How do we transition of of the fashion industry after working in it for over 20 years?

How do we begin to transition out of the industry if this is all we know? I have been working in the industry for over 20 years or all of my professional life…how do I start over in the times that seem beyond help?


This is such a great question & looking forward to hearing people’s opinions on this matter. In these unprecedented times it’s a whole different ballgame in this industry if you are a newcomer & it’s easier to transition out, but 20 years invested… such a different situation.


Wish I had the answer. I’m exactly in the same boat. 20 years experience and cant find a job either in fashion or another industry. I’ll likely have to get a minimum wage job. All that hard work and success now reduced to working at Starbucks. I’m gonna lose my apartment which I love. It sucks.


I’m also in the boat with you. 30+ years of experience. I’m still trying for jobs in the industry, but I’m not hopeful. I am looking into getting an HR certification or becoming an Executive Assistant. I’m starting out taking free on-line classes to improve my skills in Microsoft Office, then will look into taking additional courses to help land a job.
FYI - Executive Assistants can make 6-figure salaries, esp in the NY/Tri-State area. Will probably have to start out lower to gain experience, but landing an EA position with a C-suite leader can be very lucrative.


I’m in the same situation. I love the industry but it’s looking like it no longer has love for me. I’ve been in it since '83. I did take a culinary certificate class years ago however that industry is just as bad as the garment industry. So now I need to recreate myself but God only knows what that will be.
I wish us ALL luck with all future endeavors.

FYI: I lost my apartment and have 2 kids in collge


I know this is not for everyone, but I suggest contacting the Trade Act team in Albany.
There is the option for education for people who are interested, know what they want to do, and are able to spend the time learning a new trade. A lot of people have more than one career in their lifetime, and it isn’t easy but change is upon us. Access your current skills and find something that offers you a pivot to build on what you know and enjoy.


Great suggestion. I did not know about the Trade Act team.Thank you Designmaven.


I have been in the NYC AND LA fashion industry for 35 years. I started at age 17 in NYC design school working and am now 53. I left NYC after 12 years designing for major US designers and large manufacturers. I came to LA in 96 working in contemporary fashion as senior designer then design director for major fashion retailers including BCBG and Bebe. I can tell you the LA market has SHRUNK and been taken over by China and Korea, reducing benefits, salaries, and working conditions while raising the work load. I watched talented designers and sketchers be replaced by tech designers because creating a fast tech pack in CAD copying someone else’s design off the internet was MUCH higher value than being a visionary, sketching and draping by hand, alteast in LA.
There ARE small designers in LA but they don’t pay well because there aren’t a lot of retailers who buy volume to justify the salaries so they hire young kids, no one really over 40 if you look around.
By 40 I knew my days were numbered. I had NO PLAN and NO EXPERIENCE doing anything else. I started a family late and it sealed my views on the industry because moving around the country for a job just to stay at my pay level in the industry wasn’t going to be my path with a kid in LA schools.
It took FIVE YEARS to think of what else to do. I eventually moved into another field at 53 but had to get certified on the side which took living on savings while not working, and learning an entirely new field of study. I now work as a private fitness trainer at the beach, setting my rate to exactly what my hourly was as a design director in fashion but only working 16-25 hours per week instead of 50, which I can do for the rest of my life, not working in a gym but building my own clientele. I will scale up and eventually work 28 hours when I find enough clients but it is a CASH BUSINESS outside all day in COVID. I got a business license and an outdoor fitness permit to train using my own equipment and was a fitness competitor while working as a fashion designer so I have knowledge already in place which has grown my fitness business QUICK. Covid was a BLESSING with gyms closing, it threw people into my LAP who wanted to exercise with weights which I already owned. 2019 was HELL though, out of work in fashion all year, so I used the time to get certified as a trainer and almost lost my apartment while I still desperately tried to find design work. I still do take occasional freelance consulting opportunities and don’t tell anyone about my REAL income which btw is less than HALF of what I was making as a design director in fashion but more than I was making being UNEMPLOYED every year in between layoffs and retail bankruptcies which put me out of work every year for the last 5 years. I found I was out of work 50% of the time by 47 anyway, competing with all of my former assistants and their assistants for work anyway, and didn’t have the quick digital tech pack and textile print building skills-or speak KOREAN or Mandarin which seems to be taking over the industry recently. It’s not enough to be a designer anymore and there is definitely a glass salary ceiling in the industry. Don’t wait until the industry pushes you out because it WILL. Be on the offense so you are not financially destitute with long term unemployment. Had I been able to continue designing for LA fashion companies the rest of my life I absolutely would have but it is also very ageist and no one hires designers older than them EVER. Have you noticed???


I have thought about this myself…transitioning from apparel design to interior design. I have about 15 years of experience and feel like I am right there with you in terms of experience and would love to stay in design but the transition to design in another area. I don’t know where to start!

I tried jewelry design and set up an Etsy shop, website, Poshmark, IG, Facebook. Created reasonably priced gemstone jewelry but it was NOT a good idea- Oversaturated market. Made linesheets, etc- handed them to boutiques I wanted to be in and not one called. Friends bought a few pieces, it never even covered half the rent on a good month.
You need to go back to school for interior design and intern likely at min wage with a good firm to start.

