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The exciting world of fashion features many different career paths for talented and knowledgeable professionals. Fashion programs generally focus on design and clothing production or business and marketing. This page explores the many fashion careers available in both of these broad areas.
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Why Pursue a Career in Fashion?
To succeed in the fashion world, aspiring professionals need to lean on many different abilities and personality traits, and the fashidon job market remains highly competitive. You will need to make a strong commitment to your personal and professional development to establish yourself and advance in the field.
Prevailing wisdom suggests that several specific characteristics can help lead to success in this challenging industry. A dedication to fashion comes first and foremost, followed by creativity, strong business sense and networking skills, and a willingness to start at the bottom and work your way up.
Fashion Career Outlook
Striking it rich as a fashion designer or entrepreneur is well within the realm of possibility for uniquely talented and highly motivated individuals, but most careers in fashion reflect everyday economic realities. Most fashion professionals earn salaries that align with typical averages for retail-driven industries.
This field attracts many aspiring professionals, which leads to heavy competition for a limited number of available jobs. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that fashion designer employment will only increase by 1% between 2018 and 2028.
The following table details common careers in fashion and the typical salaries attached to specific roles:
Skills Gained With a Fashion Degree
Students hone the following skills while enrolled in fashion degree programs. Graduates who develop these abilities can succeed in many fashion-related jobs and beyond.
Design is inherent to the fashion industry, as many graduates strive to create clothing. Students must become accustomed to creating ideas from scratch and executing them in tangible ways.
Most fashion programs teach students how to use Adobe Illustrator and other relevant applications. Enrollees must also master basic computer skills, such as using email and Google Suite programs.
Professionals in the field generally create new products from scratch, and the industry requires professionals to constantly think up new ideas. As a result, fashion programs focus on stimulating creativity in students through group work and individual projects.
Foundational Business Skills
Not all fashion program graduates become designers. Some decide to work on the purchasing side. For these professionals, most fashion programs include foundational business courses in accounting, marketing, and finance.
All fashion professionals must communicate to work with teams of purchasers, managers, and designers. Fashion programs typically include frequent presentations and group work, requiring enrollees to hone their communication and teamwork skills.
Fashion Career Paths
Many fashion programs allow students to personalize their education by offering electives or concentrations related to specific career paths. Offerings differ among schools, but most fashion programs provide students with industry-standard options. These may include courses related to the merchandising/purchasing and design sides of the industry.
This path focuses on the marketing and negotiation aspects of the industry, preparing graduates to work as marketing managers for fashion companies or as agents for models. The curriculum generally teaches foundational business skills delivered within a fashion industry context.
A fashion technology track helps students prepare for the future of fashion by mastering the latest technological trends. Enrollees often participate in design labs to collaboratively design garments in three-dimensional spaces.
This pathway typically includes many lab courses that help students design clothing and begin to create their professional portfolios. Learners master tools like Adobe Illustrator and often take foundational courses, such as textiles and color theory.
Students pursuing this career path prepare to work as purchases or buyers within the industry. Coursework provides students with a thorough knowledge of marketing and consumer trends, along with general business skills.
How to Start Your Career in Fashion
The industry supports many appealing careers for fashion majors. On the design and production side, you can become a lead designer, garment technologist, fashion illustrator, or fashion stylist. The business and marketing side also offers a variety of career paths, including merchandisers, retail buyers, inventory planners, marketing specialists, and public relations specialists, among many other management and support-level positions.
In most cases, you will need at least a bachelor's degree and strong networking skills to land an entry-level position with advancement potential. Given the competitive nature of the fashion industry's employment landscape, a master's degree may open more doors -- particularly in fashion business and marketing.
Associate Degree in Fashion
The following table highlights careers in the fashion industry for professionals who hold associate degrees in the field. A professional with a two-year degree can often find jobs in the fashion retail space or entry-level positions in fashion design and merchandising. Professionals who succeed in these roles can sometimes work their way up to higher positions.
For more information about the best associate programs in fashion and the benefits of the degree, please visit this rankings page and this overview page.
What Can You Do With an Associate in Fashion?
Retail Sales Worker
In the fashion industry, retail sales workers play a vital role, selling fashion on the floor at stores and showrooms and helping customers find pieces. Although retail workers do not need degrees, a professional who holds an associate degree can advance more quickly to store manager positions.
