Fashion designers design clothing and accessories.
Junior fashion designers usually earn
$42K-$50K per year
Experienced fashion designers usually earn
$50K-$160K per year
Source: NZ Fashion Tech and Competenz, 2017.
Pay for fashion designers varies depending on skills and experience.
- Junior fashion designers with up to three years' experience usually earn between $42,000 and $50,000 a year.
- Intermediate fashion designers with four to six years' experience can earn between $50,000 and $75,000.
- Senior fashion designers with more than seven years' experience or designers who work with large companies can earn between $75,000 and $160,000.
Self-employed fashion designers may earn less than this.
Source: New Zealand Fashion Tech 2017; Competenz, 2017.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)
What you will do
Fashion designers may do all or some of the following:
- create or update fashion designs
- prepare drawings of the designs
- adapt patterns to a new style or create new patterns
- select and buy fabrics or have fabrics developed
- estimate how much the work will cost
- inspect the quality of garments
- plan clothing production methods
- market garments.
Skills and knowledge
Clothing designers need to have knowledge of:
- current clothing styles and trends
- the history of fashion
- design and drawing techniques
- fabric types, colours and fabric care
- sewing and tailoring techniques
- garment construction and pattern-making techniques
- different body shapes
- computer-aided design (CAD) software.
- may work long and irregular hours, including evenings and weekends
- work in offices, workshops, factories or clothing shops
- may travel to different factory sites and to local or overseas fashion shows.
What's the job really like?
Childhood friends now run a joint business
Twentysevennames is the brainchild of clothing designers Anjali Stewart and Rachel Easting. Friends since primary school, they've managed to convert their interest in clothing and design into an effective business partnership. "It's a small company, so decisions, down to every button, are made collectively. We used to do everything together – we'd be working at the cutting table, or we'd even sit down to write an email together! Eventually we got to the point where we were like, 'This is too much!' Now it's easier because our roles are more defined.
"Rachel's now taken over the role of patternmaker and getting help for pattern making, while I look after the admin stuff, such as managing our tax and cash flow, and liaising with all our stockists and media. Otherwise, it gets too hard working on lots of jobs at once, as your roles get really blurred and things can fall by the wayside."
Challenges and rewards of working with a friend
Asked if it's ever difficult working with a close friend, Anjali's answer is clear. "It's both hard work and really rewarding – you feel like you have to make the other person proud. I guess it's great having someone to answer to that you value."
Ava checks out a career in fashion with NZ Fashion Tech – 7.26 mins. (Video courtesy of Just the Job)
So Ava's off for some for work experience with two Auckland designers - Caroline Sills in Devonport, and Natalie Chan in Parnell.
Natalie's courageous use of colour and exceptional fabrics has found great success. All her clothing and designs are made in-house and made in the workroom above the retail space.
Ava: Yep, that's me.
Frances: Frances. Welcome to Natalie Chan's.
Ava: Thank you.
Frances: We've got a meeting upstairs if you'd like to come and join us?
Frances: Alright, let's go.
Clinton: Frances Paki is a former fashion technology student. She's now working here as a workroom assistant.
Natalie: Hi, I'm Natalie, nice to meet you.
Ava: Nice to meet you.
Natalie: She's Linda, my workroom manager.
Clinton: The team are discussing a bridal dress for a client. A sample card of fabric needs to be despatched...
Natalie: The cards and everything need to be stapled on to here and this all needs to be packed and ready for them for pick up in half an hour's time.
Clinton: ....and then a pattern needs to be graded into a larger size.
Natalie: ...and then make sure that these are the things I want you to do the marking in. This one for the red, the green line, the green for the main and the blue for the lining.
Clinton: So first for Ava, the sample card.
Frances: And so we need to get a little sample of these three fabrics.
Ava: Mm, hmm.
Frances: I'm really enjoying the variety - it's a small workroom so I get to do a lot of different things. I enjoy working with these beautiful fabrics, it's a great team, and it's really hands on which is good, and that's why I came into the industry - was to sew and to pattern make - the hands on aspect - and that's what I'm doing.
Clinton: Next it's the pattern grading. First the pattern is copied.
Frances: So our first step is to go around the outline of it to trace it onto this paper.
