FAQ: How much do FASHION DESIGNERS make? It’s COMPLEX in the U.S.

The salary of a fashion designer depends on experience, responsibility, the company, and location.  The easy answer, which is the annual mean wage from the May 2020 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics [BLS], is $87,210.  BLS breaks it down by annual mean wage by industry and number of designers employed in that industry.  For example, the annual mean wage for a fashion designer working in Specialized Design Services is $109,320 [see charts below].

Fashion designer’s annual salary can be looked at by geographic profile. BLS estimates 21,050 fashion designers employed in the United States.  New York has the highest employment level at 8,100, but second highest at salary – $91,690.  California comes in at #1 in paid salary at $97,270, and Oregon #3 at $83,360.  These are concentrated around the major metro areas of New York/New Jersey, Los Angeles, and Portland, respectively. [see charts below]

Another layer to look at; salaries will be different based on years of experience.  The salary span from an entry level designer with less than a year experience to one that is seasoned, working 20 years plus, could be close to $40,000.  Payscale.com’s fashion designer salary research states these compensation averages:

  • Entry-level, less than 1 year of experience – $53,133
  • Early-career, 1-4 years of experience – $57,236
  • Mid-career, 5-9 years of experience – $68,647
  • Experienced, 10-19 years of experience – $82,351
  • Late-career, 20 plus years of experience – $90,986

Within fashion design, depending on the size of the organization, you have different levels of designers from junior to senior as stated above by experience level, but some companies have a Design Director(s), who is the leader of the design team and its operation and/or a Creative Director(s), the highest creative position in a design house which sets the vision for what will be designed.  Fashionista’s 2019 Salary Survey reported a Design Director made $160,230FIDM reported a Design Director and Creative Director made $178,000 and $180,000 respectively.  The Creative Director salary appears to be low based on my industry experience of what salaries were 15 years ago.

CHARTS:

Industries with the highest levels of employment in Fashion Designers:

Industry Employment (1) Percent of industry employment Hourly mean wage Annual mean wage (2)
Apparel, Piece Goods, and Notions Merchant Wholesalers 7,090 5.39 $ 40.99 $ 85,260
Management of Companies and Enterprises 3,600 0.15 $ 42.84 $ 89,120
Motion Picture and Video Industries 2,870 0.87 $ 43.65 $ 90,790
Cut and Sew Apparel Manufacturing 1,640 2.22 $ 44.01 $ 91,550
Specialized Design Services 1,540 1.14 $ 52.56 $ 109,320

Industries with the highest concentration of employment in Fashion Designers:

Industry Employment (1) Percent of industry employment Hourly mean wage Annual mean wage (2)
Apparel, Piece Goods, and Notions Merchant Wholesalers 7,090 5.39 $ 40.99 $ 85,260
Cut and Sew Apparel Manufacturing 1,640 2.22 $ 44.01 $ 91,550
Specialized Design Services 1,540 1.14 $ 52.56 $ 109,320
Apparel Knitting Mills 80 0.90 $ 38.39 $ 79,840
Motion Picture and Video Industries 2,870 0.87 $ 43.65 $ 90,790

Top paying industries for Fashion Designers:

Industry Employment (1) Percent of industry employment Hourly mean wage Annual mean wage (2)
Other Miscellaneous Manufacturing 70 0.03 $ 53.26 $ 110,780
Specialized Design Services 1,540 1.14 $ 52.56 $ 109,320
Cut and Sew Apparel Manufacturing 1,640 2.22 $ 44.01 $ 91,550
Motion Picture and Video Industries 2,870 0.87 $ 43.65 $ 90,790
Management of Companies and Enterprises 3,600 0.15 $ 42.84 $ 89,120

States with the highest employment level in Fashion Designers:

State Employment (1) Employment per thousand jobs Location quotient (9) Hourly mean wage Annual mean wage (2)
New York 8,100 0.93 6.16 $ 44.08 $ 91,690
California 6,340 0.39 2.55 $ 46.76 $ 97,270
Oregon 920 0.51 3.36 $ 40.08 $ 83,360
Florida 620 0.07 0.49 $ 30.08 $ 62,570
Washington 560 0.18 1.16 $ 37.84 $ 78,710

Top paying states for Fashion Designers:

State Employment (1) Employment per thousand jobs Location quotient (9) Hourly mean wage Annual mean wage (2)
California 6,340 0.39 2.55 $ 46.76 $ 97,270
New York 8,100 0.93 6.16 $ 44.08 $ 91,690
Vermont 50 0.19 1.28 $ 43.58 $ 90,640
New Hampshire 130 0.20 1.34 $ 40.86 $ 84,990
Massachusetts 250 0.07 0.49 $ 40.62 $ 84,480

Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics

photo: Wayne D. Fleshman, LA Fashion Week, EDGExpo.com,
Bishme Cromartie and model wearing his “Butterfly” collection and butterfly earrings | debut runway show, LA Fashion Week

Read the interview: Project Runway 2019 Alum, Bishme R. Cromartie, Bč speaks with Rhonda at his debut runway show, LA Fashion Week, 2017 – “Tools To Sew Is Not Enough”.

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Rhonda P. Hill

Founder, Publishing Editor