Fashion Designer Career Information
What a Fashion Designer does
You'll be involved in every phase of designing, exhibiting and producing all types of clothing, from bathing suits to evening gowns. But there's a lot of teamwork involved here. You'll work on a piece of garment for days and even months without having your name on it. In most fashion houses, there's a cadre of young, less experienced fashion designers behind the scenes.
If you think after a few years down the line you'll be as famous as a Hemant Trevedi or a Tarun Tahilliani and people will fall over each other to buy your labels, think again. These are just the big names in the industry. Most fashion designers stay pretty anonymous for a better part of their professional existence.
As an assistant fashion designer, you'll be sweating it out at the Mangaldas market in Mumbai or any other textile hotspot in your city. You'll also end up breaking your head with the darzi, embroiders and master cutters.
Other tasks could include ensuring the right colour of the yarn, cutting and sewing samples, handling trims and buttons, conducting market research and sketching design ideas. You need great business acumen as much as design talent to succeed. And balancing the two can be like walking a tightrope.
But, if you survive all this, you get to work with none other than geniuses like Tarun Tahiliani and Hemant Trivedi. What's more, you even get to travel with them for their fashion shows and shoots abroad. As a fashion designer you'll be working in any of these segment:
Haute couture: You are on your own designing for a select group of people known to you. You'll keep in mind their lifestyle, likes and dislikes. Pots of money in store here. If you click that is. Some famous fashion designers in this field are Hemant Trivedi, Wendel Roudriques, Tarun Tahiliani, Shaina NC, Rohit Bal, etc.
Designer ready-to-wear: These are sold in specialist outlets like Melange, Timble, Ensemble, etc. Relatively small numbers of each garment are produced, and they are bought for exclusiveness. The fashion designer works for a company (the shop), but still retains a fair amount of freedom and can retain personal style in their designs.
High street fashion: Lot's of openings for graduates. Clothes are made in large quantities for a mass market, and sold across the country or even internationally. The design is less creative, and every fashion designer tends to work on one garment type only. A typical example would be Cotton World in Mumbai.
A typical fashion designing house or fashion design department comprises of following people:
Designer - You'll design and experiment with ideas in line with the trend. Draw the initial sketches and chart out the details of fabric to be used, colours, threads, buttons and other materials. Co-ordinate the activities of other people in the house or department. Big fashion houses usually have assistant designers to assist the head fashion designers.
Junior fashion designer - Puts together the samples. The work involves surveying the market for fabric and other materials and their procurement. Co-ordinates with the cutting assistants and the other production people. Prepares art works and samples for presentation to the prospective buyers and clients.
Cutting assistants - You cut sample pieces, alter patterns, assist in the design room and cut the fabrics for the actual production.
Fashion co-ordinators - Your main job is to understand and predict the trends in the market. Co-ordinate between the clients and the fashion designers and look after the production process.
Fashion Merchandisers - Source the fabrics and materials required for producing the garments. They also help to determine the price of the designed products.
This is a very creative field and unless you are confident that your talent will get you places or have a Dad who's ready to open a boutique for you, you need to slog your way up.
You can start off by working as an apprentice for a garment house like Sheetal Design Studio, Ensemble or Timble. If you don't want to do that, you can also be on your own by designing for individual clients and get paid per garment. But it's always wiser to first try your hands at a boutique or by working with a fashion designer. Here you'll get hands-on experience, which you could put to use when you branch out on your own.
Apart from a good infrastructure, you need at least five people on your pay roll. You will have to deal with master cutters, procure material from the wholesale market and then sell your designs to boutiques. Something they never taught you at the design school.
So even if Dad is ready to back you up, it makes sense to start your solo career after getting some experience.
You could work in:
Fashion designing houses generally run by famous designers
Garment manufacturers both for domestic markets and for the export markets
Garment export houses
Fashion show organisers
Trade Fair authorities
Going by the increasing amount of fashion awareness among people in India, Fashion designing aspirants have a very bright future. The government is also encouraging expansion in garment export. Even the international fashion bigwigs are taking cues from the Indian fashion gurus.
India is slowly but steadily being recognised as a trendsetter. Indian models are achieving accolades in international competitions and Indian clothes are being considered as fashion statements in the West.
The market for designer dresses is expanding very fast creating career opportunities for young minds with artistic inclinations.
Abilities & Traits Required
Talent, vision, determination and ambition will decide your popularity in this difficult, demanding and highly competitive industry.
You have to constantly keep yourself updated about the current trends and tastes through fashion magazines, newspapers and other media. As a bonus you also get to attend fashion shows.
You should be able to communicate your design and vision clearly through sketches, discussion and occasionally samples. A good hand at sketching would be of advantage.
For street fashion - the kind of clothes available at shops like Cotton World - you don't necessarily need creative sense. But if you are working for a reputed fashion house like Ensemble or Melange, you have to create your own lines and that need loads of creativity.