At Fashion Tech we learn to sew to industry standards - they set a very high standard, which is great for when you enter the industry, because you've got a really good skillset. We also learn to pattern make, which is invaluable when you're sewing, just to know how a pattern goes together when you're constructing a garment.
Clinton: Line by line the pattern is replicated but just a few centimetres wider.
Natalie: The good thing about being in the New Zealand fashion industry I feel is that because it's such a small industry, everybody get's to know each other. Once you kind of get into the industry I feel that there's a lot of support and there's great networks around it that everybody does help each other and I think that's really great because I think that if it's any bigger than that then there's really not as much support in the industry.
Clinton: Once the duplicated pattern is being cut out, the new larger size can be made.
Frances: I am learning a lot on the job. I think you are constantly learning, especially because we do made to measure here or made to order each dress is different and everybody is different so you learn different things with every order that comes through.
And we're all cut out.
Natalie: I love the people that I work with. I love the people that are also in the industry as well. You know when you work with creatives I think that they're really really fun.
Clinton: Off to Devonport. Designer Caroline Sills has a long established place in the fashion industry. Her classic and modern knitwear embraces all ages and is timeless. Production assistant Helen Peard is another former student from Fashion Tech.
Ava: So this is a really big space up here. What goes on here?
Helen: Upstairs is like our sales area. A lot goes on so it's sales, media, designing, it's web production is controlled mainly.
Ava: So what do you do here?
Helen: My role is production assistant. So I mainly alter patterns so they look and fit how the designer wants them to.
Clinton: The first job for Ava is to increase the size of some newly designed pants that are too tight around the legs. Ava is taping extra paper to the pattern so the overall size of the leg is increased.
Helen: The work experience they get you doing, they put you in places that you really like and that you want to be in, so the confidence that you graduate with means that you're more confident to go look for a job.
They help you out as well, looking for a job. So, confidence is huge.
Before I cut out the pants and fabric I always look at the spec sheet first. So we need the techno black fabric.
So my role with the production assistant is adapting patterns so they fit nicely. So the designer will come up with an idea, will have the sample made up and then we fit it, with a proper fit model and then what I do is I take notes on what needs to be changed, design and fit wise, and then I'll take those notes and I'll adapt the pattern to those notes.
So what we've done is the collar around there is not fitting as nicely as we'd want it to.
I then send samples off to machinists to get made up, they come back and we do the whole thing again until it fits right.
Caroline: We have some very high-skilled technicians here so it's a very good learning platform for young graduates coming out of school. The more highly educated and skilled they are of course they're much more adaptable and successful here.
Clinton: Back at the workbench Ava has now finished cutting out the new, wider legs, and is about to learn how to use the fusing press.
Helen: So, it's very hot.
Helen: So you put it in there and it just heats the glue up so it can stick to the fabric. So you leave it in there for about 15 to 20 seconds and then you take it out. You see it's all stuck together and it has made the fabric a bit firmer.
I'm finding it really good here, like I come in every day and I'm motivated. Because I'm quite new here there's still, always someone there to help me if I need it so the support here is great.
Fashion Tech Man: The only way we can be a successful business is making as many of our students as successful as we can, and we have that sort of a premise and it's done by a combination of encouragement and a little bit of push occasionally, but also making things exciting and interesting for them and it just makes for a wonderful business and a great industry.
Clinton: From work experience to the campuses in Auckland and Wellington, Ava's time with Fashion Tech has been a great learning curve. Marina's arrived tofsee how it's all been.
Marina: So how was your time with us Ava?
Ava: It's been great. It's been really interesting, I've learned heaps and heaps, yeah I've really enjoyed it.
Marina: Ava's done fantastically with us with just a short time with us but she's done really well.
Ava: It's been great, I've been able to work with heaps of really interesting people and learned so many skills, it's been a really good week.
Clinton: Fashion Tech offers three courses. Certificates in both Garment Technology and Pattern Design and the Diploma in Fashion Technology. Fashion Tech is proactive in securing work experience placements. The fashion industry in New Zealand is a vibrant, boutique industry. Students who are motivated and have learned the basic skills should have little difficulty securing employment.
Wow, I didn't know there was so much to fashion design. We'll join Ava again in just a couple of minutes, but first here's Sarah from Careers New Zealand.
