How to Become a Fashion Designer

Lynn Barnes is a professor of fashion design and merchandising at West Virginia University. She has been a professor for the past 10 years, but she has been in the fashion industry since 1982. Lynn has quite a comprehensive educational background, including a PhD in dress history, a Master of Arts in family and consumer sciences, and a Bachelor of Arts in home economic education. She specializes in historical dress, historic theater costume design, and also historic costume consultation for museums.

Why did you decide to enter the fashion design and merchandising field?

I love fashion, the design process, and the story our clothes tell.

What is your favorite aspect of fashion design and merchandising?

The story that dress tells about a culture, their values, their social activities, and their identity. I also love the artistry of fashion design.

What is your least favorite aspect of fashion design and merchandising?

Cheap, mass-produced clothing.

Are there subfields of fashion design and merchandising that students might not be aware of?

Costume design in theater and in movies, what I refer to as “canine couture,” and special needs fashions.

Are there common misconceptions about fashion design and merchandising?

That fashion design and merchandising is for “air-heads.” In fact, we are embedded in art and business, consumer behavior and social psychology, economics, and global politics, to name a few.

Is a graduate degree preferable for a career in fashion design and merchandising, or can someone be successful the field with a bachelor’s or associate degree?

A degree is not required to enter the field of fashion design and merchandising; however, a degree gives the student a substantial platform to begin a career in this field. Internships allow students to make necessary contacts in the industry to catapult their introduction forward in the field.

What personality traits do you think a student should have in order to be successful in a fashion design and merchandising program?

Common courtesies and a willingness to serve their customer, whether at the wholesale or retail level. Integrity and honesty need to be evident in all business practices.

What electives would you recommend that a student in a fashion design and merchandising program take?

For design, I would recommend art classes. For merchandising, I would recommend business administration and/or accounting.

What study tips would you give to a student to help him or her succeed in a fashion design and merchandising program?

Constantly stay aware of what is happening in the fashion industry, locally, nationally, and globally. Keep in touch with fashion publications and research. Thoroughly know your subject matter in order to present a cohesive idea and design.

Do you think fashion design and merchandising is a subject that can be studied online, or is a traditional class environment ideal?

I think that design requires hands-on instruction in a studio environment.

What subjects should a prospective student of fashion design and merchandising study before entering a formal college program?

For designers, practice your craft. Learn how to perform basic construction techniques. If a high school offers a family and consumer program, take those courses.

What pieces of advice, or caution, would you offer to a prospective student of fashion design and merchandising?

If high-paced schedules and meeting deadlines is a problem for your personality, then this is not the career for you. If you enjoy the challenges of creating, then this may be the field for you.