• Mikelle Drew

Creative Fashion Industry Careers You Can Do (If You Don’t Want to be a Designer)

Updated: Jun 21


Creative Fashion Industry Careers
Creative Fashion Industry Careers

A video version of this blog post is also available. You can jump to that if you'd rather watch the video instead of reading the post.


This has come up in conversation a few times in class and with some recent 383 Design Studio students. And it’s not something that is really talked about in school or in general when people talk about fashion.


You want to be part of the fashion industry and you want to use your creative skills, but you’re not necessarily sold on the idea of being a designer. Maybe you don’t know how or don’t like to sew or drape or make patterns.


Most people believe that fashion design is the only creative job you can have in fashion. But there are many other options. And in this blog post, I’m going to talk about 7.


And by the way, all of these positions I’m discussing in this post usually incorporate the use of Illustrator, Photoshop or InDesign. Just sayin’.


Fashion Illustrator

At one time, you would regularly see fashion illustrations in fashion magazines and newspapers like the NY Times or Women’s Wear Daily, but the fashion industry started to move towards photography and now video so you don’t see as many any more.


Fashion Illustrations from vintage editions of WWD
Fashion Illustrations from vintage editions of WWD

You also had illustrators who would draw the runway collections, and although that still happens, it’s not necessarily a job you see requested often. At least not something you could regularly pay your bills with.


Today, fashion illustration is experiencing a bit of a resurgence, particularly in the digital space. There are some really great illustrators out there making a name for themselves and making a business out of what they love to do. And many of them are incorporating tools like Photoshop, Fresco or Procreate and their iPad.




If you’re not interested in being a freelance illustrator, you could also work for a trend forecasting company. If you’ve ever seen a trend book, they’ll have a variety of images and information describing upcoming trends, and many of them will incorporate fashion illustration.


Fashion Illustrations / Floats from the trend service, Bloc Note
Fashion Illustrations / Floats from the trend service, Bloc Note

One of my favorites from the early and mid 2000’s was a company called Bloc Note. They had great illustrations all throughout the pages of their trend books. And forecasting companies like WGSN or Promostyl continue to use illustration within their books and reports.


Fashion Illustrations from the trend service, Promostyle
Fashion Illustrations from the trend service, Promostyle

Good Skills to Have for This Job:

  • Great Illustration Talent

  • Photoshop

  • ProCreate or Fresco (or some other digital illustration software)


Trend Researcher

Speaking of trends, being a researcher for a trend team is also a very creative job. You may not be drawing, but you’re always looking for what’s next and finding creative ways to present those ideas to design and upper management teams, sometimes even the business unit.


Two women shopping and looking at woven handbags.
Trend researchers shopping the market

Your job is to track trends and help inspire the designers, and the information needs to be visually appealing and interesting for others to pay attention. And this may include you watching the runway shows, shopping, checking out street trends, going to museums and exhibitions.


But you’re always in the know and on the pulse of what’s coming so you can inform the teams you work with.


Good Skills to Have for This Job:

  • Great Research Skills, Photoshop

  • InDesign

  • Public Speaking

  • Ability to Sift thru Data and Present it in a Comprehensive Way


Color Trend Researcher

This falls under the previous category, but most people don’t realize just how important color is and choosing the right color is to fashion. Remember that scene from “The Devil Wears Prada”?



Now, there were obviously embellishments to make the movie more dramatic, but what Miranda Priestly was talking about then were facts. Color plays a HUGE role in fashion, and picking the wrong color for the season, even the wrong shade, can cost you a lot of money in goods that don’t sell.


So keeping your eye on what colors are on the runway, what colors people are wearing, and what colors are emerging is a very important job. And like trend research, you’re doing a lot of the same things–watching the runway, watching people on the street, going to museums and exhibition–so that you can keep an eye on what colors are hot (or not), what colors are emerging, how color is evolving, and how designers and people may be wearing them.


A color fashion cad next to a ring of color swatches

And though it’s subjective, color usually makes people very happy. No matter when I get to the part in my classes when we start adding color to sketches, everyone gets very excited. So, I can’t confirm this for sure, but I suspect that most color trend researchers are happy people. At least the ones I know are!


Good Skills to Have for This Job:

  • Great Research Skills

  • An Appreciation for Color

  • Photoshop

  • InDesign

  • Public Speaking

  • Ability to Sift thru Data and Present it in a Comprehensive Way


CAD Artist

Lots of people have different definitions for what a CAD artist is, but it can range from someone who creates and sets up color CADs, sometimes linesheets to someone who creates prints, graphics, plaids, and textures. (Many times, the person who does the latter is more appropriately titled a Textile Designer or Artist, but I’ve seen listings for CAD artists as well requesting these skills.)


Essentially, you’re creating the tools that are shown to the business unit (buyers, merchants, and sales teams) or sent out to vendors to visually show in color what the line looks like. What colors does that style come in? What are the colorways for that graphic or plaid? Show me the graphic at full size. That’s all you.


An African American female working at the computer, drawing and coloring Men's jeans
CAD Artist

You definitely need to be creative for this job, especially if you’re focused more on creating prints and graphics. Although many people buy their prints or graphics now, the artist doesn’t always use the graphic as is. Many will take parts of it and use it to create other graphics or patterns. They may even redesign the original so that it’s completely unrecognizable. And if it’s something that’s on trend, they may buy the graphic and then reinterpret it so that it’s more appropriate for their customer.


Like the trend researcher, this person is constantly looking at magazines, runway, exhibits, people on the street and seeing how they can interpret what they are seeing into something that can be placed as a graphic or pattern or texture on a garment.


Woman's hands holding a drink on a magazine sitting on her lap with a crossed leg

Good Skills to Have for This Job:

  • An Eye for Graphics, Print and/or Layout

  • Photoshop

  • Illustrator


3D CAD Artist or Designer

Since the pandemic (and honestly, even before that, the pandemic just accelerated it), a new type of designer began to emerge: the 3D Designer. This type of design position is still evolving since the technology is still evolving but there’s some things that we can already see emerging.


First off, as a 3D CAD artist, though it’s helpful to know Illustrator or Photoshop, the software that’s emerging right now as the “need to know” to get into this space is Browzwear or Clo3D. As a CAD artist, you may be asked to render garments in 3D, and as a designer you may be asked to design and render as well as create 3d CADs, place graphics and/or patterns on the garment or participate in virtual fittings for your styles.


Snapshot of the CLO3d window showing a tee shirt pattern in 2d and 3d
Snapshot of the CLO3d window showing a tee shirt pattern in 2d and 3d

There’s also an emerging market for designers who create clothing that lives only in the virtual space. So you never actually make the garment but it’s mapped onto a particular person who pays for that design.


Digital fashion houses like The Fabricant have already done work for brands like Buffalo, Puma and Tommy Hilger. And in 2019, they designed the first ever digital-only couture garment, auctioned off for $9500. Pretty amazing for a garment that will never be made into a physical garment and only exists in the digital space.


And, of course, we all remember that amazing 3d digital fashion show in 2020 by Hanifa Official. Not only was it timely, but it also demonstrated a way to show a collection that was exciting, innovative and forward thinking in the use of the technology.



Good Skills to Have for This Job:

  • Photoshop

  • Illustrator

  • Clo3D or Browzwear