How to Become an Apparel & Accessory Designer: Career Advice & Information

Overview & Salaries


To become an accessory designer, you’ll likely need at least a bachelor’s degree in accessory design. Accessory design is creative work, and designers use their drawing and computer-aided design (CAD) skills to design bags, shoes, boots, belts, and much else. While this field is competitive and working your way into an available position can be tricky, those who are passionate about accessories should start by identifying an area to specialize in.


Annual salaries for accessory designers will vary depending on experience, education level, and expertise. In 2013, the average annual salary for accessory designers working in the apparel accessory industry was $50,213 per year.

For more information on what parts of the country have the most opportunity for accessory designers, click through to our Best Places to Work tab.

Discover the Best Cities and States to Work in Accessory Design

Accessory designers are often lumped in with fashion designers in the official statistics (outrageously). But not surprisingly, the state of New York is the highest employer in the fashion design industry in general, where 7,180 designers are currently earning a yearly average salary of $81,450. California is second, with 5,720 fashion designers working statewide, making an annual mean wage of $71,060.

The top 5 city areas employing fashion designers, including accessory designers include:

  • New York-White Plains Metropolitan Area (7,140)
  • Los Angeles Metropolitan Area (3,920)
  • Santa Ana-Irvine Metropolitan Area (560)
  • Nassau-Suffolk NY Metropolitan Area (220)
  • San Francisco-San Mateo Metropolitan Area (210)

Employment and Information Data for Apparel & Accessory Designing

Why Become An Accessory Designer?

Are you wearing shoes right now? A belt? You’re already interacting with the accessory design industry. You get to give free rein to your creative abilities, and everyone will understand what you do. Also:

  • It pays well. Fashion designers in the apparel accessory industry made an average of $50,213 in 2013—and that figure may not even count all designers making accessories.
  • Exercise your creativity. You’ll have a job where you’re paid to think up creative new designs. Plus, you might have the satisfaction of seeing people love and wear them.
  • You’ll get to travel and attend cool eventsWhether you’re visiting different store locations or simply sitting runway-side at your favorite fashion show, you certainly won’t be bored.
  • Work with your favorite brands. No longer must you drool outside the windows at Barney’s!
  • Free Stuff. That’s right. Free clothes! Free style advice!

Accessory Designer: What You Need To Know

Designers use computer-aided design programs (CAD) to create the plans for their accessories, sometimes sketching or hand-drawing them. They decide the fabrics, embellishments, colors and style that will be used in the product. And they collaborate with others to build the prototype design, taking the finished idea to retailers, show producers, and creative directors.

A working knowledge of these skill sets will help to set you apart from other candidates:

  • Keen Fashion Sense
  • Understanding of Trends and Styles
  • Creativity
  • Computer-Aided Design (CAD) Skills
  • Drawing Ability
  • Collaboration and Teamwork

Feel like you’ve got a lot to learn? Get more information about accessory design careers, degrees, and applicable courses from one of the schools below.

Degree Options for Accessory Design Careers

Some people with little education in accessory design have found work based on their creative talent alone. Most often, however, education is necessary to show commitment to the field and build a portfolio.

Accessory Design Certificate
Accessory design certificates can vary greatly, but in general, these programs are for students looking to enhance their skill set or apply specific facets of fashion design to their current creative careers.

Associate of Arts in Accessory Design
An associate’s degree in an accessory specialty prepares students to work in many different sectors of the industry, many of them entry-level, and provides hands-on experience in design, computer and presentation skills.

Bachelor of Fine Arts in Accessory Design (BFA)
A four-year degree offers students a greater diversity of educational opportunities from gaining accessory design experience to learning about the business aspect of the industry. These programs also offer students to experiment with different fields within accessory design. If you’re looking to take your accessory design career all the way, a Bachelors degree may be the best option.