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How Does The Fashion Industry Work?

If you thinking about a career in fashion, then you need to know how the fashion industry works. Whether you’re concerned about the impact the fashion industry has on the environment or curious about what’s involved in the creation of fashion, this article will explain it all.

There’s a lot that goes into creating fashion. From the manufacturing of fibres which are developed into different types of fabric, right down to the designers and fashion merchandisers selling the designs, the fashion industry is a multi-billion dollar industry!

Impressive clothing industry statistics forecasted that by 2030, the global apparel and footwear market would hit $3.3 trillion.

So how does the fashion industry work?

A line of fashion models walking on the catwalk and the words 'how does the fashion industry work' overlaid.

Jobs In The Fashion Industry

Let’s start by looking at the jobs that are found in the fashion industry. I think you’ll be amazed when you see this list and understand how the fashion industry is not only one of the most profitable, but also one of the most environmentally unsustainable.

I’m going to start from the very beginning – the farmers that grow the natural fibres for fabrics – right through to the sales person selling you that fashion item:

  • Farmers (of natural fibres like cotton, wool and linen)
  • Fibre processing (developing the natural fibres, creating the man-made ones)
  • Trend forecasters
  • Textile designer (dyeing, weaving and knitting)
  • Fashion designer
  • Pattern cutters
  • Graders
  • Seamstresses
  • Fashion illustrators
  • Fashion photographer
  • Fashion buyers
  • Fashion merchandisers
  • Fashion stylists
  • Fashion marketers
  • Fashion sales

That is just fourteen ‘people’ who will work on the creation of something as simple as a shirt!

Fashion Industry Career Options

Creating clothes to sell as an independent designer is not a recurring revenue stream

The above list highlight how many different areas there are for work within the fashion industry. Design, buying and selling at wholesale, manufacturing, merchandising, styling…

The list is huge. So what does each do? Let’s look into each in more detail!


When I talk about farmers, I’m thinking of those who are at the start of the natural fibre process. Growing the cotton or flax. Taking care of sheep for their wool.

The farmers are where the entire fashion production line starts.

Fibre processing

From processing the natural fibres – learn how cotton is made into fabric here – right down to creating the man-made and synthetic ones, fibre processing is the next stage in the fashion production line.

This includes the spinning of fibres so that they can be knitted or woven later on.

Trend Forecaster

Trend forecasting is a huge business. WGSN is one of the bigger trend forecasters, and they will develop color trends years ahead of a fashion collection being designed.

Textile Designer

Textile design is a multi-niche area. As well as a 2D textile designer, working in a sketchbook or on a computer to generate textile designs, there are more hands on textile designers working on knit, weave and print designs.

Some of the jobs included in this area are:

  1. Surface print designer
  2. Weaving designer
  3. Knit designer
  4. Embroidery designer

As well as being specialised in one of the above, a textile designer will also have an understanding of how textiles are created generally – dyeing, yarns, fabric types!

Fashion Designer

A fashion designer is someone who designs clothing in either 2D or 3D.

If they are designing within the ready to wear market, they are likely to work with a particular garment ‘type’:

  • Separates
  • Tailoring
  • Outerwear
  • Sportwear
  • Occasionwear
  • And more…

Or they may work for a higher end fashion house or their own fashion brand, and design the entire collection each season. In this case they may:

  • Create moodboards to help keep the collection consistent with an overall theme or aesthetic
  • Design 2 dimensionally on paper / computer
  • Drape fabric to develop design ideas
  • Develop patterns

The fashion designer is often inspired by textiles that they have sources, but it can also be that the textiles are designed and created to fit the fashion designers vision. Examples are pleating and embroidery.

If you’re new to fashion design, learn about the principles of fashion design here.

Pattern Cutter

In the UK they’re called pattern cutters, in the US and elsewhere pattern makers. Essentially, the job of the pattern cutter is to take the two dimensional designs from the fashion designer and create basic patterns.

They’ll start with the closest house block if there is one, and if not, they may take a pattern for a previous design and develop that into a new pattern.

Sample Machinist / Seamstress

Brother sewing machine - an industrial sewing machine!

