July 15, 2016
Fashion merchandising is a key ingredient in the economic strength of established brands and up-and-coming labels. Creativity and business sense are foundational skills, but learning how to trend-watch, analyze consumer behavior and apply historical data are also critical components of any success story.
If you have a flair for fashion and an interest in making a career out of it, you may be considering a degree in fashion merchandising. Schools and colleges offer a range of degree programs to get you into the fashion business with the knowledge and know-how you need to succeed.
Fashion merchandising schools and programs vary widely in their offerings. To help you make the right decision - you'll be spending a lot of time together - the College Board outlines some basic questions to ask of any academic institution. They've been slightly modified here specifically for those pursuing a fashion merchandising education:
Fashion merchandising student Gladys Stocks found everything she was looking for in Southern New Hampshire University's (SNHU) online AS in Fashion Merchandising. "I felt like the students were genuinely happy...being a part of this community," said Stocks, who had been attending a school that didn't give her "that warm and fuzzy feeling" before pursuing her degree with SNHU.
Core courses in fashion merchandising immerse students in a variety of projects that offer real-world perspectives. Anticipate projects rather than papers. This is attractive for many students who learn by doing and by applying the theoretical to actual examples.
Be sure basic business courses on selling and promoting fashion in the retail industry are part of the curriculum. Look for courses that help you define target markets and manage the design and production of products. Why do consumers make buying decisions? A course on consumer behavior will also serve you well and your fashion merchandising career well.
How much of the curriculum will focus on the business behind fashion; how much on creativity? Find out about field trips and webinars featuring speakers who work in the industry, too.
Fashion merchandising students have a number of academic levels to consider: associate, bachelor's or master's degrees. Different schools have different offerings.
There are fashion merchandising schools dedicated exclusively to that fashion trade, and there are complete fashion merchandising programs within traditional universities.
What do employers look for? Most entry-level fashion merchandising positions require at least an associate or bachelor's degree in fashion merchandising or related field. These programs balance the business side of fashion merchandising with the creative aspects. Here's what you can expect if you enroll in either an AA or BA program:
An associate degree, like the online AS in Fashion Merchandising, likely includes courses in design and color theory, textiles, retailing and marketing. The goal of the program is to prepare you for entry-level careers in buying, visual merchandising, sales and vendor relations in retail or wholesale settings.
A bachelor's in fashion merchandising, helps you cultivate your sense of style and gain a firm grasp of business strategy. You'll delve deep into fashion marketing, color and textile theory, consumer behavior and retail operations, planning and management. You also learn how to identify what styles sell and how to present visual cues that prompt buyers.
Current SNHU student Shaundreka Hearne is already working in the field, doing exactly what she loves to do. Hearne, who is launching her brand, credits the knowledge she's gaining in the program to help her business get up and running the right way. "As a startup, so many things can be confusing.... To have the proper knowledge is comforting," Hearne said.
The opportunities for fashion merchandising experts are many, and they are growing. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that, through 2020, employment opportunities are expected to increase by 19.8% for first-line supervisors in clothing and accessories stores,* and the Washington Post put retail sales on its list of Top 20 "Job Jackpots." Earning a degree from an accredited school can position you to compete for the most sought-after jobs in the field, including buyer, visual merchandiser, sales representative, vendor relations specialist, store and product planner and sales manager.
Tuition varies widely among fashion merchandising colleges and programs. Factors include public versus private, in-state versus out-of-state, online versus on campus.
Once you've found the program that suits you best, it's time to apply - the first step toward realizing a bright future in fashion merchandising.
Learn more about what fashion merchandising is here.
Susan Bogle is a marketing and student recruitment specialist in higher education. Follow her on Twitter @Suze1776 or connect on LinkedIn.
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