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Top 20 Fashion Design Schools in the West - 2014

Written by FS StaffMay 13, 2014

Our 2014 rankings of the Top 20 schools on the West Coast for fashion design. 

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

For an explanation of ranking criteria, click here.


1. Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles, California
The Fashion Design Department at Otis College of Design (OTIS) offers a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Fashion Design. Program highlights include an annual fashion show and access to famous guest design mentors such as Billabong, Venus Williams, and Urban Outfitters. All OTIS students have the opportunity to enroll in the school’s Study Abroad program during their final years of study. Past study destinations include the Island country of Palau, Venice, Belgium, France, China, and Italy. Travel Study Tours to New York City are also on the menu.

After completing the program, an internship, and exciting study experiences, many OTIS Fashion graduates have gone on to work with Vivienne Tam, Sean John, Michael Kors, and John Varvatos, as well as DKNY, Liz Claiborne, Max Studio, Abercrombie & Fitch, Gap, Jane Magazine, and many others.

Established in 1918, Otis College of Art and Design (OTIS) was Southern California’s first independent school of art. It sits in a 5-acre main campus on LA’s Westside, with additional campuses in Downtown LA (in the heart of The Fashion District), Culver City, and the 18th Street Arts Center in Santa Monica. OTIS accommodates more than 1,100 students enrolled in more than a dozen programs from Architecture and Product Design to Writing and Fashion Design.

2. Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon
The School of Design and Human Environment at Oregon State University (OSU) is home to the popular Fashion Program at OSU. The School offers a BS in Apparel Design and an MA, MAIS (Master of Arts in International Studies), and PhD in Design and Human Environment. All fashion students (graduate or undergraduate) may participate in the School of Design and Human Environment annual fashion show—designed, modeled, built, managed, and promoted by OSU students.

Established in 1868, Oregon State University sits on a 400-acre campus just 90 miles from Portland and an hour from the Pacific Coast or the Cascades. The school is home to 27,925 students from 50 states and 100 countries. OSU students have access to more than 200 degree programs across 12 colleges, 15 Agricultural Experiment Stations, 35 county Extension offices, the Hatfield Marine Sciences Center in Newport, and OSU-Cascades in Bend, Oregon.

3. Academy of Art University, San Francisco, California
The Academy of Art University School of Fashion offers a large collection programs for aspiring fashion designers. Options include AA, BFA, and MFA degrees in Textiles, Knitwear, Merchandising, and Design, an AA or BFA in Visual Merchandising, and an AA in Menswear. AA, BFA, and MFA degrees in Illustration are also on the menu as well as several online options including AA, BFA, or MFA degrees in Fashion and an Online Award of Completion (OAC) in Fashion Design.

Fashion students have the opportunity to participate in the biannual fashion show at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week at Lincoln Center in New York City, and the Annual Graduation Fashion Show in San Francisco. The School of Fashion also notes that Fashion Styling students may work on the School of Fashion’s magazine projects, the Fashion School Daily Blog, and on international publications and websites.

Established in 1929 with, Academy of Art University opened with just 50 students. Today, the school is home to more than 18,000 students enrolled in dozens of programs at all degree levels. Academy of Art University offers Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA), Bachelor of Arts (BA), Associate of Arts (AA), Master of Fine Arts (MFA), Master of Arts (MA), and Master of Architecture (MArch) degrees. The school also offers Certificate programs and Continuing Art Education courses.

44. Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, Los Angeles, California
Established in 1969, the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) consists of four well-placed campuses in the state’s top fashion, entertainment, and manufacturing cities. FIDM campuses include Los Angeles (home of the famous LA Fashion District which features the largest selection of textiles and notions in the United States), San Francisco, Orange (Irvine, CA), and San Diego. The school is home to 8,000 students and 500 faculty members, and it offers 22 creative majors, 2-year Associate of Arts degrees and a BS degree.

Majors for aspiring fashion designers include Advanced Fashion Design, Apparel Industry Management, Film & TV Costume Design, Merchandise Product Development, Textile Design, and Textile Production & Development. All programs lead to an Associate of Arts degree (AA).
In addition to a sizable collection of fashion design programs, Project Runway fame, and successful alums, FIDM features an Annual televised and internationally webcast DEBUT Runway Show as well as domestic and international Study Tours to fashion capitals such as New York City, Paris, London, Rome, and Milan.

Considered the “first fashion college of its kind on the West Coast,” FIDM has been the setting for Project Runway and several graduates became contestants, finalists, and a winner—Leanne Marshall, season five. In addition, several FIDM graduates have appeared on TV shows such as NBC’s Fashion Star and The Bachelorette.