Once the pattern cutter has created a pattern, it needs to be sewn into a basic toile by the sample machinist or seamstress so that the fashion designer can see whether the design is as they envisioned.

It will be sewn in a fabric of a similar weight on the first go, and in the sample fabric afterwards.


Once the design has been sampled and the final pattern created with any necessary adjustments, it is graded for production. This happens after fashion shows when there is an idea of quantities needed to fulfil sales.

Fashion Illustrator

Part of the design process, designers will often illustrate their collections themselves, or outsource it. Illustrations can form part of the marketing process, providing a more creative and stylised vision than a photograph of a design.

Fashion Photographer

A fashion photographer is used to accurately depict the designs for the sales look book and any online sales website, but also to create a ‘mood’ but shooting the collection in a way that emulates the designer’s original vision.

Fashion Buyers

Graduate Fashion Week - Eve Tokens - The Creative Curator

Whether the collections are shown at a fashion week or with a look book, fashion buyers will need to see a line sheet to place their orders.

A fashion buyer is aware of the trends and the seasons but also has to stick within a budget and consider their ideal customers needs.

Fashion Merchandisers

If the collection is being sold to a store with multiple branches, they’ll have a merchandiser who il make sure that there is stock in the right store at the right time, and will co-ordinate sales.

Fashion Stylists

A fashion stylist joins the line early on during the design process, helping the designer to style a collection. But can also arrive later to the party, helping to style fashion for magazine shoots and more.

Fashion Marketers

Marketing fashion is key to generating awareness and sales. From marketing campaigns and shows, a fashion marketer will also be in charge of social media marketing too.

Fashion Sales

Whether the lead on updating managing an online sales channel or in the store or boutique selling directly to customers, fashion sales is where the money happens.

The ‘League’ Of Fashion Design

Circle Skirt Inspiration - John Galliano for Dior 2011 Couture - The Creative Curator

Now that you have an idea of the different jobs in the fashion industry – and the above list is by no means conclusive! – lets’ looks at how the fashion industry is broken down in terms of quality.


At the top of the ‘league’ is couture. Couture is the most expensive fashion – made by hand and made to measure, couture is something we all dream of owning a piece of.

Ready To Wear

In the UK ‘ready to wear’ is the term used to refer to brands that are ‘designer’ – think Peter Pilotto, Stella McCartney and Christopher Kane – while elsewhere in the world, ‘ready to wear’ refers to clothing that is found on the high street.

Fashion that is considered ‘designer’ in this bracket is likely to be manufactured in locations where costs are higher and people are paid a little more fairly. Fabrics are likely to be better quality than those used in fast fashion, though this isn’t always the case.

Fashion Fashion

Also known as mass manufacturing, fast fashion is the fashion created with a short timeline, from design to floor being as little as a few weeks.

Clothing in this tier is often cheaply made, from inferior fabrics and thrown out rather than repaired because it is so cheap to replace.

The Rise of Mass Manufacture

A crew neck t shirt is a popular type of shirt

In this 21st century, fashion is now available to all very easily. We can pop to the mall or the high street and have our fill of the readily available options offered up to us by Topshop, Banana Republic, COS and GAP. We no longer have to be rich and elite to be able to afford something that makes us look or feel good.

The high street retailers, despite cutting costs by laying fabric off grain and skimping on manufacturing quality, do a decent job of making the everyday girl or boy, feel and look good. They have to, that’s where their profit lies.

That said, I do not believe in mass manufacture or ‘fast fashion’. I believe that high street retailers have too much power and money. They force overall prices down by threatening suppliers with lost contracts. And we know that lower prices on the high street increases consumer consumption.

In this process of getting new fashion items on to the high street as fast as possible, and at minimal cost, overseas suppliers pay less and less to their workers in order to make sure that they themselves are still making a profit.

We now have mass exploitation in part due to mass manufacturing – a situation where too much clothing is made day after day in growing industrial countries and imported for mass consumption in the UK, Europe and the US.

This is not sustainable!

Designing Sustainably

So it then comes down to the design process. If we start to design with sustainability in mind, we can provide more options to consumers that are ethically and environmentally friendly.

If we create a system where only the stock ordered is actually manufactured, we have less waste going to landfill.