This is exactly my experience. I started late after art school and moved to NYC where my career as a women’s designer began.I worked for small and large companies; in the last 4 years I have aged out of corporate design jobs and have lost a lot between the instability of cutbacks and rising cost of living in LA. I am 46 with 15 years experience in NYC and LA. It feels like it means absolutely nothing. My last job was just tech packs for a small designer for half my previous salary, but I was grateful for the insurance as I had acquired serous health issues. I lost my car, my apartment and was bouncing around trying to find more affordable living when I was laid off for the 3rd time and covid hit. I had surgery for cancer the same month and ended up fleeing to my mothers house across the country. I have known for 5 years that this career has a limit and unable to transition without a partner or ability to save on the decreasing income.
Now I am safe, alive but I have no possessions and no hope that I have any value in this gross industry. It will continue to abuse designers and creative people, and place the value on copying from the internet and moving everything overseas to turn a profit. Budgets have shifted to advertising and marketing and “digital design”, a fancy way of saying you will be designing social media and banners to gain attraction and sales. No one cares about a product they see on a screen for 10 seconds on a 2x2 square.
I don’t ever think I had a love for fashion outside of its ability to pay my bills. Since that has left, the question is, how do I monetize my skills now? It is a long haul, but I am not meant to be in front of a screen all damn day pushing vectors to make a sketch. It’s not even drawing for god’s sake.
Creativity is not needed but when the world goes down in flames I would like to say I tried to make it more beautiful in some way.
I’m starting an e-commerce to sell the only thing I know how to do and that is art.
If I have to work a minimum wage job to get there in the meantime so be it. At least the business will be mine and I can use the internet to find my own community, one more thing that’s absent from the competitive, insecure cliques of fashion. Look at what else you can offer the world and make it work for you.


Hi everyone,
There is a digital-future focused fashion community called the Independent Fashion Advisory Board, which is online and free to join. It has so many resources and insights updated every week to help people transition, up-skill, commence an entrepreneurial journey or match-make or mentor/mentee from wherever you are in the world. There is a dedicated channel within slack called Futureproof for those at pivotal points in their careers and are looking for answers. The age and background of community members is very broad with people from all over the world contributing, sharing and supporting.
Do feel free to check it out and join. Slack is free to download as an app and is really easy to use.
Have a great day,


I would love to know. I have over 20 years experience and have found it extremely difficult to transition to another industry. Even trying to move to a different product category has been difficult as companies want you to have the contacts. For example, RTW to shoes. Frustrating.


Same boat, 10 years and struggling to find jobs the last 5. Covid finally pushed me to finish online school for graphic design and I’m excited to make the change. Still design related but flexible and SO many different options. Apparel feels so constrained.

1 Like

I had to reinvent and go into tech design and design offerings two jobs in one. But the salary are not like they use to be 29 years ago.

1 Like

Thank you for this. I have not heard of them and will find it very helpful to connect with others!

1 Like

I saw a shift in 2004 and found myself becoming an instructor. I never would have dreamed of teaching, but here I am, 16 years later and still doing it, at the adjunct level for private colleges and universities.
Pros: if you like to share your knowledge and are good at presenting and teaching others, it is a great pivot.
Cons: I had to go back to get my MFA as I only had a BA and to teach higher levels. Thankfully the college I was teaching at paid 50% of my degree and I had to pay the rest. Thankful, as without it I wouldn’t be able to continue teaching as a Masters is a minimum (unless you teach at a community college, and you only need a BFA or BA).

Other cons is the pay; as adjuncts we do not get benefits such as healthcare, and you never know from one term to another if you will be getting classes

However, if you have stayed on top of the digital platforms and can teach using Zoom, Google Meet, Skype, etc., great! Thankfully, I have also been teaching remote, so when colleges and universities pivoted to remote learning at the start of the pandemic, it was a no brainer for me.

The class prep work is a lot and you do not get compensated for the extra hours, and now that we have to meet with students individually outside of the class session, that has added many extra hours for which we are not compensated. We are paid a flat fee, so whether it is 12 students or 30, the pay stays the same.

In the meantime, I am also still freelancing, so that is another option. Or you could consult. Create a fab website, and contact all of those whom you know in your network and do a fun launch. Do a live Instagram Q&A and maybe bring on a colleague as a special guest. Create content for a podcast.

I have now been in the industry for over 25 years, and I saw things changing years ago, and here we go again.

I think it is a matter of survival; those dreams of setting the world on fire disappeared years ago when ageism came about, and the overall tone of fashion shifted to where those of us with experience are no longer valued. That’s why I like teaching as my students do listen and I can see the talent - I do try to keep them grounded and share the realities of the industry, the good and the bad!

One thing I do want to end on is the power of networking. I have found that extremely helpful over the past six months. In fact it was posting on LinkedIn that I was looking for work and contacting everyone in my network that we have also been able to share and help one another with leads. I think it is very much a time for us to work together and not against.


You know I have interviewed at FIT four times. I do not know why they keep interviewing me. Someone there does not like me.

you never think it may be a 17 year career at most. When I age 40 I truly believed it was the last car on the last train. I got very high very fast and embroiled in all the. political nightmares and manipulation that comes with that. Two former c0-workers are now household names. I did not have that person/support they had behind them and I floundered, finding out later I had been blacklisted. I pushed on. Keeping up digitally (taught myself better than most schools teach). One thing I would express to everyone. NEVER get involved with a start up. Always $ problems annd you will find you are working with inept people who believe they are smarter than they are.


I would look at other colleges, even a community one that has a fashion or business program. The community ones are very hard to get into; I have tried for years but it is very “clicky” and one dept chair said (after applying six times to openings) that the reason she didn’t want to hire me was that I was “too commercial.” I have no idea what that meant, other than I have more experience than she does as I took a look at her profile, so maybe that was it. But that didn’t stop me from applying elsewhere to just be able to work.
I would contact the HR dept; try Parsons, or any others in NY. If you are up to date with your computer skills and can do a lot digitally, that is a plus. I would keep banging on the doors if it is a direction you want to take (teaching).