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Top 10 Fashion Design Schools and Colleges on the West Coast – 2016

Written by FS StaffMay 24, 2016

Our 2016 rankings of the Top 10 fashion design schools on the West Coast. 

We define the West Coast as California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, and Hawaii. 

For an explanation of ranking criteria, click here.

1. Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles, California

Otis College of Art and Design (OTIS) was founded in 1918. The school is home to 1,100 students enrolled in more than a dozen art and design programs. Offerings for aspiring fashion designers include a BFA in Fashion Design with options in Sustainability or Costume Design.

Did You Know.... Academy of Art University’s School of Fashion offers BFA's in Fashion, Fashion Merchandising, Textile Design, Fashion Marketing, Fashion Styling, Costume Design, and Fashion Product Development. Learn more.

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The Costume Design Emphasis focuses on “new directions in character development for film, television, live performance, concept art, and video,” according to OTIS. 

The Sustainability Minor helps students “develop strategies and systems, as applicable to art and design, which can meet the needs of current generations without compromising those of future generations.” The Continuing Education Department offers a number of single courses for aspiring fashion designers as well. Offerings include Fashion Design, Textile/Surface Design, Jewelry Design, and Illustration.  

OTIS Fashion students are mentored by major brands and designers such as Ruben & Isabel Toledo, A|X, Halston, Billabong, Nike, BCBG, Hurley, Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, Patagonia, and Johnny Was. Internship opportunities with major brands such as Tahari, GAP, Bob Mackie, Armani Exchange, Ralph Lauren, DKNY, and many others provide real world experience, while fashion show events and other prospects offer the opportunity for students to showcase their designs. The Annual Scholarship and Benefit Fashion Show and the Nieman Marcus window in Beverly Hills are just a few options. 

2. Academy of Art University, San Francisco, California 

Established in 1929, Academy of Art University had a 2015 fall enrollment of 8,813 students enrolled in dozens of programs in the areas of art and design. The School of Fashion at Academy of Art offers several programs for aspiring fashion designers. Undergraduate offerings include an AA in Fashion, a BFA in Fashion with an Emphasis in Fashion Design, Textile Design, or Knitwear Design, BFA degrees in Fashion Product Development and Costume Design, a Certificate in Fashion, and an Online Award of Completion in Fashion Design. Graduate offerings include MFA degrees in Fashion and Costume Design. 

According to the Academy, fashion students have access to facilities that feature “the same leading-edge equipment and resources that top fashion houses enjoy.” Internship opportunities are also available as well as the opportunity to participate in Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York City and the Annual Graduation Fashion Show in San Francisco. According to the Academy, “the show has been heralded as the ‘Fashion Week of San Francisco’ by both local and national members of the fashion industry.

Graduates of the Academy of Art University have been hired at major companies such as Gap, Kate Spade, Levi Strauss & Co., Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Adidas, Ralph Lauren, and many others. 

3. Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon 

Founded in 1868 Oregon State University (OSU) was is home to more than 30,000 students enrolled in over 200 undergraduate and 80-plus graduate degree programs across 11 academic colleges. The College of Business houses the School of Design & Human Environment (DHE), which offers several programs for aspiring fashion designers. Undergraduate offerings include a BS in Apparel Design with Specializations in Active Sportswear, Protective Clothing for Industry, Functional Apparel (for people with physically challenging conditions) and Costuming for the Theater.

Graduate options include a Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies (MAIS) and an MS or MA in Design. Concentrations include Textiles or Human Behavior in the Near Environment (Apparel and Housing). The MS and MA programs also offer a Concentration in Design and the Near Environment (Apparel Design and Interior Design).

Fashion design students have the opportunity to learn from the DHE Historic and Cultural Textile and Apparel Collection, which includes approximately 2,000 Euro-American and ethnic apparel pieces and other textile products. In addition, teaching and assistantships are offered to graduate students, and all undergraduates have the opportunity to participate in the internship program. Students have interned with major designers, brands and retailers such as Anna Sui, Columbia Sportswear, Nordstrom, and Fred Meyer.

4. California College of the Arts, San Francisco and Oakland, California 

Founded in 1907, California College of the Arts (CCA) is home to 1,968 students enrolled in 35 degree programs and two minors. Programs for aspiring fashion designers include BFA degrees in Fashion Design, Jewelry/Metals Arts, and Textiles. Program highlights include CCA’s internship program, which offers the opportunity to work at San Francisco Bay Area companies such as Levi Strauss & Co, Athleta, and TEA Collection, the opportunity to participate in the Annual Fashion Show, and unique study abroad opportunities in places such as London, Paris, Berlin, and Italy.

Many CCA graduates have found success in the world of design. Some have started their own businesses, while others have landed positions with major companies such as Abercrombie & Fitch, J. Crew, Athleta, Forever 21, John Varvatos, Michael Kors, GUESS, Kate Spade, and many others. 

5. Washington State University, Pullman, Washington 

Washington State University (WSU) was founded in 1890 as Washington’s original land-grant university. The school’s main campus is located in Pullman, Washington, and it has regional campuses in Spokane, Tri-Cities (Kennewick, Pasco, Richland and West Richland), Vancouver, and Everett. WSU is home to 28,686 students enrolled 95 undergraduate majors and 85 minors, 120 graduate and professional programs, and 100-plus certificates and in-major specializations across 11 colleges. 