5. California College of the Arts, San Francisco, California
Established in 1907, California College of Arts educates artists of all kinds in the areas of Fine Arts, Design, Writing, and Architecture. The school, which sits on a green 4-acre campus in one of the world’s top technology centers, is located right next to the city's famous design district. CCA offers a total of 33 BA, BArch, BFA, MArch, MA, MBA, and MFA degree programs.

Programs for aspiring fashion designers include a BFA in Fashion Design, a BFA in Textiles, Jewelry and Metal Arts, and a BFA in Illustration. Graduate offerings include a Master’s in Design and an MBA in Design Strategy. CCA also offers a unique Individualized Major (INDI) that allows students to follow a personalized program of study. INDI students typically work in two or three areas of study.

All fashion and design programs offer the opportunity to interact with visiting artists and participate in CCA’s Lecture Series—where students attend presentations and meet one-on-one with influential fashion designers and other artists; the biennial Masters of Tradition Series, and the Annual Fashion Show sponsored by Levi Strauss & Company, Abercrombie & Fitch, and many others. In addition, CCA is home to one of the nation’s top fashion internship programs.

Students have interned at fashion firms such as DKNY, Jones of New York, Abercrombie & Fitch, Ralph Lauren, Narciso Rodriguez, Nike, J. Crew, Levi’s, The North Face, and more. Unique Study Abroad experiences are also on the menu. Led by CCA faculty, students can expect to visit fashion centers such as Paris, Italy, London, and Spain, as well as Argentina, Berlin, Ecuador, Iceland, Japan, Scotland, and many others. 

6. California State University, Long Beach, Long Beach, California
The College of Health and Human Services-Department of Family & Consumer Sciences at California State University Long Beach (CSULB) offers several programs for aspiring fashion designers. The Department offers a BA in Apparel Design (Textiles & Clothing), a Double Major in Fashion Merchandising and Textiles & Clothing, an MBA with a Specialization in Fashion Merchandising and Design, and Minors in Fashion Merchandising and Design and Textiles & Clothing.

The fashion and design programs at CSULB prepare students for careers as Fashion Designers, Fashion Stylists, Costumers, Retail Buyers, and more. Program highlights include the Annual Fashion Show, enriching Fashion Tours of New York City, Los Angeles and Europe, and Study Abroad experiences that take place at more than 70 overseas universities in Australia, Chile, Denmark, France, Germany, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, the UK, Zimbabwe, and more.

California State University Long Beach (CSULB) traces its history back to 1949, when it operated under the name Los Angeles-Orange County College. Today, the school has several common names including CSULB, CSU Long Beach and Cal State Long Beach. CSULB sits on a 322-acre campus just 22 miles south of Downtown Los Angeles and 15.9 miles from hip Huntington Beach (Orange County). Home to 35,592 students, the school offers 85 undergraduate programs, 64 graduate programs, and 4 doctoral degree programs.

7. California State University-Northridge, Northridge, California
Established in 1958, California State University-Northridge is home to 36,208 students. The campus sits on 353 park-like acres in the San Fernando Valley—just 16 miles from Los Angeles and the famous LA Fashion District. CSUN offers 64 baccalaureate degrees, 58 master's degrees, 2 professional doctorate degrees, and 55 teaching credential programs across eight academic colleges.

Also called CSUN or Cal State Northridge, California State University-Northridge is home to the Department of Family & Consumer Services, which offers one of the region’s top fashion programs. Offerings for aspiring fashion designers include BS and MS degrees in Family and
Consumer Sciences/Apparel Design and Merchandising. Program highlights include domestic fashion industry tours, access to the Historic Costume Collection, and membership in the Apparel and Merchandising Student Organization—TRENDS. The organization is responsible for the Departments annual fashion show.

Other program highlights include internship and networking opportunities through association and professional organizations such as International Textile and Apparel Association (ITAA) and California Fashion Association (CFA), and the opportunity to enter career fields such as Apparel Design, Fashion Consulting, Textile Analysis, Textile Design, Fashion Journalism, Historic Costume and Textile Preservation, Retail Buying, Wardrobe Stylist, and many others.

88. Art Institute of California-San Francisco, San Francisco, California

Established in 1997, the Art Institute of California-San Francisco is home to around 1,600 students and it offers 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. Highlights include an exceptional career services center, the perfect location (the heart of San Francisco near Civic Center Plaza), and access to art museums, shopping, an arts and crafts market and more.