Median Salary: $25,440</a
Costume designers work on sets for films and television shows. They put together outfits for characters created by screenwriters and directors. Most costume designers live in and around Hollywood, although some designers live in other major cities. All designers must feel comfortable with long and irregular hours during shoots.
Median Salary: $36,850
Associate Fashion Designer
In some cases, candidates with only an associate degree can qualify for an entry-level fashion designer position. These professionals design clothing for companies and fashion lines. An associate degree can help these professionals get a foot in the door with major companies.
Median Salary: $51,810
Sources: BLS and PayScale
Bachelor's Degree in Fashion
The following table provides annual wages and job descriptions for different fashion careers for professionals with bachelor's degrees in the field, including fashion design careers and fashion merchandising careers. While the minimum educational requirement for these positions is a bachelor's degree, most also require significant fashion industry experience and expertise; professionals in the field generally work their way up from entry-level positions.
For more information about the top bachelor's programs in fashion design and merchandising, please consult this rankings page and this overview page.
What Can You Do With a Bachelor's in Fashion?
Fashion designers work for labels to create different types of clothing, accessories, and footwear. Typically, they work at manufacturers or design agencies, spending most of their day drawing and sketching on their computers. Like most fashion careers, fashion design requires creativity and an understanding of public taste.
Median Salary: $73,790
Purchasers buy raw materials for fashion designers to create clothing. Like many other fashion merchandising careers, they must use their best judgment and taste to procure materials. Many purchasers come from non-fashion fields; strong general business skills can lead to success in this role.
Median Salary: $69,600
Much like purchasers, fashion buyers handle purchasing and materials. They take responsibility for the clothes that a fashion company sells. These professionals also help designers develop clothes that target particular demographics.
Median Salary: $68,780
Fashion stylists dress clients from head to toe. They proactively send clients pieces that they may like and often work as freelancers or in Hollywood.
Median Salary: $51,360
Sources: BLS and PayScale
Master's Degree in Fashion
The following table details fashion careers for students who earn master's degrees in the field. Though industry experience and skills play a significant role in promotion, an advanced degree can help you earn consideration for promotions earlier in your career.
What Can You Do With a Master's in Fashion?
Senior Fashion Designer
Like regular fashion designers, senior fashion designers create clothing, including shoes and accessories, for companies or fashion lines. However, they perform these duties in managerial roles -- overseeing new, less-experienced fashion designers -- and receive more autonomy in their work.
Median Salary: $88,630
Senior Fashion Merchandiser
Senior fashion merchandisers perform many of the same tasks as junior fashion merchandisers: sourcing raw materials and requesting specific clothing products from designers that cater to specific demographics. However, these professionals benefit from increased autonomy and power in their work, often overseeing teams of junior merchandisers.
Median Salary: $82,860
Fashion Company Top Executive
Fashion industry employees with advanced degrees, initiative, and plenty of skill and creativity can advance into C-level positions. Fashion executives oversee the big-picture direction of companies, often liaising with investors and providing high-level mandates to senior designers. They must possess strong business skills.
Median Salary: $104,690
Art directors coordinate the visual imagery for a fashion company's marketing materials, including advertisements and catalogs. They generally work closely with marketing managers to develop a common vision for a company's brand and campaigns.
Median Salary: $67,310
Sources: BLS and PayScale
How to Advance Your Career in Fashion
Though you can qualify for many different careers with a fashion degree, your education represents only part of what you need to become a successful professional. Networking is critically important to your advancement potential at all stages of your career. You should also stay abreast of current and emerging fashion trends; this can help you anticipate the future direction of the fashion industry and position yourself accordingly.
Committing to continuing education offers an excellent way to stay on top of industry trends and shifts in buyer behavior that could influence your career prospects. The following section also offers guidance on additional steps you can take to further your professional journey in the fashion industry.
In competitive industries like fashion, even well-established professionals pursue continuing education to accelerate their career growth and increase their knowledge. Some individuals earn additional fashion degrees, but most people opt to supplement their existing education with professional programs that lead to certificates.
