Fashion is a $1.2 trillion global industry with more than $250 billion spent annually in the U.S. alone. Even more impressive is the fashion and apparel industries employ a staggering 1.9 million people in the U.S. and they have a positive impact on regional economies across the country. According to a Joint Economic Committee of the United States Congress (JEC) report, “New York City and Los Angeles are the two largest fashion hubs in the U.S., with over two-thirds of all fashion designers employed in these cities.” However, other cities such Columbus, San Francisco, and Nashville, “are beginning to reap economic benefits, including high-paying jobs in fashion design.”
Speaking of pay, with an average annual wage of $63,670 a year, fashion designers fare well overall. The highest paid fashion designers averaged around $125,270 in 2015 and those working in management averaged $75,380. Those working in apparel manufacturing averaged $66,200. However, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, earnings for fashion designers can vary widely based on the designer’s reputation, the employer, geographic location, experience and education. With the exception of a few rare designers who managed to make millions without any formal training (Coco Chanel comes to mind) most aspiring designers must earn a fashion degree from an accredited college or university. This will allow them to gain the valuable experience needed to attract the attention of a top employer, as most companies prefer to hire designers with a bachelor’s degree or higher.
While many potential students worry about the costs that come with earning a fashion degree (tuition, materials and supplies, housing, and fees), the fact is most students are eligible for some form financial assistance in the form of grants, loans, work-study, awards, and scholarships. And fortunately, grants, awards, and scholarships do not have to be paid back. The next worry students may have is the competitiveness of “free money” such as scholarships. True, some of the largest and most prestigious scholarship programs are competitive. But did you know that many schools and organizations offer scholarship programs that are based on need alone? Others may be based on a combination of need and academic, athletic, or artistic ability (merit). And then there are those that may focus on merit alone or on students that have passion for a specific area such as sustainable design, footwear design or children’s wear.
The New School, New York; Pratt Institute, Brooklyn and Manhattan; Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), Savannah Georgia, Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM), Los Angeles, San Francisco, Irvine, and San Diego, California, and Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD), Minneapolis are just a few top fashion schools that offer excellent scholarship opportunities—both need-based and merit-based.
Besides internal scholarship programs, students will discover an endless number of external scholarship opportunities offered through thousands of non-profit organizations, companies, associations, and more. You just have to do the research. We found a few to help get you started.
1. The YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund (YMA FSF) was established in 1937 to “advance the fashion industry by encouraging gifted and enterprising young people to pursue careers in design, merchandising, retailing and business, ensuring the industry will continue to attract dedicated, capable and creative individuals.” Opportunities include YMA FSF Scholarships awarded to around 200 students in the amount of $5,000 each, the Jim Edleman Scholarship, which is a $10,000 scholarship underwritten by Macy's and awarded to a Wharton School of Business student, and the Geoffrey Beene National Merit Scholarship, which awards four $30,000 and an additional four $10,000 scholarships annually.
Scholarships are open to students enrolled at a member school (some 60 colleges and universities). Qualifying students must be enrolled full-time at one of these schools and have an overall G.P.A. of 3.0 or above in a 4.0 G.P.A. system. The program is open to current freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors in majors closely aligned to the fashion industry. Because program titles vary greatly and are ever-changing, eligible programs include, but are not limited to, advertising, communications, consumer science, apparel design, graphic design, economics, fiber science, finance, information technology, management, marketing, merchandising, retail studies, supply chain management, etc.
Please visit the YMA FSF website for application deadlines and additional information.
Contact: YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund, 1501 Broadway, Suite 2302, The Paramount Building, New York, NY 10036, 212-278-0008.
2. The National YoungArts Foundation was established in 1981 to identify and nurture “the most accomplished young artists in the visual, literary, design and performing arts” and assist them “at critical junctures in their educational and professional development.” The Foundation “aspires to create a community of alumni that provides a lifetime of encouragement, opportunity and support.” The scholarship program offers cash awards up to $10,000 along with the opportunity to take “master classes with accomplished designers such as Paola Antonelli, Michael Arad and Frank Gehry, to become eligible for nomination as a U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts, and receive a lifetime of mentoring and professional support with a rich network of peers.” Recipients will also have the opportunity to “connect to educational and artistic development opportunities.”
To apply to YoungArts, aspiring fashion designers must be U.S. citizens or have permanent resident status, and be 15-18 years of age or in grades 10-12 on December 1, 2016. Design Arts applicants are required to submit a portfolio of 10 pages (including some that show your design process), and a brief statement.
Please visit the National YoungArts Foundation for deadlines and additional information.
Contact: National YoungArts Foundation, 2100 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami, FL 33137, 800.970.ARTS (2787), firstname.lastname@example.org.
