I want to be a fashion designer. How do I get started? What should I know and how will I find out? Should I go to school or try to get a job? Do I want to start my own company? So many questions in my head, where do I start and where will I end up? Sound like you? I remember the feeling exactly like that myself!

I've learned a lot about the industry since I began and I'm still finding out there is always more to know. I've worked for giant manufacturers and I've made one of a kind pieces for private clientele. I've had my own label and my own store. I've sold other peoples clothes. I've been unemployed and I've had great jobs that I've left for even better ones. I've realized that it's an industry where art is joined and, in fact, led by commerce. Some people have made it in a very short time with no training and others have graduated from university with degrees before climbing their career ladders. I started in fine arts, then fashion design and am now the chairperson and teacher at a fashion design program.

Where are your answers? After witnessing both success and failure, I believe that most importantly you must first discover if this is really what you want to do! Start by getting involved in this industry. Your local mall probably has someone on staff that's involved in fashion show production and fashion promotion. Make an appointment and let them know what you're interested in and volunteer to help on the next project. This is a great introduction to the glitz and glamour side of the business, however, you will still need to get a broader picture.

Look for a store in your neighbourhood that makes and sells its own clothes and see if you can meet the owner and a designer (often one in the same). Try to talk your way into a tour of their studio or factory or ask for the opportunity to see what a typical day is like. Ask as many questions as you can from as many people as possible: this will help you gain a real sense of the industry. Ask about the hours they work, how long it took them to get their own store, if they went to school, what were their greatest hurdles, what is the toughest part of the job�you get the picture. Some may be too busy preparing for a show or new clothing line, but don't be discouraged. You really should make every effort to get a feel for the business-I assure you it's not all catwalks and photoshoots.

If you still want to be a fashion designer, then dig in some more. Go to your local fabric store and see if they offer any lessons, or try buying some fabric and making something for yourself. Contact your local community college to see what courses or programs they offer in fashion. Check to see if they have any visiting professionals that are willing to give a workshop or talk at your school. Check out books on fashion design at your local library. Don't forget the Internet: it is a wealth of fashion information waiting to be tapped into.

Few things to keep in mind:
1. It's not just about being creative: fashion is also a business. Develop your business skills as well as your design skills.
2. Develop a strong network of contacts.
3. Be prepared for long hours and hard work!
4. You are not designing clothes for yourself! You just can't design what you like - you have to adapt to what other people want. Design with a market in mind. 5. Find a mentor - someone who can guide you and teach you from their experience.

James Fowler is the Chair of Fashion Design at the The International Academy of Design in Toronto. This article originally appeared in Faze Magazine.

Add your comment (2)
written by Luvlee, July 22, 2010
Thanks alot for this article. The worst feeling has to be when you start doubting yourself. Today is one of those days for me... or was rather before i read this. I have all these ideas but never know how to get them from paper to product. I will definitely take the advise given in this article. Thanks again !!!
written by mtoti, July 09, 2008
wow, i really appreciate this. I want to study fashion design next year but im so afraid, it seems that evryone is worried or thinks that its an unrealistic direction to follow in terms of success rate and just the likelihood of making enough money to get by.

Would you say its wise to follow a career in fashion from the beginning or is it better to study something else fisrt and then go into fashion?

Id also like to know how possible it is for someone who is coming straight out of university to get a job and how long does it take for a designer to be able to support themselves? Id also like the avenues that one could take in terms of the different types of jobs that are available in the industry.

I am in matric this year and am so glad to find such a site as its difficult to find any information on the design industry that caters for people wo are at my stage of life.