Fashion Industry Career Specializations
How to Become a Fashion Designer ( Part 1 )
Coming straight from fashion school, you might be thinking that as a fashion designer, you’ll have the opportunity to work with all types of apparel. But what you may not know is that generally, the fashion industry is split into categories, and then categories within categories. Basically, the apparel industry is very specialized. The breakdown begins with price (which usually corresponds with quality). The lowest apparel classification is Discount, and at the height of fashion is Haute Couture:
Discount Fashion: These stores sell fashion merchandise that retails at a discounted price from what other apparel stores charge. Outlet malls or stores like Ross, Walmart, Target, or Conway are example of discount retailers that sell discount labels.
Budget / Mass Market Fashion: Mass market apparel usually consists of knock offs of higher priced designer fashions that are sold at low competitive prices to the masses. Old Navy, Forever 21, and Charlotte Russe are a few popular budget apparel labels. Department stores in this category include JC Penney, and Kohls. This fashion market usually retails for less than $100.
Moderate Fashion: These include nationally advertised apparel fashion brands such as Nine West, Gap, Express, and Zara. Examples of moderate department stores are Macy’s and Dillards. These apparel brands typically retail for less than $300.
Contemporary Fashion - More than just a specific price point, this classification is a fashion-forward image often aimed at women in their '20s and early '30s looking for trendy fashions priced more affordably than Designer pieces. BCBG, Betsey Johnson, Bebe, and Rebecca Taylor fall into the Contemporary fashion category, which usually retails for under $500.
Better Fashion– Also selling for less than $500, these collections use better quality fabric and styling than lower-priced brands. Armani Exchange, Jones New York and Anne Klein are a few examples of better-priced apparel lines.
Bridge Fashion: Priced under $1,000, these apparel fashion lines serve as a "bridge" between better and designer fashion categories. Bridge fashion includes names like Ellen Tracy, Dana Buchman, DKNY, Emporio Armani, and Lauren by Ralph Lauren.
Designer Fashion: True fashion designer collections typically sell for more than $1,000 per item. The fabrics, fit, details, and trims are superior to other ready-to-wear items. Some examples of designer labels are Gucci, Prada, Versace, Armani, and Chanel.
Haute Couture / Avant-garde Fashion: Also know as couture, these terms have been commonly misused by ready-to-wear brands. Haute Couture, or simply “couture” fashion designers sell custom, made-to-measure apparel, which costs tens of thousands of dollars, and is affordable only to a select few. Technically speaking, there are only ten official Haute Couture Fashion Houses including: Christian Dior, Jean Paul Gaultier, Chanel, and Givenchy. Avant-garde fashion designers produce high quality, one-of-a-kind garments that experiment with new fashion design concepts and push the envelope of popular apparel design.
Even within the fashion industry categories listed above, each apparel market is broken down into more specific career specializations. First, fashion companies are broken down by customer: men’s, women’s, children’s etc. Then are further divided by type of apparel: sportswear, eveningwear (special occasion), sleepwear etc. And then even fashion design teams are designated to specific areas like Wovens, Knits, Sweaters, Tops, Bottoms, Dresses, Outerwear and so on.
A discouraging thing to note about the fashion industry is that it is very difficult to move from one career category to another. If you start building your fashion design career with mass-market apparel companies, you’re going to face some barriers when you apply for that dream fashion designer job at Ralph Lauren. The same goes for apparel design specialties. If you’re experienced in designing children’s woven tops, chances are you won’t land a position designing women’s dresses. If you’re absolutely determined on making a switch in the fashion industry, you’re best bet is to start from the bottom in your desired career field and work your way up again.
Something else to consider is the different types of apparel manufacturers and retailers out there. There are fashion manufacturers who design and produce their own apparel designs, which are then sold to fashion retailers. These manufacturers do not have their own retail fashion stores. Examples include Shoshanna, Jones New York and Carmen Marc Valvo. There are also fashion manufacturers that own licenses for a variety of brands. For example, LVMH Group (Moet Hennessy.Louis Vuitton) holds licenses for Donna Karan, Louie Vuitton, Marc Jacobs, and Fendi, among many others; while Phillips Van Heusen (PVH) owns licenses for Calvin Klein, IZOD, Tommy Hilfiger, ARROW, Speedo and more.
Then, there are fashion retailers that only sell merchandise purchased from manufacturers. These include \ stores like Bloomingdales and Neiman Marcus. There are also many manufacturers that also have their own fashion retail locations such as Polo Ralph Lauren, Armani Exchange and Calvin Klein. Other apparel retail stores have their own product development teams and have merchandise manufactured specifically for their private label designs such as Gap, Old Navy, and Express. In addition to purchasing merchandise from outside manufacturers, many department stores also have their own private label collections. Examples are: I.N.C. (Macy’s), and Arizona Jeans (JC Penney).
The largest employment opportunities out there lie within mass-market apparel companies. They often pay rather well to begin with, however these figures usually level off after a few years of experience. The higher-end fashion markets pay less to start, and work hours are longer, but the prestige you’ll receive from such reputable companies will do wonders for your resume.