NEW YORK — Intimate apparel design is an undiscovered art form and a highly lucrative career, said Colette Wong, assistant chairman of the fashion design department at Manhattan’s Fashion Institute of Technology.
“The fashion industry has always treated the intimate apparel industry as a little bit of a stepchild,” Wong said. “But it’s not any longer. Intimate apparel is out of the closet. Students are no longer afraid to say ‘I want a better bra.’ They want to be in the mix of new technology and design, and…the Sara Lees and the VFs who now are much more open to finding design talent.”
The main reason the intimate apparel industry is embracing new blood is that many design veterans have retired or plan to do so, and it’s difficult to cultivate talent in a specialized field that many students do not find fun or glamorous.
But opportunity abounds mainly because there is little competition and many of the larger firms are willing to start assistant designers in the mid-$30,000 range and go as high as $200,000 or more for a seasoned professional. There also is the support of industry organizations, including the Underfashion Club, which provides scholarships and internship opportunities for FIT students.
Leonard Bass, chairman of FIT’s fashion design department, said because of the popularity and growth of the intimate apparel industry, which rang up retail sales of $12.6 billion in 2004, FIT is planning to expand the number of specialty design courses in foundations, grading and children’s wear for fall 2006.
WWD asked several intimate apparel design students at FIT why they selected such a specialized trade and what career opportunities they anticipate. Here are their responses:
Emily Volaska, 20: “I chose intimate apparel design because just being a woman gives me more satisfaction. It can either be over-the-top sexy or soft and demure. For me, ready-to-wear is just everyday, while lingerie is more sensitive. I feel it’s really important to love your body. If you have a cute thong or panty, even if you have a big butt, you feel sexy.
“I see a lot of opportunity ahead. I interned at Natori, Wacoal America and now Dana-Co. They say I’m really lucky because it’s such a small area of fashion design and a lot of people tell me the money is a lot better than other areas in the fashion industry.”
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