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  • Mikelle Drew

Don't Enroll in Fashion School Before You Read This!

Updated: Jun 8, 2022

This can become somewhat of a controversial topic, a matter of opinion and may seem really counterintuitive since I’m an Adjunct Professor at two design colleges, but you don’t NEED to go to fashion school if you want to become a fashion designer or start a fashion brand. And I’m going to tell you why!

Let me start by saying that I am a HUGE proponent of educating yourself and of higher education. If you have the financial means and the time to go to a fashion school, you should definitely do it. There are so many advantages to going to a design school before starting your career or your brand so if you can, DO IT!

That said, there is a very large group of people who are very interested in becoming a fashion designer or starting a fashion brand but do NOT have the financial means or the time to go to a college or university. And those are the people I’m talking to today. So if you have no interest in taking out loans and going into debt to go to school or you’ve already been to school once, and you are NOT tryna spend another 4 years in school, keep reading for 8 alternatives to a traditional 2 or 4 year college to learn what you need to become a fashion designer and get your fashion brand started.

So for those of you who have the financial means, but time is an issue, note that there are accelerated design programs that will teach you the main skills you’d need to be a fashion designer. I know that there is a 1 year program at the Fashion Institute of Technology, and I teach a lot of those students every year. There’s also other programs around the country, some of which are completely online if that works best for you, and many focus on business and entrepreneurship, which is also great for those of you looking to start a brand.

The other thing to consider, especially if you already have a degree, is a certificate program. Many certificate programs offer courses that fit more easily into the schedule of someone who is working or has a family, and you can finish the program in 1-2 years, taking 1 or 2 classes per semester vs 2-4 years taking 3-5 classes per semester. It’s a significant reduction not only in time but often in money as well and will allow you to start your career or your brand that much sooner.

Now, if finances are the issue, I can’t tell you that there is a completely free route. Learning as you go and trying to find free information and experimenting is a great way to learn. But it’s also an expensive way to learn. You’ll hear people talk about taking a class to get you to your goal faster, and that is true. But I’m more concerned with the financial ramifications. Experimenting, trying out things, doing it on a whim, throwing everything against the wall to see what sticks is often much more expensive in terms of your money and your time than making a strategic plan and working with coaches or taking good courses that will teach you how to get to your destination and execute your plan. So, if you can’t go to school or register for a certificate program (or just don’t want to), here are the courses I suggest you take to at least get you a solid start:

1. A business and/or entrepreneurship course.

You may think that my first recommendation would be something fashion related but at the heart of any fashion business is just that: a business. And when you start your fashion business, you should have some idea of how to run a business and how to make money, which is the difference between you having a business and having a hobby.

And where a lot of creative businesses fall short is that they’re great with the creative but not well versed at all in the business part. And so their very creative fashion “business” is really a very creative fashion “hobby”, and that eventually fails because they don’t understand how to run a business. It’s the main reason we started the From Pencil to Production competition. So designers could learn how to build a sustainable and profitable business that they can support themselves with.

2. A sewing course.