3. Two Ten Footwear Foundation has been awarding scholarships since 1969. During its first year, the Foundation awarded $38,000 in scholarships to 17 students from eight states to assist in paying for their education. Since then, Two Ten has awarded nearly $20 million to 6,353 students. In 2015 alone, the Foundation “helped 310 students nationwide meet the rising cost of a college education by awarding $870,000 in scholarships.” Though it did not begin awarding scholarships until 1969, this non-profit organization has been around since 1929 with a mission to help people who work in the footwear industry.
Two Ten scholarships are awarded to applicants who are studying fashion design with a focus on footwear for “up to four academic years based on the standard four-year higher education model (eight traditional semesters).” After the initial award year, recipients only need to fill out a renewal application with the Foundation.
Please visit the Two Ten website for deadlines and additional information.
Contact: Two Ten Footwear Foundation, 1466 Main Street, Waltham, MA 02451, 800.346.3210,
Fax: 781.736.1555 or 781.736.1554, email@example.com.
4. The Women’s Jewelry Association (WJA) was established in 1983 “to help women in the jewelry and watch industries advance and develop professionally through networking, education, leadership development, and the provision of member services.” WJA awards scholarships in varying amounts starting at $500 and up to $700 and are available to female students (including WJA members), who are enrolled in fine jewelry and watch design courses with classes between August 1, 2016 and July 31, 2017. In 2013, WJA awarded $30,000 in scholarships to 11 deserving students.”
Each year the Association awards scholarships in three different categories:
•Designer/Creator Category (based on images of finished pieces that are designed and created by the student)
•Designer Category (based on designs by the student, includes CAD and drawings) and
•Non-Designer Category (essay-based for those studying to be a gemologist, appraiser, watch-maker, bench jeweler, or retailer)
Please visit the WJA website for deadlines and additional information.
Contact: The Women’s Jewelry Association (WJA) Jenny O. Calleri, WJA Scholarship Chairperson, Jennyo@tbirdjewels.com, 82 Washington Street, Suite 203A, Poughkeepsie, NY 12601, 212.687.2722, Fax 646.355.0219, firstname.lastname@example.org.
5. The International Textiles and Apparel Association (ITAA) has its roots in the first half of the twentieth century. The Association’s mission is to “advance excellence in education, scholarship and innovation, and their global applications,” and it has a vision to “promote the discovery, dissemination, and application of knowledge and is a primary resource for its members in strengthening leadership and service to society.” ITAA annually awards and administers over $30,000 in faculty and student scholarships and awards in textiles & apparel. Scholarships and awards are open to both undergraduate and graduate students.
Contact: ITAA, PO Box 70687, Knoxville, TN 37938-0687, 865.992.1535, email@example.com, Executive Director, Nancy Rutherford, Ph.D.
Please visit the ITAA website for deadlines and additional information.
Tip: Some scholarships are renewable. This means recipients will receive a specific amount of funding each year for a set number of years. Others are non-renewable, which means recipients will receive the award just once for any given year. Consider applying for a combination of the two to increase your chances of receiving continuous funding throughout your academic career.
Where Can I Find Other Fashion Scholarship Opportunities?
Whether you’re planning to study fashion in the U.S. or overseas, the list of websites below should help you locate other scholarship opportunities that can help you pay your way. Also, take a look at USA Today College’s The 10 Best Sites to Search for Scholarships and remember to do some research on your own.
Council of Fashion Designers of America, Inc. (CFDA)
"Coco Chanel Biography." Bio.com. A&E Television Networks, n.d. Web. 25 Sept. 2016.
"Fashion Designers." Occupational Outlook Handbook. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 17 Dec. 2015. Web. 09 Sept. 2016.
International Textile and Apparel Association (ITAA). International Textile and Apparel Association, n.d. Web. 25 Sept. 2016.
Showalter, Michelle. "Uncover Scholarships for Aspiring Fashion Designers." U.S. News Education. U.S. News & World Report, 05 Sept. 2013. Web. 09 Sept. 2016.
Speers, Sean. "The 10 Best Sites to Search for Scholarships." USA Today College. Gannett, 06 Jan. 2016. Web. 25 Sept. 2016.
Staff, JEC Democratic. "The Economic Impact of the Fashion Industry." Joint Economic Committee of the United States Congress (JEC). Joint Economic Committee of the United States Congress (JEC), 06 Feb. 2015. Web. 09 Sept. 2016.
The National YoungArts Foundation. The National YoungArts Foundation, n.d. Web. 25 Sept. 2016.
The Women’s Jewelry Association (WJA). The Women’s Jewelry Association (WJA), n.d. Web. 25 Sept. 2016.
The YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund (YMA FSF). The YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund (YMA FSF), n.d. Web. 25 Sept. 2016.
Two Ten Footwear Foundation. Two Ten Footwear Foundation, n.d. Web. 25 Sept. 2016.