These programs may feature online and classroom-based delivery methods. Their content generally focuses on niche aspects of the fashion industry, such as fashion design technologies and best practices for inventory managers and fashion buyers. They can also boost your resume and signal a commitment to ongoing personal and professional improvement.
Formal education can take you a long way in the fashion world, but so can soft skills and networking; you can draw on many different strategies to leverage these for your career development.
For instance, building a strong personal brand through your online presence can help. Many professional contacts and prospective employers will investigate your social media accounts, and a carefully cultivated internet presence can pay major dividends. Many industry insiders also recommend that you follow the social media feeds of the fashion brands and labels you like and aspire to work for.
When you attend industry events and workshops, make sure to participate in associated social activities. Bring plenty of personal business cards, stay in touch with people you meet, and cultivate relationships that can lead to career growth. Also, membership in professional organizations like the Fashion Group International and the Fashion Industry Association can provide many networking and professional development opportunities.
How to Switch Your Career to Fashion
According to many experienced professionals, fashion is a very difficult industry to transition into from other disciplines. Beyond universal economic principles such as supply and demand, very few conventional truths apply to the fashion industry. It features a fragmented and decentralized structure in which companies often "follow the leader" when an innovative breakthrough leads to commercial success.
As such, even highly knowledgeable professionals with a strong general working knowledge of standard business practices struggle to adapt to the realities of the fashion industry. Fashion is also a place where delegating responsibilities may lead to lost learning opportunities, as many career paths build off practical experience.
Aspiring fashion professionals with no prior experience have a great deal to learn. Thus, heading back to school to earn a specialized fashion degree or certificate can serve you well if you have the mental and emotional commitment needed to make a career change.
Where Can You Work as a Fashion Professional?
The term "fashion industry" refers to many different fields that fashion degree-holders can pursue. Options include apparel wholesaling, the entertainment industry, sewing apparel manufacturing, design services, and management. The types of jobs that graduates can find in each industry depend on their level of education and experience.
Apparel, Piece Goods, and Notions Merchant Wholesalers
Fashion professionals can find roles related to design or purchasing for large clothing stores. These positions, while sometimes less creatively stimulating, offer some of the best job security in the industry.
Annual Mean Wages: $85,370
Motion Picture and Video Industries
Fashion designers and stylists who work in Hollywood design clothing for movies and television shows. They may work irregular hours on the sets of movies, with long breaks in between these periods.
Annual Mean Wages: $85,850
Cut and Sew Apparel Manufacturing
Fashion professionals in this manufacturing industry create clothing in their warehouses, rather than designing them. The industry offers design and purchasing jobs.
Annual Mean Wages: $93,510
Specialized Design Services
Some fashion professionals work for specific design companies or as freelancers. This industry allows professionals to focus exclusively on design without any other obligations.
Annual Mean Wages: $100,960
Management of Companies and Enterprises
The highest-paid fashion employees often work as managers or C-level executives who oversee business operations for multiple fashion companies. To attain these jobs, professionals often need advanced degrees and plenty of experience.
Annual Mean Wages: $91,560
Employment data shows that fashion industry jobs in the United States are heavily concentrated in New York and California. These two jurisdictions account for a large majority of all fashion jobs in the U.S.; unsurprisingly, they also feature the industry's highest average annual salaries.
For context, the next largest U.S. fashion job centers employ less than 10% the number of professionals currently working in New York or California. Examples include Florida, Georgia, Oregon, and Massachusetts.
Interview With a Professional in Fashion
Lauren DeCarli grew up in Long Island, New York, and then moved to Los Angeles, California, to attend the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM), where she received an associate degree in fashion design and a bachelor's degree in business management.
Lauren started working in the industry during her fashion program as an intern and kept moving her way up in the company over 9.5 years to the role of senior designer. Lauren launched her own direct-to-consumer, sustainable clothing brand -- Paneros Clothing -- in August of 2019, and she recently launched a limited edition women's line.
Why did you decide to pursue a career in fashion design? Is it something that you were always interested in?
I decided to pursue a career in fashion design when I was in high school. I was very lucky in that my school had a great art department and offered fashion design classes. It was through taking these classes that I really became interested in a career in fashion design. We learned to sketch, read patterns, sew, and had two fashion shows a year. It was a great experience and definitely helped me with applying to FIDM.
How is a fashion program different from other college majors?