Communication skills are a must if you want to convince your client about the design. No matter what your personal style, as a designer you must be able to produce a creative, exciting and profitable line of design. Those who want to make it big in this field should have a good eye for colour, style and shape. A fair knowledge of textiles and a familiarity with the nuances of a variety of fabrics is also a must.
Knowledge of different fabrics, dress materials, colours, shapes and patterns will be an added advantage here.
You can do a course in Fashion Designing after 10+2. The duration of most diploma courses varies between one and three years and includes practical training.
A degree from NIFT (National Institute of Fashion Technology), or a Diploma from NID (National Institute of Design) will give you a good start. Both these institutes are run by the government and are reputed for their excellence in training.
Can I make it without a degree?
Yes you can! This is one profession where you won't have to flaunt your degree. There are reputed designers with no formal training in designing. If you already have the talent, design schools will only fine-tune it.
Stipend for apprentice at a design house: Rs 10000 - 15000. Once you are inducted the pay ranges from Rs 20000 - 30000 or more.
Senior designer (in medium to large scale export houses, designer houses, garment manufacturers or textile manufacturers): Rs 10000 -15000 or more a month. Fashion coordinators and merchandisers also earn as much.
If you branch out on your own later on, you could earn anything between Rs 100000 - 500000 or more for a single dress. And once you become a name to reckon with, you can call the shots the way you want.
Interview with a Fashion Designer
Shaina NC, Fashion Designer
Shaina is one of the young designers in the fashion industry with a F.I.T New York graduate degree under her hat. She caters to the quality conscious women of India and the young executives of the corporate world. At her boutique 'Golden Thimble', she stocks affordable, classy, sarees.
Shaina is an unusual name. What does it mean?
Thank you. It’s a made-up name and has no meaning.
Political Science is not remotely connected to fashion designing. How did you make the shift?
I completed my high school in Vancouver, went on to graduate in Political Science from Xavier’s with every intention of doing law. And then strangely I branched out into fashion. I think it's because my mom's been in the trade for 30 years, so I've grown up seeing tailors and embroiderers. But at that time I used to always think of fashion as a career for 'dumb-blondes' - there was no mental stimulation. As I got more interested in it I went ahead and got a degree from F.I.T. (New York).
How did you think of reinventing the age-old saree?
I am truly fascinated by the saree. It is the only garment that can be draped in 17 different styles and each one looks different from the other.
You would be amazed to know that the saree is the only outfit, which makes a thin person look voluptuous and a fat person look thinner, if draped correctly with soft fabrics. Most people don’t know the potential of six yards of fabric.
What is the most important thing for a fashion designer?
You have to be able to visualise. If you are not able to visualise what you want to create, it is never going to work. If for instance you sketched some thing on paper and it looks fabulous. But when you translate it into reality it does not look the way you sketched, then there is no point. Your test as a designer is to translate your sketches into reality.
Is formal training a must for fashion designers?
Professional training is a must in today’s world. Or else you will be left far, far behind. The knowledge of fabric, silhouette, sketching techniques, etc is utmost important. One more thing, the Indian ethic wear market is totally saturated. Branch out in to children’s wear, men’s wear, accessories, etc.
What is the best training ground in India to become a fashion designer?
The courses at SNDT and NIFT are quite competitive.
What do you love most about being a fashion designer?
Fashion is one line, which has tremendous creative stimulation and one gets a lot of mental satisfaction when your creations are appreciated.
What is your fashion philosophy?
I am a very conservative designer. I don't want to experiment every single day, and come up with things like shell caps as blouse bustiers. It's just not me. Also, I've never believed that the more flesh you show, the more expensive the garment should be. My fashion philosophy is simple - wearable, designer clothing for the Indian woman, at affordable prices.
Not all of us have a body like Naomi Campbell. We have our reservations in terms of height, figure and complexion. That's why it's a bigger challenge to dress the average Indian woman rather than a model.
What would you term as your career highlights?
I think they're yet to come. But in a sense breaking into the Indian ready-to-wear market can be considered one of them. Also, I have done shows abroad in New York, Colombo, London, which I feel have catered to an appreciative NRI market.
Do you have any specific clientele that you design for?
I love signing for women like Shobha De and Anuradha Mahindra. I also design for Anjali Mendes, Malvika Sanghvi, Dolly Thakore, Sathya Saran and business houses like Birlas and Ambanis.
But why only women’s clothing?
The reason I haven’t really adventured too far into men's clothing is because men come and buy one kurta after half-an-hour, whereas women will pick up five outfits in the same time. Plus, I'm truly in love with the sari.
Shaina, how do you keep yourself updated on fashion on a daily basis?
I keep myself updated by reading a lot of international fashion magazines, travelling and of course surfing the net.
What do you do when not working out designs?
I like reading biographies, autobiographies, exercising and travelling the most.
Who is your source of inspiration in the field of designing?
It's only Shahab Durazi.
I'd like to take on the political system and get politicians to wear smarter clothes. Just like film stars have their own personal designers, why can't our politicians?
- Nivedita Jayaram Pawar