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How to Become a Fashion Designer

How to start a career as a fashion designer

Meet Valerie Mayen. She’s a Fashion Designer who started her own brand called Yellowcake. She also appeared on the hit TV show Project Runway in 2010.  She survived 9 weeks on season 8 of the popular series.  In 2016, she went back for more, appearing in Project Runway All-stars where she made it 7 rounds.

Day-in-the-life of a fashion designer

Mayen started her own company back in 2008. Before she was discovered by Project Runway, she was designing and selling her clothes on Etsy.  She had already gathered clients from all over the world, including Kuwait, London, and Singapore before she even competed on the TV show.  Project Runway gave her even more exposure.  Now she works out of her own studio in the basement of her apartment.  But she doesn’t live in New York or California, she actually lives and works in Cleveland, Ohio.  She designs, creates and sells her clothes on her own website.  She also produces a fashion event each year called Hullabaloo.

Mayen actually went to college for illustration and graphic design.  But after she graduated, she really wanted to follow her dream to become a fashion designer.  The problem was, she had no idea how to sew. So, she started taking some design classes at a local community college.  There she learned the basics, like how to make a skirt, shirt and a dress.  She even bought some books so she could teach herself.

Mayen’s interest in fashion began at an early age.  She says her family didn’t have a lot of money so she could never afford to wear the expense clothing brands that her friends were wearing.  Instead, she would take the inexpensive clothes she did wear and try to make them unique, by dyeing them or adding embellishments etc.  That really made her stand out among her friends.  It showed she had a really cool and unique style and that helped her feel more confident in herself.  Even though she loved fashion back then, it wasn’t until she was 25 years old before she actually pursued her dream.


What education do you need to be a fashion designer?

Even though Mayen has found success as a fashion designer, she says there are a few things she’d do differently if she was starting out in fashion again.  She thought back then she needed to go to the best schools and get all the formal training she could.  Mayen went to school in Philadelphia, California, and even Italy for a semester.  While the experience was great, she racked up a lot of student debt.  With all the technology and information these days at our fingertips, Mayen says she doesn’t think you necessarily need to do all that formal training.

How to get started as a fashion designer

If you are looking to get into the fashion industry, Mayen says be willing to do anything and everything you can or that’s asked of you– within reason of course.  When she’s looking for an assistant or intern, she’s looking for someone who’s willing to run errands or even sweep floors.  She says it’s all about the attitude. If someone is willing to do what she asks of her and doesn’t complain, and is dependable, honest and hardworking, that goes a long way.  Mayen says that person will quickly work her way up because if she can trust her with the small stuff, she knows she can trust her with the big things.  

Mayen also cautions that fashion design is a very saturated and competitive business.  She says you have to have more than just a love of clothes or a love of shopping to make it.  It can be very hard to break into the business and be successful.  It can be expensive and you have to work hard for long hours if you want to succeed.

Resources for a career in fashion design

Mayen says there are a couple of resources that really helped her in her fashion design career.  She relied on the website: Fashion-incubator.com. She also recommends you read the book: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Sewn Product Manufacturing.  Both are resources from Kathleen Fasanella.

Other careers in fashion design

If you love fashion, but designing clothes is not your thing, Mayen says there are many other opportunities in the fashion industry. For example, fashion is a very visual industry, so you could be a photographer or work in social media.   Pricing, budgeting and wholesaling are also important.  You could be a sales representative.  You could be an events planner for a fashion event.  You could also be a production manager.

Advice for starting your own brand

If you want to start your own clothing brand, Mayen says do your research.  People are always going to need clothes, but the worst thing you can do is grow too fast, too soon.  If you grow too fast and are not prepared to fill orders, you may do more harm than good for your company.  You can lose customers if you can’t make clothes fast enough for them. Mayen suggests you go slow, build your team, test your products and get good advice from wise people along the way.  That way, when you are ready to grow or scale your business, your infrastructure will already be in place.

How did she land a spot on Project Runway?

Mayen did not actually go out and actively seek a spot on the popular TV show Project Runway.  She was selling her clothes on Etsy, when she got a random email from a casting agent working with the show.  She originally tried out for season 7 but didn’t make the cut.  But the casting agents encouraged her to try out again, and the second time she landed a spot on Season 8 of Project Runway.

To learn more about Valerie Mayen’s clothing brandhttps://www.yellowcakeshop.comfas

To learn more about her annual fashion event visithttp://www.doyoubaloo.com/

For more information on fashion design visit: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/arts-and-design/fashion-designers.htm


Cleveland Institute of Art

Bachelor of Fine Arts in Illustration & Graphic Design

But she’s a primarily self-taught fashion designer

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