Where you’re working has a big impact on how much you make for a couple of reasons. First, because the cost of living varies so greatly from city to city, and even more when comparing cities to suburban or rural areas, the amount you can expect to get paid one place might be completely different from what you’ll be paid for doing the same job somewhere else. Secondly, locations with proximity to resources and industry hotspots means that major fashion hubs attract a more advanced set of designers and offers a more lucrative job market than other places in the United States. So while the 2018 median pay for all fashion designers is just over $72,000/year, those who live in New York City, a fashion hub, can expect to make more than designers living in Salt Lake City or Tampa.
This may seem obvious, but the longer you spend as a fashion designer, the more money you’ll make. If you’re coming straight from your undergrad, you’ll probably start out as an intern or design assistant—jobs that, as of 2019, make about $40,000/year. After a few years you can move up to mid-level fashion design jobs, and earn a little under $70,000/year on average. Once you’ve been working in fashion design for about 7 years, you can usually qualify for senior designer jobs, which pay approximately $87,000/year. Keep in mind, though, that longevity isn’t the only factor that determines your salary—as stated earlier, your location, skills, and education can change this number significantly in either direction.
It holds true in almost every field that the more education you have, the more money you’ll earn. The fashion industry is no exception; while it might be tempting to try to get a fashion job right out of high school, or right after an associate’s degree, your earning potential will be a lot lower than if you get a bachelor’s or master’s degree. Of course it would be best to choose a major that will help you accomplish your fashion career goals, but if you decide late in the game that you want to go into fashion it’ll still be helpful for you to have a bachelor’s or master’s degree of any kind.
Perhaps the most important indicator of how much you’ll earn as a fashion designer is how good you are at your job. Even if you have a master’s degree, even if you’ve been working in the fashion industry for eleven years, and even if you’re working in New York City, you’ll never achieve peak success if you’re not a skilled, creative, reliable employee. Developing the right skills and working hard will set you apart from other designers and line you up for more promotions. Being an excellent designer will give you a higher earning potential than anything else.