The Department of Career Services at AI California-San Francisco 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.”
9. The Art Institute of California-Hollywood, Hollywood, California
The Art Institute of California-Hollywood offers several top-tier programs for aspiring fashion designers. Offerings include AS and BFA degrees in Fashion Design and a Fashion Retailing Diploma. The Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges accredits the Art Institute of California-Hollywood and its programs.

Established in 1991, the Art Institute of California-Hollywood is located in the trendy NoHo Arts District, which offers easy access to LA’s hot fashion scene. Just a few highlights include thousands of retail shops and designer studios, the renowned LA Fashion District, unique street fashions, and hundreds of design firms. The school is home to more than 2,300 student artists. 

10. The Art Institute of California-Los Angeles, Santa Monica, California
Home to hundreds of art and design students from the U.S. and abroad, the Art Institute of California-Los Angeles offers Media Arts, Design, Culinary, and Fashion Design programs. Offerings for aspiring fashion designers include a BFA in Fashion Design. The BFA program offers immersive study and training in the areas of Patternmaking, Fashion Drawing, Digital Textile Design, Trends & Concepts in Apparel, Technical Drawing, Product Development, Business Ownership, Concept Development, Sewing Techniques, Event & Fashion Show Production, and more.

AI’s comprehensive curriculum prepares students for careers such as Fashion Designer, Fashion Buyer, Fashion Stylist, Textile Designer, Costume Designer, Textile Analyst, and Fashion Entrepreneur.

Established in 1997, the Art Institute of California-Los Angeles is located in the City of Santa Monica. It occupies around 107,000 square feet of computer lab, design lab, classroom, library, and lounge space. The Art Institute’s convenient location places it in driving distance from thousands of retail shops, boutiques, and shopping districts (including the famous LA Fashion District), and more.

11. Woodbury University, Burbank, California
The School of Media, Culture & Design at Woodbury University offers a BFA in Fashion Design and a Design Foundation program (interdisciplinary). The School of Business offers another program that may interest fashion designers looking to start their own companies or work in a management position. The School offers a unique Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) in Fashion Management and Fashion Marketing.

The most popular program for aspiring fashion designers is the BFA in Fashion Design. Program highlights include the annual Woodbury Fashion Show (open to sophomores, juniors, and seniors), access to the Fashion Study Collection (more than 6,000 pieces, some dating back to the early 1800s), local “lectures, museums, galleries, and exhibitions exploring a variety of topics including social and cultural issues,” and Summer Study Abroad experiences. Past destinations include London, Turkey, Antwerp, and Paris.

Woodbury University began in 1884 in a storefront in the historic center of Los Angeles. The school began instruction in a single room under the name Woodbury’s Business College. Today, the school sits on a 22.5-acre campus in Burbank, California, with an additional campus in San Diego. The former home of Helen Gurley Brown (Editor-in-Chief of Cosmopolitan for more than 3 decades), Woodbury University has a population of 1,552 students enrolled in more than a dozen programs across the Schools of Architecture and Business, the Institute of Transdisciplinary Studies, and the School of Media, Culture & Design—home of the Fashion program. 

12. The Art Institute of Portland, Portland, Oregon
The Art Institute of Portland (AI Portland) offers several top-rated program for aspiring fashion designers. The programs lead to an Associate of Arts (AA), a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) or a Diploma. Offerings include AA and BFA degrees in Apparel Design and Apparel Accessory Design. A Fashion Retailing Diploma is also on the menu. Students looking to enhance their education and career opportunities might consider the BFA in Photography & Design, where they will explore Fashion Photography and Studio Management, or the Design Management BFA, which explores Art and Design, Entrepreneurism, and Project Management.

Besides offering several popular fashion degrees, The Art Institute of Portland is located in a bustling metropolis known for innovative start-ups, an original art scene, unusual shops and boutiques, and multiple Fashion Week events. In addition, AI Portland is home to everything students need for inspiration and success. It houses lively studios and laboratories, an eye-catching exhibition gallery, a well-supplied supply store, an energetic student success center, program specific equipment, and more. 

The Art Institute of Portland (AI Portland) is one of the region’s top art and design schools. Established in 1963 as Bassist College, AI Portland serves the Pacific Northwest and beyond. The school is home to more than 1,300 students enrolled in more than 20 Design, Fashion, Culinary, and Media Arts programs.

13. Academy of Couture Art, Los Angeles, California
Academy of Couture Art is one of the region’s top fashion schools. It offers an array of programs from Pattern Design to an Intensive English Language program. Program offerings include AA and BA degrees in Fashion Design, AA and BS degrees in Pattern Design, and Certificates in Creative Fashion Design Laboratory, Professional Fashion Design Laboratory, Creative Pattern Design Laboratory, and Professional Pattern Design Laboratory.

