Despite misconceptions, fashion degrees are good for more than design

Studying fashion in college can lead to many career opportunities post-graduation despite common misconceptions about the industry. Credit: Julianne Kerver I Lantern File Photo

Graduating college can be daunting regardless of the degree earned, but with misunderstandings about the opportunities afforded by a fashion degree, life after college can seem especially uncertain for fashion students.

Caroline Farrell, a fourth-year in marketing and fashion and retail studies, said people sometimes have negative associations with fashion degrees, such as putting in lots of work for little pay. However, the Ohio State Fashion and Retail Studies program is designed to prepare students for the industry through opportunities within the university and the chance to gain real-world experience before graduation.

“I think there’s definitely a stigma about, like, being underpaid or, like, overworked within the fashion industry, and also it is not a very sustainable industry,” Farrell said. “If it’s something that you’re passionate about, it’s never a waste of time.”

Studying fashion in college can lead to an array of career opportunities after graduation, Alexandra Suer, a senior lecturer in fashion and retail studies, said. With a fashion degree, students are able to choose from many different career paths, ranging from design to the business side of the industry.

“With our program, in particular, merchandising — so becoming merchants or buyers — is probably the top,” Suer said. “A lot of them will probably fall into production and sourcing roles, so doing a lot of, like, logistics and costing of all the components of the products. Finally, product development is where I can see a lot of them falling.”

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For students interested in furthering their knowledge on the business of fashion, adding a business or communication minor is a helpful way to expand upon the degree, Pete Rex, advising manager in the College of Education and Human Ecology, said. 

“Any time you can add in, you know, some additional academic experience in something like business, it’s going to be helpful,” Rex said. “It’ll come up as a good point of discussion during interviews and skills that can be used in the day-to-day workforce. It’s definitely something that can catch someone’s attention as they’re starting the initial stages of their career.”

Graduating with a fashion degree at Ohio State requires an internship, and Rex said Columbus is conveniently home to large fashion corporations, such as fashion brand Express, where Suer previously worked, and small businesses and boutiques.

Making the most of student organizations while in college is also a good way to gain fashion experience and make connections, Suer said. Joining the Fashion Production Association at Ohio State while in graduate school encouraged her to change her career path from architecture to fashion.

“I, you know, ended up changing career paths. It was because of a student organization that really opened my eyes,” Suer said. “I think that being involved in student orgs just builds upon that networking and builds upon figuring out who you are, your happiness and what you want your future to look like.”

Farrell said she recently accepted a job offer as an assistant buyer for Ross Dress For Less in New York City, which she said she was largely able to secure because of internships and networking completed in college.

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“I know it sounds cliché, but that’s the best way you can get any job,” Farrell said. “Really utilize the guest speakers that come in too. They’re more than willing to help, and that’s how I got my internship for last summer. Also, the professors are so caring that if you stay after class and talk to them, they’re very connected as well.”

Networking opens doors for new and unexpected opportunities, and Suer said it was the reason she was able to get a job as a colorist and textile technologist with Express.

“Building relationships and making connections with people can come back to really help you,” she said. “The retail world is a lot smaller than you might think. It starts becoming a little family, and people all know of each other.”

Suer said despite pervasive beliefs that a fashion degree isn’t as useful or lucrative as other fields, fashion students can make competitive salaries after graduation, and the industry is always growing.

“It is a big, big industry, and I mean, a multibillion-dollar industry. This is not going away. Everyone needs to wear clothes. Everyone wants to feel good about themselves,” Suer said. “I think students who have this degree, the world is their oyster.”

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