I believe a fashion program differs from other college majors in that it's very hands on and it's creative! Unlike my friends who did not major in fashion, I did not have large lecture classes; my classes were small with no more than 25 students and all of my classes were focused around my major. I did not have any elective classes, either.
What was the job search like after completing your degree?
I was fortunate enough to continue working for the same company I interned at and worked part time for during college. I know for my peers, having an internship during college helped a lot to get a job after graduation. Additionally, our school hosted job fairs. Being in LA, there are a lot of opportunities to work in the industry. I can only speak for my experience -- and in the city where I attended college -- but I know that a lot of my friends did not have a very hard time finding a job in the industry after graduation.
Is fashion design a versatile degree? Or one that has a clear career path?
I believe it is a versatile degree. I know of people who have gone into styling, costume design, patternmaking, and other related career paths from having a fashion design degree. You learn a variety of skills in a fashion design program, such as sketching, sewing, patternmaking, trend forecasting, fabric knowledge, and programs such as Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, to name a few, that you can use towards a different career other than a designer. You can also work on preproduction, product development, the production side, or become really interested in textiles and have a career related to that, as well.
Is your career path typical of someone who graduates with a fashion degree?
A year ago, I founded my own sustainable clothing brand called Paneros Clothing. I know not everyone wants to become an entrepreneur and have their own company, so I don't think my path to starting my own brand is necessarily the typical path of someone who graduates with a fashion degree.
However, I do believe my path up until I decided to start my own business was typical. Starting as an intern and working your way up assistant designer, then designer, and finally to a senior designer as I did would be the typical path someone graduating with a fashion degree would pursue. Again, someone might find that after being in the industry, they really enjoy the technical aspect of fashion design and change their path to becoming a technical designer. In the early stages of working in the industry, you start to see what areas you might want to specialize in, including denim, knitwear, evening wear, or product development.
What is the most enjoyable aspect of your job? The most challenging?
I love the feeling when I see someone wearing one of my designs and you can tell that they really love wearing it. As a creative, knowing that you produced something that brings someone else joy is a feeling like no other. Along with that, seeing your design come to life as a sample is also an amazing feeling -- it's like Christmas morning when you get your proto sample and you get to see your actual design for the first time. It's always really exciting and a little nerve-racking -- it might not always come out exactly how you wanted it the first time.
The most challenging aspect of my job is creating on-trend styles that will last for many years. As a sustainable clothing line, we are trying to create high-quality, ethical pieces as an alternative to the fast-fashion trends. The industry keeps innovating, and we are always working hard to keep up!
What advice would you give to students considering a degree and career in fashion?
I would tell them that it's probably a lot harder and a lot more work than you might think it will be, but completely worth it if you are truly passionate about it! Always try to remember to have fun with it! I would also advise students to get an internship during college, and don't worry if it's not at a huge company; you might learn more at a smaller company than you would have at a larger one.
Any final thoughts for us?
I think it is really important in today's fashion industry for designers to think about the entire lifecycle of their designs, including where the fiber is made, where the garment is manufactured, the quality of the designs and all of the people involved in the process, and the end of the product's life (which hopefully is not a landfill!). One thing I'd love to see future designers think about is upcycling and repurposing garments and fabrics; that can lead to a much more sustainable future for us all to enjoy.
Resources for Fashion Majors
Professional and educational resources offer great value to students planning to launch their fashion careers. These include major national and international professional organizations, along with open courseware and industry publications. The following sections detail some of the most popular examples of resources you can draw on to build and advance your career.
Professional organizations provide aspiring fashion designers with opportunities to identify and develop their skill sets. They can also help workers network and find jobs.
American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences: Members of AAFCS enjoy access to networking and continuing education opportunities, an online career center, and a subscription to the Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences. AAFCS also offers certifications related to fashion, textiles, and apparel.
American Sewing Guild: Members receive discounts on materials and supplies from participating retailers, including Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Stores, Hancock Fabrics, and other retailers. At its annual meeting, members attend two days of seminars, lectures, and workshops.
Association of Sewing and Design Professionals: This association's members work as tailors, dressmakers, and seamstresses -- many of whom create and craft custom designs and patterns for clothing, jewelry, and accessories. Members enjoy networking, training, and mentorship opportunities; client referrals; and discounted rates for the master sewing and design professional and master alteration specialist certification programs.