Other Academy of Couture highlights include classrooms that “have been dedicated to their specific functions.” Lecture Rooms, the PC/Mac Lab for Digital Pattern and Digital Design, the ESL Skills Lab, and Pattern Design + Fashion Design classrooms “all have been prepared to welcome small intimate classes to foster Learning Outcomes.”

Benefits beyond the classroom include access to the luxury shops and fashion scene in Beverly Hills, LA Fashion District and dozens of other fashion districts, plus world class shopping at Chanel, Gucci, Valentino, Versace, Bottega Veneta, Armani, Ralph Lauren, Neiman Marcus, Saks 5th Avenue, Barneys New York, and one of the world’s most celebrated entertainment and fashion capital.

Established in 2005 by Designer Sonia Été, Academy of Couture Art served 10 years in the U.S. as ESAM (École Supérieure des Arts de la Mode)—a preparatory course for ESMOD International Fashion University Group and Studio Berçot in Paris. Today, the school operates from the famed Flynt Building in elegantly stylish Beverly Hills, California.

1414. Washington State University, Pullman, Washington
Washington State University (WSU) is home to the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences, which houses the Department of Apparel, Merchandising, Design, and Textiles (AMDT)—home of WSU’s Apparel and Textiles program. The Program, which is the only state-supported 4-year Apparel and Textiles program, offers BA and MA degrees in Apparel and Textiles with Specialization Tracks in Apparel Design and Merchandising.

Signature courses include Globalization, Environmental, and Ethical Issues in the Fashion Industry, Fashion Forecasting, and Multicultural Perspectives on the Body and Dress, to name a few. Program highlights include access to the #3 ranked apparel and textile industry in the U.S. (the State of Washington), Design and Merchandising Competitions, Exhibitions, Guest Speakers, the Annual Moms Weekend Fashion Show, and Internships with Macy’s, Nordstrom, Ann Taylor, and more.

Students may also become members of the International Textiles and Apparel Association (ITAA) and the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists (AATCC).  WSU has student chapters of these major industry associations. Study Tours to New York and 1,400+ Education Abroad programs are also on the menu. Students may visit London, Italy, China and dozens of other destinations.

Founded in 1890 as Washington Agricultural College and School of Science, Washington State University (WSU) opened with just 59 students. Today, the school consists of four traditional campuses and a Global Campus (online). Campuses include Pullman (main), Spokane, Tri-Cities, Vancouver, and WSU Online. With a combined student population of 27,642, WSU offers more than 200 fields of study, 66 Master’s and 47 Doctoral programs across 10 colleges and a graduate school.

15. University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, Hawaii
The University of Hawaii at Manoa (UH Manoa), College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources houses the Family and Consumer Sciences Department is home of the Fashion Design and Merchandising program (FDM). The FDM Program features study in the areas of Apparel Design and Construction, Textile Properties, Fashion Trend Analysis, Costume History, International Trade Issues, Fashion Sketching, Retail Buying and Merchandise Management, and Social and Cultural Aspects of Dress. The program leads to a BS in Fashion Design and Merchandising.

UH Manoa offers internship opportunities throughout the islands and the contiguous United States, as well as a Study Abroad experiences in fashion capitals such as Paris, London and Rome. Although optional, all students are strongly encouraged to enroll in both programs.

The University of Hawaii at Manoa (UH Manoa) was established in 1907. It opened with just 10 students and 13 faculty in Honolulu’s Thomas Square. Since then, the school has expanded to a
300-acre campus with a population of more than 20,000 students. Located in Oahu’s Manoa Valley—just 4 miles from Downtown Honolulu and 2.5 miles from Waikiki, UH Manoa offers
200 degree programs across 19 colleges and schools.

16. The Art Institute of Seattle, Seattle, Washington
The Art Institute of Seattle offers several popular programs for aspiring fashion designers. The programs lead to an AAS, BFA, or Diploma.  Options include AAS and BFA degrees in Fashion Design and a Fashion Retailing Diploma. Fashion program highlights include access to the Fashion Network, participation in the Annual Fashion Show presented by The Fashion League, and an active Career Services Center that features Quarterly Portfolio Reviews, Career Days, Job Fairs, Employer Presentations, Recruiting Events, and more.

Founded in 1946 as the Burnley School for Professional Art, the Art Institute of Seattle
sits on Seattle’s Elliott Bay waterfront. This bustling area offers easy access to major shopping districts, art museums, art and design centers, and the hip cities of Redmond, Bellevue, and Kirkland. The Art Institute of Seattle is home to 2,800 students from around the world and it offers more than 30 Liberal Arts, Culinary Art, Media Arts, Design, and Fashion Design programs.