The College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Science (CAHNRS) is home to the Department of Apparel, Merchandising, Design, and Textiles (AMDT). The Department offers several programs for aspiring fashion designers. Options include a BA in Apparel, Merchandising, and Textiles with a Specialization Track in Apparel Design and an MA in Apparel, Merchandising, Design, and Textiles offered in collaboration with the Department of AMDT and the Graduate School.

Program highlights include study abroad opportunities in more than 70 countries, access to the third largest apparel and textile industry in the country, optional membership in student chapters of two major industry associations—the International Textiles and Apparel Association (ITAA) and the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists (AATCC), study tours to places such as Los Angeles, and the opportunity to contribute to Cougar Couture—WSU’s AMDT Newsletter. Students also have the opportunity to participate in several campus events including exhibitions, design and merchandising competitions, and the popular Mom’s Weekend Fashion Show. 

6. California State University-Long Beach, Long Beach, California

Established in 1949 and home to nearly 37,500 students, California State University Long Beach (CSULB) is the third largest member of the 23-school California State University system. The school also offers more than 300 programs across eight colleges. The College of Health and Human Services (CHHS), Department of Family & Consumer Sciences (FCS), and the College of Business Administration offer several programs for aspiring fashion designers. FCS offerings include a BA in Family and Consumer Sciences with Options in Fashion Design or Textiles & Clothing, a Minor in Textiles, and a Certificate in Textiles. Program highlights include the Annual Spring Fashion Show and Fashion Study Tours of New York City offered every January and July, and tours of Paris luxury fashion industries offered every June. 

The College of Business Administration offers an MBA with a Specialization in Fashion Merchandising and Design. The MBA is a self-paced, 48-unit evening program designed for part-time, full-time, domestic or international students. An undergraduate degree in business is not required to enter the program. 

7. University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, Hawaii 

The University of Hawaii at Manoa (UH Manoa) was founded in 1907. It is home to 18,865 students enrolled in more than 230 programs across 14 colleges and schools. The College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR), Department of Family and Consumer Sciences houses the Fashion Design and Merchandising (FDM) Program, which leads to a BS in Fashion Design and Merchandising with a Fashion Design or Merchandising Emphasis. 

According to the school, “the curriculum teaches cutting-edge skills in computer 2-D and 3-D fashion design; apparel product development; entrepreneurship; retailing; and consumer behavior, attitudes, and consumption of textile and apparel products around the world.” Program highlights include optional membership in the Fashion Club and participation in the Annual Fashion Show. Graduates of the program are prepared to compete for positions such as Textile and Fashion Designer, Technical Designer, Visual Merchandiser, Costume Designer, Curator, and Fashion Forecaster.

8. California State University Northridge, Northridge, California 

California State University Northridge (CSUN) was founded in 1958 as San Fernando Valley State College. Home to 38,310 students (most recent figures), CSUN offers 175 programs through nine colleges. The College of Health and Human Development, Department of Family & Consumer Sciences houses the Apparel Design and Merchandising program. Degree offerings for aspiring fashion designers include a BS in Family and Consumer Sciences with Options in Apparel Design and Production and Textiles and Apparel. 

According to the Department, the programs combine “design technology, business strategy and fashion merchandising” in its approach to “apparel manufacturing, processing and merchandising techniques, and textile product quality control.” Other program highlights include access to the Historic Costume Collection, internship opportunities at The California Merchandise Mart, design showrooms, textile and apparel manufacturers, major department stores, museums, and textile testing labs, and networking opportunities through the student organization TRENDS.

Students also have the opportunity to develop professional relationships through domestic fashion industry tours, and organizations such as the International Textile and Apparel Association (ITAA) and the Fashion Industry Association (FIA).

9. San Francisco State University, San Francisco, California 

Founded in 1899 as San Francisco State Normal School, San Francisco State University (SFSU) is home to 30,500 students enrolled in more than 140 undergraduate and graduate programs, 17 credential programs, and 38 certificate programs across seven colleges. The College of Health and Social Sciences is home to the Department of Consumer and Family Studies/Dietetics, which offers several programs for aspiring fashion designers.

Offerings include a BS in Apparel Design and Merchandising with an Emphasis in Apparel Design and an MA in Family & Consumer Sciences that can be developed around Apparel studies. Program highlights include internship opportunities, participation in the Annual Fashion Show, and study abroad opportunities in Italy, London, and Sydney.

10. Woodbury University, Burbank, California

Founded in 1884, Woodbury University is home to more than 1,500 students at two locations including Burbank and San Diego. The school offers degrees in several dozen fields across three schools and one college. The School of Media Culture & Design offers several programs for aspiring fashion designers. Offerings include a BFA in Fashion Design with a new Costume Design Track. Fashion students may also explore other design categories such as Shoes or Children’s Wear or earn a second degree such as the Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) in Fashion Marketing. The BBA is offered through the School of Business. 

According to the School of Media Culture & Design, the Fashion Design program focuses on “classic illustration methods, cutting-edge design, and world-class construction techniques.” The Costume Design Track “encompasses stage and screen with a concentrated emphasis on character development, period construction, digital and manual sketching, as well as an on-set production lab.” Both programs feature internship opportunities with major fashion companies, participation in the Woodbury Runway Show and Costume Runway, and a range of creative workshops.