What Can You Do With a Fashion Merchandising Degree? A Response to Concerned Adults.

Thanksgiving is quickly approaching. It’s a time full of reuniting with a lot of people I don’t see as often, so there is a lot of catching up to do. When making small talk with family members, friends of my parents or really any other adult I have come into contact with since going to college, the question of what I am majoring in often arises. Upon responding that I am a fashion merchandising major, there are three common responses:

1. "Oh, so you are going to design clothes and stuff?"

This response comes from someone who doesn't fully understand how the fashion industry works but is trying to stay supportive and interested. I respect this response as there is no judgment involved, though I will admit it is exhausting to continue trying to explain that I don't know how to sew, have no intentions of learning how to sew and will not need to know how to sew for my job.

It seems many people aren't aware of fashion design being a separate major, and while also an incredible choice, it was not the path for me. The most simple way to explain what it is I am actually studying is that I am learning the business side of fashion, the behind-the-scenes if you will. Usually, this clears up the confusion. 

2. "Sooo… what kind of jobs can you get with that…?"

The proper way to ask this question refrains from using long drawn out words, or pauses and is asked more along the line of “Oh! So what kind of jobs can you get with that degree?” This phrasing and delivery are perfectly acceptable, and I will be more than happy to answer the proposed question. However, when phrased and delivered drowning in a condescending tone, I am a little less inspired to respond. 

The things people don't seem to think about when they speak negatively of a fashion career is that fashion is a multi-billion dollar industry. As one of the largest industries in the world, it includes far more than design and retail. Encyclopedia Brittanica defines the industry as encompassing “the design, manufacturing, distribution, marketing, retailing, advertising, and promotion of all types of apparel.” Often people think of fashion shows or big designer names and narrow the industry down, making it seem small and difficult to break into. While in part it is a tough industry to make it in, the vast variety of paths I can take within the industry will lead me somewhere I fit in. So no need to worry, person whom I have met twice, I am not doomed to a jobless future. 

3. "I guess you won't be making very much money, huh?"

Ah yes, the ever-present question to any student studying in any area of the arts. The thing is, it’s not such a wrong assumption, at least not at the beginning of a fashion career. However, there is so much room for growth. While I may be at a low salary upon entering the field, after gaining experience, working hard and staying on the lookout for opportunities, it is fully possible to make my way up to higher paying roles, just like in any other career.

More importantly though, is the fact that I am studying what I love. Though there may not be a lot of wiggle room, I will still make enough to support myself, while also getting to be a part of an industry I am fascinated by. So, yeah, the lack of funds may be a good point, but I am already fully aware that I am not going into a high paying field. I made that choice for myself, so maybe that is something to consider before scoffing at the decisions that affect me and not you, judgemental concerned person. 

All frustration and eye-roll moments aside, I chose my major for a reason. I appreciate the concern for me and my future, but those things will continue to be determined by my life choices, and I can only continue to make informed decisions that feel right for me. Taking a slight risk of following my passion is something I am proud of. While my path may not make sense to all, it makes sense to me, and that's what matters.