How to become a handbag designer: Sophie's story

Meet Sophie, 25, from Buckinghamshire, who works in London as a a junior handbag designer. Part of our Bitesize world of work series.

Sophie smiling at work
"It was hard to find a course that was just bags!"

What is your job?

I’m a handbag designer, but I also work on small leather goods like key rings. I have worked on gifting as well – products like mugs, socks, umbrellas, a bit of everything really! I work on the design and the development.

What is your process at work?

The design process includes collecting research and drawing bags. We then do a technical specification. This includes measurements of the bag, construction details, and materials which are then sent to the factory. The factory creates samples of the bags which are sent back to us to see if anything needs changing. We may do up to six rounds of sampling. I also work on embellishments for bags and I do a bit of graphics as well.

I work on Adobe Illustrator, which is vector graphic design software. This is one of the key skills that we need. We are able to draw the bags with specs (to send over to the factory). As it is a CAD, a computer-aided drawing, it is easy to edit. This means that we can add different colours and textures.

What subjects did you study?

I studied Textiles, but I also studied PE, because I used to be really into sports. I decided to take a career in fashion, because I enjoyed it more. From Textiles I learnt how to sew and also how to draw. I did a BTEC in Fashion Design that covered lots of different subjects. We did a bit of styling, photography, costume design, and accessories. We did a module in accessories and I enjoyed that the most.

I had to really research to find my degree. I did my degree at the London College of Fashion. As part of the course, I did a placement year. I spent three months in men’s footwear design, seven months in accessory design and a further three months at a leather goods factory. I studied BA Honours Fashion Accessories Product Design and Development. They’ve now changed the course name to Bags and Innovation. It was hard to find a course that was just bags!

Was it a smooth ride?

It was hard to find placements, as a lot are unpaid and I couldn't afford to do an unpaid placement. I got my placements through a competition and through a scholarship.

Sophie looking at designs
Sophie looking at designs.

Top tips

  • Be proactive in what you do. If a suitable opportunity comes along, it's worth taking it, as you may not get the chance again
  • Start applying for things as early as you can. There might be jobs out there and you don't want to miss that opportunity. Get your CV, portfolio and a shorter online portfolio ready before you apply
  • Be aware that sometimes you get projects set for interviews too, which can be fun.

What to expect if you want to be a handbag designer

  • Fashion designer salary: £17,000 to £80,000 per year
  • Fashion designer working hours: 40 to 42 hours per week
  • Typical entry requirements: You'll usually need a foundation degree, higher national diploma or degree. Courses are widely available and include Fashion Design, Art and Design, or Textiles. You should look for a course that covers both design and technical skills to get the practical knowledge needed by the industry. As courses range, there are no set entry requirements but you will usually need one or two A-levels (or equivalent) for a foundation degree or higher national diploma and two or three A-levels (or equivalent) for a degree. You may be able to do an advanced apprenticeship in fashion and textiles and work as an assistant in a design studio. You could then develop your design skills on the job.

This information is a guide (sources: LMI for All, National Careers Service)

For careers advice in all parts of the UK visit: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales

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