On Teaching: The Value of the Fashion Degree

It is a reality we have all had to face for several years now: the American economy is in a slump. Because of this slump, people have considered making different choices, such as not going to college (Adams, 2012). People have voiced their opinion that it is not necessary to spend money on going to college, especially fashion college (Adams, 2012; Hodges & Karpova, 2009). Look at Donatella Versace, Giorgio Armani, and Ralph Lauren. None of these moguls went to college. But on the other hand, there are Marc Jacobs, Alexander McQueen, John Galliano, and scores of other successful designers who did go to fashion colleges. What is the economic benefit to going to fashion college and could a budding fashion designer make it without going to school for it?


Photo courtesy of Inofashion.com

The economic situation worsened in 2008 with the Global Recession. Stocks tumbled, businesses closed, and real estate plummeted. The U.S. household income declined significantly during this time. While some say this crisis was resolved in 2012, many continue to suffer the consequences of this disaster (Leab, 2014). As a result of these lingering effects, many families question whether they can afford to send their children to college. Even state colleges appear expensive to average families (DeCandido & Schulman, 2007). Fashion colleges are typically a private institution and are known for their higher investment requirement (Wischhover, 2010). Couple the financial strain of going to college on struggling families with the hesitation parents and other support systems express about a career in the fashion industry, and it is not a surprise people are voicing questions about the value of a fashion college education. But despite these questions, overwhelming support by the government, industry professionals and educators prove this education is necessary for success.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, most fashion designers in the United States do have a bachelor’s degree in a fashion-related field. While attending a fashion program at college, students learn about industry-related topics such as textiles, patterning and computer-aided design (CAD). In addition, students are able to develop their portfolios. Portfolios are heavily relied upon during the hiring process and attending a fashion college allows designers to build their own (Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook). Finally, employees working with a bachelor’s degree make an average of $26,000 per year more than an employee with no college degree (Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections). The median average salary in 2012 for a fashion designer was $62,860 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook). To surmise, if the average fashion designer has a bachelor’s degree and is making $62,860 and is making about $26,000 more than their undereducated counterparts, the designer with no formal training is making about $36,860. What a significant difference!


Photo courtesy of Fashion Market

After reviewing several job listings on indeed.com, companies like Tommy Bahama, Free People, Downeast, Guess, and Gap all require or expect a bachelor’s degree in a fashion-related field to work as a designer (Indeed.com, 2015). To further the support of attending a fashion college, Women’s Wear Daily discusses how department stores previously served as the “unofficial universities to the industry,” but now the fashion world is demanding a new “360-degree view.” (Beckett, 2008). The Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) is also an advocate for designer training beyond on-the-job training (Council of Fashion Designers of America, 2015).

College also provides more than job opportunities and an increased salary. In my experience, when you invest in a college education, you will be obtaining something no one can ever take away from you. It is the sole item you can purchase that is physically impossible to remove. Choosing to increase your knowledge in a field and learning how to think critically, problem solve, and manage your time all come with a college education. You will increase your self-awareness and pride, which will empower you to fulfill your goals.

Fashion Styles

Photo courtesy of Fashion Styles

“Can you be a successful designer and never attend college? Absolutely, but that’s not the norm and that is the critical message,” Joanne Arbuckle, the Dean of the School of Art and Design at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology, stated (Harris, 2013). It seems almost everyone now is advocating and promoting attending a fashion college. While it is not impossible to be a great and successful designer without a college education, is it worth the risk? Do you want to be like Sir Paul Smith, who had to work “crummy” jobs to fight to the top of his fashion empire (Leitch, 2013)? Or do you want to be like Calvin Klein and Jimmy Choo, who invested in themselves and saw their own, educated rise to the top. If you can statistically increase your yearly earning potential, career opportunities, and personal pride by spending time and money upfront studying a field that you are, ideally, passionate about, is there a risk at all? Seeing the government and industry support for obtaining a formal fashion education, it makes sense to me to get a fashion degree and make your own educated mark in the industry.



Adams, C. (2012). College Choices Shift In Tough Economy. Education Week, 31(37), 4.

Beckett, W. (2008). WHO’S TRAINING FUTURE CEOS?. WWD: Women’s Wear Daily, 195(27), 18.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Employment Projections, Earnings and unemployment rates by educational attainment, retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_chart_001.htm (visited 2015 May 10).

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Fashion Designers, retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/ooh/arts-and-design/fashion-designers.htm (visited 2015May 10).

Council of Fashion Designers of America, Inc., CFDA to Award $125,000 in Scholarships, retrieved fromhttp://cfda.com/the-latest/cfda-to-award-125000-in-scholarship (visited 2015 May 10).

DeCandido, F., & Schulman, M. (2007). THE FUNDING DILEMMA: RETIREMENT OR COLLEGE?. Tax Adviser, 38(4), 228-232.

Harris, M. (2013 March 20). Aspiring Designers: To Degree or Not Degree?, retrieved from https://www.notjustalabel.com/editorial/aspiring-designers-degree-or-not-degree (visited on 2015 May 10).

Hodges, N. & Karpova, E. (2009 July 13). Making a major decision: an exploration of why students enrol in fashion programmes. International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education, 2(2-3), 47-57.

Indeed.com. Retrieved from http://www.indeed.com/jobs?q=fashion+designer&l (visited 2015 May 10).

Leab, D. (2014). Encyclopedia of American Recessions and Depressions. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO.

Leitch, L. (2013 April 29). Sir Paul Smith: ‘I learnt the trade doing some crummy jobs’. Telegraph.co.uk, retrieved from http://fashion.telegraph.co.uk/news-features/TMG10015203/Sir-Paul-Smith-I-learnt-the-trade-doing-some-crummy-jobs.html (visited 2015 May 15).

Wischhover, C. (2010 December 8). The Top 50 Fashion Schools in the World: The Fashionista Ranking. Fashionista.com, retrieved from http://fashionista.com/2010/12/the-top-50-fashion-schools-in-the-world-the-fashionista-ranking (visited 2015 May 15).


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