Costume Society of America: Dedicated to advancing the "understanding of all aspects of dress and appearance," CSA encourages academic scholarship in the field. Members can apply for many grants, including the CSA Travel Research Grant and the Adele Filene Student Presenter Grant. Members can also access special resources through the organization's website and a subscription to its journal.
The Fashion Group International: Founded in 1930 by Elizabeth Arden, Edna Woolman Chase, and Eleanor Roosevelt, this organization strives to be the "preeminent authority on the business of fashion and design." Members are included in the annual FGI membership directory, and they can also access the exclusive Fashion Access Network
Fashion Industry Association: FIA offers free membership with registration. Members enjoy networking and collaboration opportunities through organized in-person gatherings and online forums. Members can also post profiles and events.
World Model Association: WMA, founded in 2001, connects models with agencies, photographers, and talent scouts. Models receive access to an online job board and special events. Each model can create a profile page to receive discounts on rental cars, cosmetics, and other beauty products. Agencies, scouts, and photographers can receive calls for offers and access networking opportunities through the association's site.
Students who want to develop their skills and keep up with the latest practices in fashion design may not have the time or resources for full-time programs. Fortunately, a growing number of schools are offering massive open online courses for free.
The Craft of Costume Design - MIT: This course, offered through MIT's Music and Theater Arts department, explores costume design through making wigs, masks, jewelry, corsets, and armor. Participants can also learn about techniques related to dyeing, painting, and distressing fabric.
Fashion Design Webcasts - UC Berkeley: UC Berkeley's site offers dozens of short videos on fashion design. Presented on YouTube, topics include fashion design for beginners, designing and drawing fashion sketches, and ways to maximize clothing boutique space.
Special Topics: New Textiles - MIT: This hands-on, graduate-level course focuses on applying new technologies to traditional craftwork. Topics include using composites, textile-based electronics, algorithms in pattern design, and fabricating textiles. Students explore a variety of fibers and fabrics, including some made with resins, plastics, and metal. Laser cutting, digital printing, and CNC knitting and embroidery are also covered.
Open-Access Fashion Design Journals
International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education: This official publication of the Textile Institute offers subscription-only content and free articles online. Readers can explore peer-reviewed research on apparel production, fashion education and design, pattern cutting, and manufacturing. Some of this journal's most popular open-access articles include Significance of Body Image Among UK Female Fashion Consumers: The Cult of Size Zero, the Skinny Trend, and Global Communication Part I: The Use of Apparel CAD Technology.
Journal of Aesthetics & Culture: This open-access, peer-reviewed journal explores many human science topics, including fashion studies, history, gender studies, aesthetics, and cultural studies. Representative articles include Veils and Sunglasses and Fashioning the Fashion Princess: Mediation - Transformation - Stardom.
Journal of Global Fashion Marketing: With subscription-only content and open-access articles, this journal publishes empirical papers and case studies that help advance the understanding of fashion marketing and practice. Some of the most popular free articles available through this publication include Can Fashion Blogs Function as a Marketing Tool to Influence Consumer Behavior? Evidence from Norway and A Study of a Social Content Model for Sustainable Development in the Fast Fashion Industry.
Fashion Design Books
"Design is a constant challenge to balance comfort with luxe, the practical with the desirable," Donna Karan famously noted. To better develop this sense of balance, aspiring designers should consider reading one or more of these top publications from the world of fashion.
The Beautiful Fall: Fashion, Genius, and Glorious Excess in 1970s Paris: This 2007 work by Alicia Drake tells the story of a fashion rivalry between Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent. After conducting more than 100 interviews with the colleagues and friends of these two designers, Drake portrays the decadent, cosmopolitan, and dangerous world where these titans of the industry lived and worked.
Chanel: Couture and Industry: Written by fashion historian Amy de la Haye, this book offers a biography of Coco Chanel -- the woman who "made striped jerseys and loose trousers chic, costume jewelry desirable, [and] the little black dress the height of fashion."
D.V.: Diana Vreeland's autobiography spans her life, from a childhood in Paris to her time as a fashion editor at Harper's Bazaar and editor-in-chief at Vogue. Vreeland's memoir covers her rise in the fashion world and her friendships with luminaries like the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Coco Chanel, and Clark Gable.
