How to Become a Sportswear Designer

As a child, I was obsessed with anything arts and crafts. If it involved making something, I loved it. Candle making kit, soap making kit, you name it, I had it. 

This enjoyment for making things came from my nan – she was an avid knitter; she spent all of her spare time knitting. If you visited her house, you could guarantee she had a pair of knitting needles in her hand. There wasn’t anything too difficult for her, she would make me the most intricate jumpers, and then make matching versions for my barbies so we could wear the same outfit.

When I was about 8 years old, she decided it was time to pass on the skill and she taught me how to knit – I was hooked! Over time she taught me how to read patterns and construct garments, so I could start making my own jumpers. This was the start of my interest in fashion, which grew and grew as I got older. One year for Christmas I was gifted a sewing machine, and I would spend my weekends shopping for fabrics and making clothes.

It was also my nan who suggested I pursue this interest further and study textiles at college. I had always seen fashion and sewing as my hobby, it wasn’t until prompted that I thought why not combine my hobby with a future career path. I went to college to study for a Foundation Diploma in Art & Design, where I specialised in fashion. I then went on to graduate from Nottingham Trent University with a BA honours degree in Fashion Knitwear Design. 

Studying fashion knitwear gave me the opportunity to not only learn pattern cutting and garment construction, but it also taught me how to design and make my own fabrics – starting from a ball of yarn to a finished roll of fabric. Working on industrial knitting machines, we were taught how to produce seamless knitwear – with the surge of interest in seamless fitness clothing, knowledge in this area can be very beneficial for a sportswear role.

Since leaving university I have worked multiple design jobs, across various departments, including woven, jersey wear and now sportswear. I have also worked as a seamstress for a loungewear company, hand-making their tracksuit collections. Each of these roles has given me invaluable experience across different fields of fashion.

I found my interest moving towards sportswear whilst working in a jersey wear design role – I knew that moving into a sportswear role would allow me to develop my fabric knowledge even further. One of the most important aspects of a sportswear product is ensuring that the product is functional. Fabric knowledge is key to guarantee the garment will perform correctly for its intended use. 

I began working as a Sportswear Designer & Developer at Blue Associates Sportswear in November 2020 and have been here for just over a year now, working across various brands including running, equestrian and gym wear. 

At Blue Associates Sportswear, I love the fact that every day is different – working across diverse brands keeps the day exciting and means there is always something new to be learnt. Helping our clients start up their new brands is rewarding, working on every aspect from the initial design to the final bulk ready for launch. For some of our customers, the sportswear industry is brand new, which gives us the opportunity to share our knowledge.

Sportswear is a hugely successful and growing industry. If working in a sportswear role is something you’re interested in, you’ll first need to study a BA Honours degree, HND or foundation degree in a subject that combines both technical and design skills. 

There are a couple of different pathways you can take with a fashion degree, you can either study a fashion design course, which teaches all aspects of fashion or if you want to specifically study sportswear design, there are university courses that focus solely on this subject.

One university that offers a specific sportswear design course is the University of the Arts London (UAL). Their course teaches you how to design and produce activewear and sportswear, from functional to fashion-focused. You will learn how sport, science, new technologies, fashion trends and cultural contexts influence fashion retail. The course will set you up with the knowledge needed to pursue a career in sportswear design, and many of their students go on to work for renowned sportswear brands.

https://www.arts.ac.uk/subjects/fashion-design/undergraduate/ba-hons-fashion-sportswear-lcf#course-overview

Alternatively, Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) offers a Fashion design course that allows students to focus on a specialism of their choice. You are given the option to graduate with a sportswear award, by selecting specialist units in years two and three. This course will provide you with the fundamental skills and techniques required for a career in a sportswear design role.

https://www.mmu.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/course/ba-fashion-design-and-technology

After university, gaining work experience is beneficial and experience of any kind in a design studio will help you develop your skills within the industry. Both UAL and MMU offer the opportunity to take up a placement year and work in the industry during your 3rd year of university.

Work experience was vital for me – fashion design is a very competitive job market. After leaving university I applied for many graduate roles that were looking for a year of experience. When you are up against so many candidates, it’s good to stand out. I interned for 6 months after university – the experience was invaluable, and it teaches you what it is really like to work in the industry. 

My pathway to becoming a sportswear designer may not have been as direct as other designers who studied a specialised sportswear design qualification – but I believe my previous experience has led me to where I want to be!

If you are interested in finding out more about working as a sportswear designer or are looking to set up your own sportswear brand, get in touch with us here

Written by Justine Thornton

Sportswear Designer & Developer

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