After you have studied at your choice of fashion design schools, most fashion entrepreneurs would advise you to find an internship or a full-time fashion position in order to gain several years of experience before launching your own modest clothing label. Or, if you find a company that you like, you may be able to stay and contribute toward modest design with an established fashion house. New York City offers the largest concentration of fashion design jobs in the United States and is an ideal place to find work in the fashion industry. Los Angeles is a second choice, though manufacturing jobs dominate the apparel scene there compared to New York's claim to more of the design and style development jobs. Our European friends, of course, have design studios concentrated in London and Paris. Other countries have their own concentrations of fashion companies, usually in major cities.
The best way to find out what you are worth at a given time is to interview with an array of companies to see what they offer you. The following estimates should be taken as a general guide. Earnings will vary based on the company, individual, job responsibilities, and shifting economic environment. In New York, where most fashion jobs are located, fashion interns are rarely paid. Fashion graduates, at the low end, may be offered jobs in the $40,000 range, which is the lowest recommended range for survival in New York, and even with this pay, you must live economically and may require supplemental income. With two years of experience, you can hope to be making in the $50,000 to $60,000 range, though you may need to change jobs to achieve the raise. With three to five years of experience, salaries continue to rise, depending upon the position. Designers make less, patternmakers earn more, and technical designers see strong earning potential due to huge demand for them in the industry. Salaries in New York are higher than in other areas of the United States but not always enough to compensate for the cost of living. You may eventually find, after gaining experience in New York, that moving away to start your own business or to work for a company in a less crowded city is a positive decision for quality of life and net income.
New York City's fashion industry and the creative people who work in it can be volatile. Companies go out of business without warning or downsize if they have had a meager season. As a fashion worker, you may encounter situations that are dangerous to your physical or emotional health, with excessive overtime or supervisors who take out anger on employees without cause. These types of situations may sound extreme, but they are more common in fashion than in many other fields of employment. When you find yourself in a harmful situation that you cannot change, it is time to switch jobs. Having your eye consistently on the job market will keep you prepared. Finding a new job may take months, so confirm a new position first, then give two weeks’ notice to your old employer unless some danger requires you to leave more quickly. Screen potential jobs by asking about overtime and why the position has been vacated. Ask other employees, if possible, how they like working for the company. Regularly working 50 to 60 hours or more a week is a concern, as is a high rate of employee turnover, an indication that employees have been mistreated or underpaid. Companies that stage time-intensive runway shows are notorious for putting workers on average salaries and then expecting many days’ worth of extra labor with no overtime pay. Long commutes added to long hours added to stressful work environments will eventually break down health. Better jobs do exist. Find one.