17. San Francisco State University, San Francisco, California
Established in 1899 as the San Francisco State Normal School, San Francisco State University (SFSU) is one of 23 campuses in the California State University (CSU) system. It is home to 30,500 students making it one of the largest schools in the U.S. The school, which consists of a 141-acre campus in a residential area of the city and a campus in Downtown San Francisco, offers nearly 200 Certificate, Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctorate degree programs.

San Francisco State University houses nine colleges and departments including the College of Health and Social Sciences (CHSS). The College is home to the Department of Consumer & Family Studies/Dietetics, which offers a BS in Apparel Design and Merchandising. The program offers internship opportunities at local, regional, and nationwide companies, participation in the Annual Fashion Show, and Study Abroad experiences in Paris, Milan, London, Florence, Germany, Australia, China, and more.

18. Seattle Pacific University, Seattle, Washington
Established in 1891, Seattle Pacific University (SPU) sits on a 40-acre campus just 10 minutes from Downtown Seattle. The school is home to 4,270 students enrolled in more than 230 academic programs, across six colleges and schools. The College of Arts and Sciences houses the Division of Sciences-Department of Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS)—home of the Clothing & Textiles Program at SPU.

The Clothing & Textiles Program at SPU offers several popular programs for aspiring fashion designers. Options include a BA in Clothing & Textiles with a Specialization in Apparel Design or and a Minor in Clothing and Textiles. The program offers the opportunity to enroll in the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) for one year and earn an Associate of Arts (AA) degree. FIT is located in New York City and it prepares students for careers in all areas of fashion.

Other program highlights include easy access to Downtown Seattle where apparel companies such as Union Bay, Nordstrom Product Group, REI, and Eddie Bauer are headquartered, optional membership in the Fashion Group (an ASSP club), Professional Night (area professionals share their experiences in the fashion industry), the Quarterly Photo Shoot, and participation in the Annual Student Designer Fashion Show.

All students may enroll in SPU’s Study Abroad Program, which offers study experiences in fashion capitals such as Paris, London, Milan, Florence, Madrid, Hong Kong, Sao Paulo, Singapore, and more

19. University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho
Established in 1889, the University of Idaho (U-Idaho) is the flagship university of the State of Idaho. The school opened with just 40 students and one professor. Today the school is home to 3,159 faculty and staff and nearly 12,493 students enrolled in 130 Bachelor's, 88 Master's, and 32 Doctorial programs. The school also has five locations including Moscow (main campus), Boise, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho Falls, and Post Falls, ID. The main campus in Moscow sits on roughly 12,500 acres and it houses 10 colleges. The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) is home of the Fashion Program at U-Idaho. Options include a BS in Clothing, Textiles & Design and an MS in Family & Consumer Sciences (FCS) with a Focus in Clothing.

BS program highlights include Study Abroad in fashion capitals such as London, Paris, and Florence. Internship opportunities at companies such as Macy’s and Coldwater Creek are on the menu as well as optional memberships in the Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS) Club, and the International Textile and Apparel Association. The FCS Club offers opportunities to attend the annual state conference and mingle with professionals in the industry. Students also have access to the Leila Old Historic Costume Collection, which consists of more than 8,000 pieces.

MS FCS highlights include access and study of the Leila Old Historic Costume Collection, international research in India, Japan, Brazil, or England, teaching assistantships, and optional membership in the FCS Club.

20. California State Polytechnic University-Pomona, Pomona, California
Established in 1938, California State Polytechnic University-Pomona (Cal Poly Pomona) is part of the 23-campus California State University System. Home to more than 23,000 students, the school sits on a 1,438-acre campus just 30 miles east of Downtown Los Angeles. One of only two polytechnic universities in the State of California, Cal Poly Pomona houses eight academic colleges offering more than 130 degree programs.

The College of Agriculture, Department of Apparel Merchandising and Management offers a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Apparel Merchandising and Management (AMM) with a Fashion Retailing or Apparel Production Option. Emphasis areas include Fashion Design Management and International Apparel Management.

Program highlights include participation in the Annual Fashion Show, access to more than 4,000 apparel companies in the LA area—through relationships with the Department, and access to the latest high-performance materials, equipment, studios, software, and more. Students may also compete for a slot in optional (but highly recommended) Study Abroad Program. Each year, the Department sends a group of students to study in London. During the trip, students will have the opportunity to intern at a variety of local studios, retailers, boutiques, and more.

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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