Fashion A to Z: An Illustrated Dictionary: This comprehensive guide covers terms and keywords that fashion design students need to know. Over 2,000 entries and beautiful illustrations make this 2009 compilation by Alex Newman and Zakee Shariff a useful guide for aspiring fashion professionals.
The Fashion Designer Survival Guide: Mary Gehlhar's 2008 book contains advice for young designers from a business perspective. Topics covered include writing a business plan; raising capital; identifying supply sources; and marketing, branding, and creating a runway show. With a foreword by famous designer Diane von Furstenberg and advice from Tommy Hilfiger and Donna Karan, this work can help keep entrepreneurial fashion designers on the right track.
If You Have to Cry, Go Outside: And Other Things Your Mother Never Told You: Written by PR professional Kelly Cutrone, this memoir takes the reader inside the competitive world of fashion.
The Vogue Factor: In this behind-the-scenes tale, former Vogue Australia editor-in-chief Kirstie Clements recounts 25 years of working at one of the world's most influential fashion magazines. Clements' memoir reveals the risks involved with working in the highly competitive fashion world.
Online Fashion Magazines
For instant access to the fashion trends and news, aspiring professiona ls can start by perusing the industry's top magazines. With photos, illustrations, in-depth interviews, and profiles, fashion design professionals can learn about the current state of fashion.
Elle: Elle presents the latest in fashion to help its readers develop their personal style. This magazine features articles, trend reports, and many photographs.
GQ: Aspiring to be the premier magazine for men's fashion, culture, and style, GQ "speaks to all sides of the male equation." Fashion professionals can keep current with the magazine's Week in Style and Fashion Shows sections. Readers can also learn about the fundamentals of men's fashion.
Glamour: This magazine focuses on what to wear and how to wear it. As a part of the Condé Nast publishing empire, Glamour boasts a print circulation of over 2,000,000. The magazine highlights trends with recurring features on celebrity style, outfit ideas, bags, and shoes.
Harper's Bazaar: With a focus on elegance, Harper's Bazaar has devoted itself to women's fashion and design for over 140 years. The magazine includes sections on street style, trends, shopping guides, and recent fashion shows. Aspiring professionals may also enjoy the magazine's profiles of successful designers.
InStyle: This online magazine provides full fashion coverage with features like What's Right Now and Shop Like an Editor.
Marie Claire: This magazine devotes over half of its content strictly to fashion. With its unique Behind the Cover feature, Marie Claire takes a step-by-step approach to create the hottest looks of the day.
Vogue: From high fashion to daily wear, Vogue provides full coverage on what's happening in the fashion industry. Readers can learn about brands, designers, editors, photographers, and models with Voguepedia. Visitors can also access Vogue's 400,000-plus images with a subscription.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are some degrees in fashion?
Fashion degrees generally focus on either creativity or business. In most cases, students customize their learning by choosing a concentration within a generalized fashion design or fashion marketing program.
Examples include specializations like fashion merchandising, fashion design, fashion photography, fashion manufacturing, and business administration with focuses on design, fashion, and luxury.
Is a fashion degree worth it?
Established professionals stress the competitiveness of the fashion industry. Developing specialized knowledge and honing your creative talents in the context of a fashion program can be vitally important. Education also serves as a crucial first step in building a professional network that can help advance your career.
What kind of jobs can fashion majors get?
Careers for fashion majors include fashion design, fashion illustration, and fashion photography jobs, as well as retail, inventory, and merchandising positions. Specifically, individuals can pursue roles as fashion buyers, fashion merchandisers, and retail managers.
Is fashion design a good career?
Fashion design offers rewarding career opportunities for highly motivated and creative individuals. The field also tends to come with above-average pay. However, the world of fashion design is extremely competitive; even the most innately talented people may need to work very hard for many years to begin establishing themselves.
How do I get into fashion?
The fashion industry tends to reward creative, outside-the-box thinkers who possess a genuine passion for design, creativity, and style. Networking also functions as a critical avenue to career success. For many, this journey begins in school. If a career in fashion interests you, enrolling in an accredited degree program can provide a proven, practical path to entry.