successful designer?
It helps to be organized and be able to handle a fast moving pace. Also you need to learn to be able to do twelve things at once while getting constantly interrupted to complete the thirteenth thing; AND still being creative. The fashion industry is a rat race unfortunately, so your company has to move fast and so do you.
15) What has been you best resource?
Kindness. You will find very few genuine people in the garment industry. I think I have gotten as far as I have in this business, because I have always treated people the way I would want to be treated, with kindness. Because of this, people treat me as a friend and tend to help me out when they can. I also try and give back as much as I can to help others. I truly believe in Karma and what goes around comes around.
16) Has there ever been a time when you have had difficult obstacles to face?
Daily!! In my own business I have struggled for years trying to manage the business, and the money myself. The biggest obstacle for a new designer wanting to start a line is how to finance it. It is tough to find a backer without a proven track record of sales and it is nearly impossible to get a track record without a backer. I have been struggling to continue to finance my line myself since its inception and I don't think I'll ever give up.