If we work to design with what already exists – to reuse as much as possible – then we’re actively working to lower our waste footprint, to slow down and reverse environmental damage from so much manufacturing..

We can design sustainably. The fashion industry can be more sustainable. It’s just a case of – are they willing to be?

If you’d like to learn more about fashion design, I have many articles as well as an online program launching in September 2022. Sign up to be the first to hear about it!

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Tuesday 9th of May 2017

Hi there Eve, & Everyone who hopefully will also read this. Way back in the 1990s, wow that is a long time ago, I was living in the east-end of London and whilst I was there I went to do my City & Guilds in Dress and pattern making. I loved every moment of it. But on the sad side too, my tale is that as part of our City & Guilds in Dress and pattern making was some Art as well. Some of the people that also attended this City & Guilds in Dress and pattern making. Well on the day of all of our work we had our Exam's. And the point to all of this is the examiner wouldnt pass any of us because the Art Tutor had taught us all the wrong stuff. So we said that is so unfair and asked too speak to the Tutor but was told that apparently she had just got up, and she was gone. I do love to sew but I never seem to have a lot of confidence and I also have no sight in my right eye due to a operation many moons ago. Any way must stop all this yak yak yak lol lol, I am showing My bestest friend in the whole wide world on sewing and I also say to her have a look on YouYube. (smiles). And know if I get stuck I will ask you Eve or Everyone here. Take care for now Eve & Everyone else TTFN

Eve Tokens

Tuesday 9th of May 2017

Janet... thank you so much for your comment. It is so lovely to hear of other people's wandering's into sewing their own clothes! It is indeed sad that the examiner wouldn't pass any of you for such a ridiculous reason. How on earth can art AND pattern making be marked alongside each other? I have many friends who are artists and if I were to talk to them about pattern making or they to me about art techniques, we'd be lost! I am so sorry that you had this experience. I have to add - I don't think I've heard anyone say yak yak yak to me in years. It used to be a favourite saying of my grandad's but he left us in 2005; it is lovely that you've reminded me of him this evening - thank you! If you and your friend ever need any guidance on sewing or pattern making, please do leave a comment and I will reply as fast as I can! Best, Eve


Saturday 31st of December 2016

What you say makes an awful lot of sense and I really admire your goal of teaching more people to sew so they can make their own clothes. I really want to follow this philosophy myself, However the main obstacle for me in doing this is the cost of fabric and the difficulty of getting a good range of fabrics. I recently tried to buy cotton jersery online to make clothes for my new grandson - the choice was very poor, with some online shops stocking none or only Disney fabrics. When I did find some I liked it cost me £16 per metre! I don't live in any of the big cities in the UK so I do rely on the internet for fabrics.

I think it would be great to set up sewing/knitting/crocheting clubs in schools where volunteers can teach the techniques to parents and children; there are an awful lot of people my age (57) who don't work and retirees who would love to help out in a project like this, passing on their skills. It could also help in bulk purchasing of fabrics, yarn and notions.

Thanks for your great website.

Eve Tokens

Wednesday 4th of January 2017

Hi Jools! Oh no - I'm not a fan of heavily printed fabrics so I can empathise with your frustration when you were trying to buy some decent jersey! I have a good list of online fabric suppliers who aren't stupidly expensive - because you are right, it can end up costing more to make our own clothes than buy them. But that's a whole other story focusing on exploitation in the fashion industry, and this possibly isn't the place for me to be so forthright! ;) I will try to get the supplies list up in the resource library as soon as possible! I love your idea about clubs in schools. It would be amazing if younger people could learn such skills. Unfortunately, I suspect it would never happen. We already have a government that is trying to cut arts subjects from the curriculum. It seems to be all about STEM subjects now, rather than STEAM subjects. I am so glad that you are finding the website useful Jules! Please do let me know if there is anything you'd like me to cover! Best wishes, Eve


Saturday 9th of July 2016

Ooooohhhh eeek cant wait for more to come! Fantastic reading, you inspire me to do some sewing!

Eve Tokens

Monday 11th of July 2016

Thanks Amy! Check out the new post tomorrow, that has a lil'history of sewing! And next week, I'll be showing a simple tutorial for my favourite purse, just get peeps started! :)