What Is The Difference Between Fashion Designing And Fashion Merchandising?

"I’m in my senior year of high school and definitely have plans of going to fashion school when I graduate. I was looking through the courses and found two that I initially thought were the same fields—fashion designing and fashion merchandising. Can you please explain the differences between these two programs so I can decide which one I would be focusing on?"

asked by Beverly T. from Lansing, Michigan

Your confusion of these two fields is understandable as they are closely interrelated. While they both require a keen interest in and extensive knowledge of fashion trends, their areas of focus are quite different.

The simplest way to differentiate these two fields is by saying that fashion designing involves creating the actual clothes that would be sold to consumers while fashion merchandising teaches students how to encourage consumers to actually buy the apparel created. If designing leans on the artistic side, merchandising is the business side of the world of fashion.

Fashion designers are the creators. The curriculum in a fashion designing program typically involves subjects in sketching, pattern-making, sewing, drafting and creative design. These classes aim to teach students the technical aspects of creating a garment or a clothing collection from the conceptualization of the idea to its ultimate execution. If you are more interested in the artistic aspect of fashion, designing may be right up your alley.

Fashion merchandisers, on the other hand, are the sellers. The subjects in a fashion merchandising program usually include courses in marketing strategies, management concepts, brand imaging and business and pricing principles. In these classes, the students learn how to choose designs that are most likely to sell to consumers. They learn ways to attract customers to buy the products by making appealing presentations and forming positive experiences so that the consumers will continue to patronize the products. If your inclination is in the marketing aspect of the industry then fashion merchandising would be the better choice.

Fashion designers and fashion merchandisers also vary in terms of the skill sets required. Fashion designing entails a high degree of creativity, an eye for style and the ability to generate fresh creations that consumers will love. Moreover, this field requires a keen eye for detail, patience and the ability to work under extreme stress. In order to come up with new and fresh fashion pieces, fashion designers need to stay abreast of the latest industry trends and practices. They must also possess the uncanny ability to predict what the next fashion hit is likely to be so that they can tailor their creations towards this end.

Fashion merchandisers, meanwhile, must have a strong analytical mind and keen business sense. They need to look into previous developments in the fashion industry so they can predict the next trend. Unlike the fashion designer who needs to forecast future trends so he can create them, the fashion merchandiser needs to foresee what the upcoming trend is so he can choose the garments or items to sell. Merchandisers also need to possess excellent negotiation skills so that he can talk with manufacturers and suppliers to provide him with the clothes and other items he wants at a lower cost.

Fashion designers generally have the option to establish their own business or work for a fashion house. However, the road towards forming one’s own fashion line is fret with a lot of challenges and the industry is highly competitive. As a career, it is also less stable compared to fashion merchandising.

Fashion merchandisers often find work in retail stores and fashion houses. In the retail environment, their job often involves purchasing clothing, accessories, shoes and bags that customers will buy. They are also in charge of creating compelling displays and advertising. If their job is in a fashion house, they will usually be tasked with studying trends so that the company will know where to direct their next set of designs. The job here would also involve going to fabric companies to check and recommend fabrics for the house’s designs. Although more stable than designing, the job prospects of fashion merchandisers are also affected by the state of the economy. In the recent economic downturn, for example, retailers closed shop or laid off some workers which also affected fashion merchandisers.

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