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Heather Maynard of Cardiff started creating prom dresses when she was 15 with her mother Lisa. She learned to sew and design patterns from Lisa who had worked in Hollywood making costumes for movies.

Today Heather is 25 and she creates and sells custom evening wear to Hollywood actresses and earns six figures and more.

“I’m still getting my name out there and my mom’s connections help but I am doing really well for not going to school for fashion,” she said. “My goal is to see one of my dresses on the red carpet at the Academy Awards. Until then I will just create and dream and make a damn good living.”

Heather’s success isn’t the norm for young fashion designers. Just watch a few episodes of Project Runway and you’ll see how difficult and cutthroat the world of design is. But it’s not as bad as the cameras make it out to be.

Blair Brunner of San Diego interned for a fashion designer in London last summer and she is trying to land a gig with a designer in New York as a pattern maker.

“They need a pattern maker and I have a knack for making them,” she said. “If I can get my foot in the door doing that then I can find my way to other places in the company. This is what I went to school for and what I always knew I wanted to be.”

Although the recession seemed to take the sparkle off the sequins, things are looking better for the fashion industry. The United States Department of Labor reported that in 2010, households spent, on average, $1,700 on apparel, footwear, and related products and services — 3.5 percent of average annual expenditures. Since 1985, as a percentage of total apparel expenditures, households spent more, on average, on apparel designed for women aged 16 and over than any other apparel product or service.

They also reported that in 2010, industry earnings averaged about $45,230. Among these occupations in the fashion world, fabric and apparel patternmakers — who use computer-aided design software to determine the best layout of pattern pieces to minimize waste of material and to create a master pattern for each size within a range of garment sizes — earned an annual mean wage of $44,650. Fashion designers earned an annual mean wage of $73,930 in 2010, over $25,000 more than the average for all occupations. There were a total of 16,010 fashion designers employed in 2010.

While most Home Ec classes in high school have been replaced with technology classes, there are degrees that can be earned in fashion design, merchandising, and business in colleges, universities, and trade schools.

The Art Institute of California in Mission Valley is a “design, media arts, fashion, and culinary college that provides a career-focused education. The college offers diploma, associates, and bachelor’s degree programs.”

Mesa College also offers a program in fashion merchandising, fashion design and fashion consulting with study abroad programs in Italy and France.

Working in fashion isn’t all runway models, pins and scissors. There are other jobs in that world. Artists and sketchers, cutters cut out patterns or fabrics by hand or using computerized machines. Pattern makers; set and exhibit designers who create sets for fashion, runway, or trade shows... these are just some of gigs in the world of apparel making.

There are plenty of non-designer jobs in fashion: tech jobs, web developers, and graphic design jobs.

Justin McNeal is a junior accountant at a New York fashion house. He graduated with his accounting degree from San Diego State and moved to New York City a month after graduating to live with a friend who works in fashion.

“I love, love, love fashion, but I am not an artist, but I knew I wanted to be in the fashion industry,” he said. “My friend suggested I apply with the skills I have and now I am in the fashion world. And yes, it’s all it’s cracked up to be.”

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