Coming straight from fashion school, you might be thinking that as a fashion designer; you will have the opportunity to work with all kinds of clothes. What you may not know is that in general, the fashion industry is divided into categories and then categories within categories. Basically, the fashion industry is very specialized. The breakdown starts with the price (which generally corresponds to the quality). The lowest classification is that of Discount, and at the height of fashion is Haute Couture:
- Discount: These stores sell merchandise that is retailed at a discounted price than other stores charge. Malls or stores like Ross, Wal-Mart, Target, or Conway are examples of discount retailers that sell discount labels.
- Budget / Mass Market: Higher priced designer knockoffs sold to the masses at low competitive prices. Old Navy, Forever 21, and Charlotte Russe are some popular inexpensive labels. Department stores in this category include JC Penney and Kohls. This market generally sells for less than $ 100.
- Moderate: These include nationally advertised clothing brands like Nine West, Gap, Abercrombie & Fitch, Express, and Zara, all in the moderate range. Examples of moderate department stores are Macy’s and Dillards. These brands typically retail for less than $ 300.
- Contemporary: More than just a specific price, this ranking is an avant-garde image that often targets women in their 20s and 30s who are looking for trendy fashions at a more affordable price than designer pieces. BCBG, Betsey Johnson, Bebe, and Rebecca Taylor fall into the Contemporary category, which typically sells for less than $ 500.
- Better: Also selling for under $ 500, these collections use better quality fabrics and styles than the lower priced brands. Armani Exchange, Jones New York and Anne Klein are two examples of a line at a better price.
- Bridge: Priced under $ 1000, these lines serve as a “bridge” between the best and designer categories. And it includes names like Ellen Tracy, Dana Buchman, DKNY, Emporio Armani, and Lauren by Ralph Lauren.
- Designated: True designer collections generally sell for more than $ 1000 per item. Fabrics, fit, details, and trim are superior to other ready-to-wear items. Some examples of designer brands are Gucci, Prada, Versace, Armani, and Chanel.
- Haute couture / Avant-garde: Also known as haute couture, these terms have been commonly misused by ready-to-wear brands. Designers of haute couture, or simply “couture,” sell bespoke custom pieces that cost tens of thousands of dollars and are affordable for only a select few. Technically speaking, there are only ten official haute couture houses including: Christian Dior, Jean Paul Gaultier, Chanel, and Givenchy. Avant-garde designers produce unique, high-quality garments that experiment with new design concepts and go beyond popular fashions.
Even within the categories listed above, each market is divided into more specific specializations. First, design companies are broken down by client: men, women, children, etc. Then they are divided by type of clothing: sportswear, nightwear (special occasions), nightwear, etc. And then design teams are appointed for specific areas like knitting, knitting, sweaters, blouses, pants, dresses, outerwear, etc.
Unfortunately, it is very difficult to move from one category to another. If you are starting to build your career in mass market companies, you will face some barriers when applying for your dream job at Ralph Lauren. The same goes for design specialties. If you have experience working with children’s knitted blouses, you probably won’t get a position designing women’s dresses. If you are absolutely determined to make a change, the best you can do is start from the bottom in your desired field and work your way back up.
Another thing to consider is the different types of manufacturers and retailers out there. Some manufacturers design and produce their own designs, which are then sold to retailers. These manufacturers do not have their own retail stores. Examples include Shoshanna, Jones New York, and Carmen Marc Valvo. There are also manufacturers who own licenses for a variety of brands. For example, Warnaco has licenses for Calvin Klein, Speedo, and Chaps; while Phillips Van Heusen (PVH) owns the BCBG, Sean Jean and Kenneth Cole licenses.
Then there are retailers that only sell merchandise purchased from manufacturers. These include stores like Bloomingdales and Neiman Marcus. Many manufacturers also have their own retail stores, such as Polo Ralph Lauren, Armani Exchange, and Nicole Miller. Other retail stores have their own product development teams and have merchandise made specifically for their private label, such as Gap, Old Navy, and Express. In addition to purchasing merchandise from outside manufacturers, many department stores also have their own private label collections. Some examples are: INC (Macy’s) and Arizona Jeans (JC Penney).
The biggest job opportunities out there are in mass market companies, which often pay pretty well to get started, however these numbers generally stabilize after a few years of experience. High-end markets pay less to get started and work hours are longer, but the kudos you will receive from such reputable companies will do wonders for your resume!