Sarah Moyne: Thanks Clinton. Well I think Ava is certainly heading for a great career in fashion, but if you have no idea where to start with your own planning, head to the Careers NZ website and try out some of our interactive tools at www.careers.govt.nz. You'll find out a whole lot of information that will help get your career planning off to a great start.
To become a fashion designer you need to have a New Zealand Diploma in Fashion Technology (Level 5), which you can study through a course provider or apprenticeship.
Some course providers may require you to have a New Zealand Certificate in Fashion Technology (Level 3) and work experience before you can study for the diploma.
- Competenz website - information on fashion apprenticeships
- Eastern Institute of Technology (EIT) website - information about the Diploma in Fashion Technology
- NZ Fashion Tech website - information about the Diploma in Fashion Technology
NCEA Level 3 is required to enter tertiary training. Useful subjects include design and visual communication (graphics), digital technologies, maths, processing technologies, and painting, sculpture, photography, printmaking combined.
Fashion designers need to be:
- creative and imaginative
- motivated and dedicated
- able to work well under pressure
- accurate, with an eye for detail.
I think you need to be someone who is really hard-working, determined and prepared to put yourself and your ideas out there.
Useful experience for fashion designers includes:
- sewing, fabric cutting or patternmaking experience
- experience as a garment technician
- fashion buying experience
- clothing factory or workroom experience
- draughting or computer-aided design (CAD).
Fashion designers need to have normal colour vision and good eyesight (with or without corrective lenses).
Find out more about training
- 0800 526 1800 - firstname.lastname@example.org -www.competenz.org.nz
- Eastern Institute of Technology(EIT)
- 0800 22 55 348 -www.eit.ac.nz
- NZ FashionTech
- 0800 800 300 - email@example.com -www.nzfashiontech.ac.nz
What are the chances of getting a job?
Networking gives fashion designers a greater chance of finding work
Chances of fashion graduates finding work as designers are poor as competition for vacancies is strong. This is because there are more fashion graduates than jobs available. Most new positions aren't advertised, so its better to network with people in the industry and approach employers yourself.
Opportunities are better for experienced fashion designers, as fashion companies often have trouble finding skilled staff.
In 2017, there were about 880 fashion designers working in New Zealand, according to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.
Fashion designers work their way up
Fashion designers often get into the industry by starting off as garment technicians or design assistants.
Another good way to get experience in the industry is through internships, which can lead to fashion design jobs.
Types of employers varied
Fashion designers may work for:
- small fashion houses
- large clothing manufacturers
- fashion retailers
- fashion buyers.
Many fashion designers are self-employed.
- Edmunds, S, 'New Zealand Designers Carve Out Niche to Take on Fast Fashion', 16 April 2017, (www.stuff.co.nz).
- Marshall-Smith, V, academic director, NZ Institute of Fashion Technology Ltd, Careers Directorate – Tertiary Education Commission interview, November 2017.
- Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, 'Occupation Outlook – Tailors and Patternmakers', accessed October 2017, (www.mbie.govt.nz).
- New Zealand Apparel, 'Is NZ-Made Dead?', 2 August 2017, (www.apparelmagazine.co.nz).
- NZ Fashion Tech, 'Changing Times', accessed October 2017, (www.nzfashiontech.ac.nz).
- NZ Fashion Tech, 'Gaining Employment', accessed October 2017, (www.nzfashiontech.ac.nz).
- NZ Fashion Tech, 'Industry Opportunities', accessed October 2017, (www.nzfashiontech.ac.nz).
- Ryan, H, 'Fashion Industry's Moment to Shine', 26 August 2017, (www.nzherald.co.nz).
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)
Progression and specialisations
Fashion designers may progress to set up their own design business or become design room managers or product developers. Product developers design a whole fashion range for a retailer or clothing manufacturer, or can design items such as paint ranges or car upholstery.
Fashion designers may specialise in a number of roles including:
- CAD Operator
- CAD (Computer Aided Design) operators or computer-aided designers create clothing using CAD software.
- Costume Designer
- Costume designers create clothing to be used in theatre, film and television productions.
- Textile Designer
- Textile designers use traditional and modern textile manufacturing and decoration processes to create textiles for clothing and furnishings.
Last updated 4 November 2019