How to Start a Career in Fashion Design- 5 questions with Joe McFadden

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to pursue a career in fashion, but never really been sure of what type of fashion roles are out there, how you can pursue them, or which one is right for you? If so, you’ve come to the right place!

The UK fashion industry is one of the largest creative industries, valued at £32 billion in the year 2020. It provides the economy with over 800,000 jobs within a variety of sectors. Apparel is the most common fashion sector, with roles that comprise of fashion buying, merchandising, personal styling, fashion illustration, and textile design, (to name but a few). With a multitude of jobs available it can be difficult to know which one is right for you and even if you already know what fashion career you want, breaking into the industry can be just as challenging. This is particularly true for newly qualified graduates or self-taught designers. Fashion is an extremely competitive industry, so if you’re determined to pursue a career in fashion it’s important to find a role that matches both your personality and your skill set.

Career in fashion design
Instagram: @josefmcfadden

To help you on your path of discovery, we have created a mini article-series that will explore a variety of fashion roles, beginning with the most visible of all the roles, fashion design. To become a fashion designer takes a lot of dedication, hard work, and an immeasurable amount of skill and knowledge. If you’re a designer working for a fashion company then you need to have a great eye for colour, trends, pattern and the ability to visualise in three dimensions. You need technical skills in areas such as sewing, pattern cutting and garment construction. And you need a ton of creativity to come up with new and inventive ways to make your designs stand out. If you’re an independent fashion designer, you need to have all of these skills AND MORE!

To help us gain a deeper insight into the day-to-day workings of an independent fashion designer, we sat down with Paisley based artist Joe McFadden (owner of luxury Scottish menswear brand Josef McFadden), to talk about the inspiration behind his brand, the struggles he faced when setting up his own business, and what advice he would give to aspiring fashion designers.

Joe McFadden
Joe McFadden

1. What inspired you to start the 'Josef McFadden' brand?

I spent two years at university studying textiles, after two years at college, developing my skills as an artist and a designer. I love the process of developing new work and having my own business seemed like the most exciting option after I graduated. So, in 2016 I launched Josef McFadden using some of my prints from my graduate collection.

“It’s stressful and isolating; but then you get an order and suddenly it all feels worth it.”

2. How did you go about setting up your own business and how did you find the initial stages of it?

When you set up a business you have to become vaguely proficient at everything; setting yourself up as self-employed, starting to keep books, managing your tax. Alongside that, you are the head of marketing, design, purchasing, brand development, packaging, posting and more. You have to do everything at the same time, or you don’t make money. It’s stressful and isolating; but then you get an order and suddenly it all feels worth it. You created something that wasn’t there before, and someone liked it enough to buy it.

I initially started with four bow ties, selling online and at craft markets. I got support from everywhere I could; Prince’s Trust, Business Gateway and most importantly; friends. Lots of my friends launched businesses at the same time and we’ve been able to rely on each other for advice. To be honest; there’s nothing more valuable.

My biggest lesson is being flexible about how I make money. Being an artist doesn’t mean sitting and painting all day. It can mean teaching classes in watercolour, leading research projects in print history or delivering map illustration services for a business district, all of which I have done. When you are building a business, you need capital to buy in stock or develop new products; every day is a hustle.

“Your brand needs to be a showcase for whatever pattern or colour is filling your Instagram, but it needs to be defined enough to sit in a shop next to big names”

Career in Fashion Design
Instagram: @josefmcfadden

3. How did you find your brand identity? Did you always have a specific style in mind from the get-go, or did finding your signature style develop overtime?

Brand identity is a tricky thing for a textile designer; you need to be constantly developing new work that has a recognisable style but evolved with the broad trends. Your brand needs to be a showcase for whatever pattern or colour is filling your Instagram, but it needs to be defined enough to sit in a shop next to big names. I don’t know if I’ve nailed it yet; five years in I’m getting closer, but I certainly want to develop more as my business grows.

When I think about a signature style of mine, I think about florals. I evolved from pencil drawing to watercolour painting about 10 years ago. Throughout my time at University I gravitated to repeat prints of dark tropical flowers; this really formed the first few years of my business. Garments which are covered in all over print are expensive to make and so I began developing illustrated t-shirts and screen-printed accessories. Business needs to respond to what their customers want. The people that love my products right now want t-shirts and illustrated prints and of course; face masks.

Career in fashion design
Instagram: @josefmcfadden

“I start my design process now by asking what product I can sell. Then I think about manufacturing and what the product will be made from.”

Fashion design
Instagram: @josefmcfadden

4. Can you shed some light on what goes on during the design process from initial stages to end product?

In the beginning I wanted to release collections; the only real inspiration I had was big design houses and I wanted to be taken seriously. I did four collections and then realised that I need to be more responsive to my sales channels. I can use my social media tools to target cities; so, I started making products featuring local monuments. Knitwear is big for winter markets, so I started a line of knitted lambswool scarves. We’re coming up for the 2022 Year of Scottish Stories, so I’m developing tourist-friendly products featuring animals and flora from Scottish folklore.

I start my design process now by asking what product I can sell. Then I think about manufacturing and what the product will be made from. Then I pull together colours, design influences and swatches. All of that has to be done before I start illustrating the collection artwork. I have to know the composition, detail and placement, to make sure what I design, is fit for purpose.

After I illustrate, I do the practical manufacturing; exposing screens, printing fabric, sewing, labelling and packaging. Then I take photographs, create web listings, send out updates to buyers and then they’re ready to go out to shops and straight to customers. Start to finish, it can take anywhere from a month to develop a product to a year for a full collection.

career in fashion design - article

fashion design

luxury clothing brand

Career in fashion design
Instagram: @josefmcfadden

“When your business is you, it grows and changes as you grow and change.”

5. Finally, what advice would you give to aspiring designers who are just starting out and want to set up their own fashion business?

I’ve covered it all; get as much help as you can, listen to your customers, think strategically about what you can sell, look for opportunities to use your skills to make extra money, be ready for the hard work and remember why you started in the first place; you are creating something new that wasn’t there before. It’s a process and I’m sure in another five years, I’ll have all new advice. When your business is you, it grows and changes as you grow and change. Allow your business to be flexible and give yourself a break when you can.

Luxury Clothing Brand
Instagram: @josefmcfadden

For more information on Joe McFadden visit: Instagram: @josefmcfadden or check out his website at: where you can purchase one-of-a-kind prints, t-shirts, ties, scarves, face masks, and much more!

Article By: Danielle Eve Griffin (Fashion Writer & Marketing Representative)

Danielle Eve Griffin

Danielle has a Masters in Fashion & Textile Retail Management from the University of Ulster, with experience of working in the fashion industry as both a design assistant and style consultant. She completed her dissertation on ‘The Future of Fashion Retailing’, which explores current societal issues such as sustainability, P&L, and overconsumption within the fashion industry. Since then, she has developed a deep interest in writing and is keen to delve deeper into the fashion and art world.

View her latest floral watercolour paintings at:

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