The Chicago Fashion Scene
Chicago is home to more upscale shops, department stores, and malls than anywhere else in the Midwest. Although millions of visitors shop the Magnificent Mile for everything from high-end fashions at Chanel, Gucci, and Marc Jacobs to budget fashions at H&M, the city is home to dozens of shopping areas that address all styles and budgets. Head to Wicker Park for funky, trendy, upscale or classic fashions or make your way to Lincoln Park or Lakeview for a mix of unique boutiques and big name retailers such as Aldo, Limited, and Gap. Roscoe Village and Andersonville are also popular places to find independent shops and boutiques that sell fashions you just won’t find anywhere else. When it comes to the fashion scene, Chicago has more going for it than great places to shop. Dozens of fashion events take place here each year from Chicago Fashion Week to design competitions to fashion tours. Many fashion events are held at local colleges that offer programs in fashion design and fashion merchandising. At the top of the list is Columbia College.
Career Opportunities & Employers in Schools & Colleges:
Chicago fashion designers can find work in technical production, textile design for product development, apparel design, pattern making, sample making, grading, handweaving, embroidery design, retail, and sales. Many fashion designers also teach, so Chicago’s academic institutions and design centers are excellent sources of jobs for aspiring instructors. Fashion merchandisers work in product development, production, marketing, sales, visual merchandising, and more. Merchandisers can find work at any of the thousands of shops, design studios, department stores, and popular retailers across the city, but the best place to begin your search is downtown Chicago.
Schools & Colleges Fashion Schools & Programs:
Illinois is home to 181 colleges and universities. Some are art and design schools, while others are traditional colleges that offer art and design programs. The number and variety of schools located in Chicago make it easy for aspiring fashion designers and fashion merchandisers to find just the right program. Some art and design schools have been accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD), while others have been accredited by agencies such as the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools or the Colleges and the American Academy of Liberal Education. Visit the U.S. Department of Education at Ed.gov for a complete list of accrediting agencies.
Two of the top schools for fashion programs are Columbia College and the The Illinois Institute of Art, Chicago. Columbia College has one of the largest concentrations of emerging fashion talent in the U.S. The design facilities are the best in the Midwest and the school’s downtown location serves as an adjunct campus for fashion studies, providing students access to fashion retailing, marketing, and manufacturing sources. Columbia College offers a degree in fashion design and a fashion business degree that combines studies in marketing, fashion merchandising, retailing, and the art of the entrepreneur.
The Illinois Institute of Art is also located in downtown Chicago. It offers degrees in fashion merchandising, fashion design, fashion marketing & management, and fashion retailing. Other options include the International Academy of Design & Technology (Chicago and Schaumburg), Dominican University in River Forest (12 miles from Chicago), and Triton College, also in River Forest.
Employment and Salary Trends for Schools & Colleges:
The state of Illinois is home to around 100 salaried fashion designers. More than half of them live in Chicago. Hundreds more are self-employed and work as designers, business owners, or designer-for-hire. Salaried Chicago fashion designers earn an average of $50,550 per year. Self-employed designers can earn six to seven figures per year. Nationwide, fashion designers average around $61,160. The lowest paid fashion designers average $32,150, and the highest paid salaried designers average $124,780 per year.
Employment of fashion designers across the nation is expected to grow by 1 percent between 2008 and 2018. Sewing and cutting jobs may decline as more designers and brands choose manufacturing companies overseas. However, employment of fashion designers is stable because many firms prefer to keep design work in house.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics has not reported employment and salary figures for fashion merchandisers, but a significant part of the job involves working with window and store displays. There are 1,470 merchandise displayers living in the city of Chicago.
For more information about the fashion design and fashion merchandising industry, visit the Bureau of Labor Statistics at bls.gov.
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