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Top 10 Fashion Design Schools in the West - 2018 Rankings

Written by FS StaffJune 16, 2018

Fashion-Schools.org is excited to bring you our 2018 Fashion Design School rankings. Each year, we compile a list of the top list of the Top Fashion Design Schools and Colleges in the United States. Our definitive ranking of the top fashion design schools in the U.S. is based on factors like the schools’ admission data, graduation success, reputation and an extensive proprietary survey conducted with school & industry stakeholders. In addition to our Top 50 National rankings, we are happy to provide regional rankings as well.

Below you'll find the Top 10 Fashion Design Schools in the West. We define the West Coast as California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, and Hawaii.

For an explanation of ranking criteria, click here.

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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1. Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, Los Angeles, California (top 5% of schools considered)

Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM) was founded in 1969. It is home to 5,300 students, 300 faculty members, and an advisory board that includes “industry giants” such as Fred Segal, Diane von Furstenberg, Tim Gunn (of Project Runway, Filmed at FIDM), and Emanuel Ungaro.  Four Southern California campus locations, including Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and Irvine make the school an attractive place to study fashion as well.

The school offers 26 creative majors leading to an AA, BA or BS in the areas of fashion, graphics, interior design or entertainment.  Degree programs for aspiring fashion designers include a BA in Design, a BS in Apparel Technical Design, and AA degrees in Fashion Design, Fashion Knitwear Design, Jewelry Design, Merchandise Product Development, and Textile Design. Associate of Arts Advanced Study Programs (ADV) programs include Advanced Fashion Design, Film and TV Costume Design, Footwear Design, International Manufacturing & Product Development, Menswear, and Textile Production and Development.

In addition to a wide variety of program offerings, fashion students can collaborate on special ‘Industry Partner Projects’ with brands like Nike, Murad, Athleta, Signal Snowboards, Lacoste, GUESS, and TOMS. Part-time work and internships with companies like J Brand Jeans, Stila, Topshop, Forever 21, Victoria’s Secret, and Adidas are an integral part of the curriculum.   There are also annual study tours that will take students to fashion capitals such as New York, Paris, London, Rome, Milan, and more. Students may also participate in the annual DEBUT Runway Show.

2. Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles, California (top 10% of schools considered)

Otis College of Art and Design (OTIS) was founded in 1918 when General Harrison Gray Otis—publisher of the Los Angeles, “bequeathed his L.A. home to the city for the advancement of the arts.” The school is home to nearly 1,100 students from 43 states and 24 countries, 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.

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 display their designs.

These mentors often participate in The Annual Scholarship and Benefit Fashion Show which is in the 36th offering in 2018. This year’s mentors included Rod Beattie of Bleu, Marisol Gerona Bradford for Universal, Chris Chang for Poesia, Claudia Cividino for Bally, costume designer Louise Mingenbach with Jose Fernandez for Ironhead Studios, Johnson Hartig for Libertine, Davora Lindner for Prairie Underground, and Sapna Von Sick for Alo Yoga.

3. Academy of Art University, San Francisco, California (top 10% of schools considered)

Academy of Art University was established in 1929. The school, which had a 2016 fall enrollment of 7,959 students, offers 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. A BA degree in Fashion Journalism is also offered. Graduate offerings include MFA degrees in Fashion, Costume Design, Fashion Product Development, Knitwear Design, Textile Design & Fashion Merchandising and Management.

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.

4. San Francisco State University, San Francisco, California (top 15% of schools considered)

San Francisco State University (SFSU) was founded in 1899 as San Francisco State Normal School. According to the school’s most recent enrollment report, SFSU is home to more than 30,000 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 Family, Interior, Nutrition & Apparel (FINA) (formerly 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.

5. California College of the Arts, San Francisco and Oakland, California (top 15% of schools considered)

California College of the Arts (CCA) was founded in 1907. It is home to nearly 2,000 students enrolled in more than 30 degree programs. Options 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.

6. Washington State University, Pullman, Washington (top 20% of schools considered)

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-Pullman is home to more than 20,000 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, and 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 are also on the menu as well as the opportunity to contribute to Cougar Couture—WSU’s AMDT Newsletter. Students may participate in several campus events including exhibitions, design and merchandising competitions, and the popular Mom’s Weekend Fashion Show.

7. Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon (top 25% of schools considered)

Oregon State University (OSU) was founded in 1868.  OSU, located about an hour and a half South of Portland, is an international public research university that draws people from all 50 states and more than 100 countries.   It 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 recently restructured the design major under the School of Design and Innovation Management.

The B.S. degree allows students to tailor their major to meet their career needs; students will choose one of three options available under the major: apparel design, interior design and design management. The apparel design major is a four year program with a redesigned curricular that has an emphasis on outdoor and performance wear with an integration of business principles.  Graduates learn about the apparel industry that dominates the Pacific Northwest. All students follow the common design core program, designed to be completed in two years and provides a comprehensive foundation of design concepts. The major still requires admission to the OSU COB pro-school.

8. California State University Northridge, Northridge, California (top 20% of schools considered)

California State University Northridge (CSUN) was founded in 1958 as San Fernando Valley State College. The most recent enrollment figures show that school is home to nearly 45,500 students enrolled in 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 merchandisers include a BS in Family and Consumer Sciences with an Option in Apparel Design and Merchandising-Emphasis Apparel Merchandising.

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. University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, Hawaii (top 20% of schools considered)

The University of Hawaii at Manoa (UH Manoa) was founded in 1907. The school is home to 13,689 undergraduate students and 5,176 graduate 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. Degree options include a BS in Fashion Design and Merchandising with a Fashion Design or Merchandising Emphasis. Students are also able to earn a minor is Fashion Design & Merchandising.

Classroom work is enhanced by one of the largest costume collections at a university in the U.S., giving students and faculty a rich source of items to draw upon for their classes and projects.

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.

10. The Art Institute of California, San Francisco, CA (top 20% of schools considered)

The Art Institute of California-San Francisco was established in 1997. The school sits in the heart of San Francisco near Civic Center Plaza, art museums, shopping, an arts and crafts market and more. Home to around 1,600 students, the Art Institute of California-San Francisco offers around 25 programs in the areas of Design, Media Arts, Culinary Art, and Fashion. Offerings for aspiring fashion designers include AS and BFA degrees in Fashion Design and a Fashion Retailing Diploma.

Besides an impressive collection of art and design programs, the Art Institute offers an exceptional career services center. According to AU, The Department of Career Services features “individual and group advising, workshops, a Career Development Class, opportunities to network with industry professionals through The Art Institute of California—San Francisco Speaker Series, field trips to companies, Portfolio Show, career fairs, and networking events.”