Change the Status Quo of Style With a Career in Fashion Design and Merchandising

Fashion design and retail is an exciting field for anyone to join: it exists at the intersection of art, design, history, culture, and technical prowess. Successful designers have an array of skills, including a keen sense for color, texture, construction, tailoring, convention, and social commentary, along with many other elements that make for sound fashion innovation.

Clark Atlanta University Fashion Lookbook

Clark Atlanta University Fashion Lookbook

The Need for More Fashion Designers and Retailers of Color 

Fashion design and merchandising can be particularly exhilarating for members of Black communities, especially in the present moment. African American cultures, styles, and designs have long had profound influences on the industry, notably in the luxury and contemporary markets. This is impactful not just in terms of representation, but because of the power Black fashion has to embrace and reinvent (multi)cultural heritages, reject racist stereotypes, and challenge Eurocentric style and beauty norms.

Black retailers, too, can have a formidable platform for creating wealth and social change. Entrepreneurs can choose to support Black designers by selling their clothing, shoe, and accessory lines, channeling profits in ways that benefit themselves and the larger African American fashion community. They can also influence the trends and styles consumers on the street are exposed to, and can even make the neighborhoods where top-notch Black fashion is sold more chic, inclusive, desirable, and prosperous. 

Racial Inequities in Fashion Design and Merchandising

Despite all of this history, potential, and puissance, sartorial pioneers of color have historically not been given their due in terms of recognition, pay, artistic freedom, or influence. In addition, Americans of color everywhere have had to endure everything from the cultural appropriation of fashion as designed and worn by white people to the overtly racist products sold by couture brands like Gucci, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, and more.  

However, this can change with greater representation of designers and retailers of color in the US and around the world. You can be part of this growing movement by enrolling in a college or university with a degree program in fashion design and merchandising or fashion management, brand management, art history, graphic design, business, or other related studies.

HBCUs Can Help You Start a Career in Fashion and Retail

Given the recent Supreme Court ruling on affirmative action in college admissions, more Black students are likely to turn to historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) for their education. In response, these institutions will do everything they can to meet increased student demand. HBCUs help more students earn college degrees, compete successfully for well-paying jobs in competitive career fields, improve workforce diversity, and move from poverty into the middle class.

People of all ages, races, and life paths can help to improve diversity in American fashion disciplines by supporting scholarships and other forms of funding for HBCUs with related programs. You can make a difference in the lives of fashion and merchandising students—and the future of the industry as a whole—in one easy step by making a donation today.

Careers in Fashion Design and Merchandising

Here are just a few examples of the kinds of roles you can pursue in fashion design and merchandising:

  • Fashion Designer: Designers are at the creative forefront of the industry, designing and defining the fashion trends of the day. Designers use their knowledge to create clothes, shoes and accessories for sale. Note that this is a highly competitive career, though well paid at a median income of $75,810 per year.
  • Purchasing Manager: These professionals work on behalf of fashion design firms, ensuring that the firm has the materials necessary to succeed. With training in fashion design and merchandising, purchasing managers can make important decisions about what materials are most valuable to the firm.
  • Retail Buyer: Located further down the fashion supply chain, retail buyers procure fashion items for retail stores. Where the items are procured depends on the store, but buyers must be able to network with suppliers and find the best value for their store.

Regardless of which concentration you’re interested in, you’ll need to enroll in a bachelor’s degree program. Fashion and retail students take a wide range of related course subjects, including:

  • Textile and apparel manufacturing
  • Fashion merchandising
  • Retailing
  • Consumer action
  • Marketing
  • Administration
  • Accounting
  • Economics
  • Fashion illustration
  • Costume and interior design

Want to learn more about this possible career path and college major? Have questions about which UNCF colleges and universities offer degrees in fashion design and merchandising? Looking for help with financing this degree?

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How to Prepare for Success

Successful fashion design and merchandising majors should have strong skills in tailoring, aesthetics, and business. This major requires a wide variety of seemingly disparate skills balanced with a keen eye and thoughtful understanding. It also promises a robust education and promising career in the world of fashion.

UNCF Schools to Consider

One UNCF-member school offers a program for students wishing to work in the field of fashion design and merchandising:

Global Fashion Business Alliance logoProfessional Organizations

There are thousands of organizations in various enterprises of fashion design and merchandising that offer more insight into working in those fields. A sample list includes:


There’s no better way to start on your path to a successful career in fashion design and merchandising than with a solid financial foundation. Fortunately, many scholarships are available through UNCF, including some specifically for fashion design and merchandising majors. Keep an eye on the UNCF website for current scholarship opportunities and announcements. 

Search for specific scholarships and view those that are currently accepting applications here! Students should also check with each college or university to see if there are additional scholarships available to study fashion design and merchandising.

As you explore your options, be sure to use our guide to applying for scholarships and grants. You can also receive guidance by submitting a major interest form if you are interested in a career in fashion design and merchandising. Submit the form on our website to get started. And follow us on UNCF social media channels to receive notifications about our scholarships and member HBCUs. Reach out today!

You can also show your support for students pursuing careers and furthering equity in fashion design and merchandising by making a contribution to UNCF member schools. Education is the greatest tool we have in creating a just and equitable society in which economic mobility is available to all.Help us achieve this future by donating today!