Hat Designer/Milliner

The Job and What's Involved

It is the role of a hat designer to create new design ideas for hats and other headwear. These would traditionally have been made by a milliner, but many of today's hat designers work in both areas.

The type of work being carried out will depend on the market level of the company or client. When creating bespoke hats or small ranges, a milliner may be expected to meet with clients individually to take measurements.

When designing for high street ranges, a hat designer/milliner may spend more time liaising with overseas suppliers that specialise in mass production.

Typically, a hat designer may be involved in:

  • Analysing fabric and colour trends.
  • Liaising with clients, buyers and production teams.
  • Producing computer-aided and hand-drawn design sketches.
  • Adapting and modifying existing designs for use in mass production.
  • Sourcing, selecting and buying fabrics and trims.
  • Developing samples and prototypes.
  • Attending exhibitions and trade shows.
  • Supervising and assessing quality and cost for mass-produced hats.

Cost control is an important element of the job. In mass production, a designer may also need to advise on technical design problems.

The technical process of making hats may involve:

  • Cutting fabrics.
  • Blocking (forming the hat shape using a wooden or aluminium mould or block).
  • Using hydraulic machinery to shape mass-produced hats.
  • Applying specialist chemicals to shape and protect hats.
  • Sewing pieces together, by hand or machine.
  • Experimenting with new techniques and fabric dyeing processes.
  • Adding embellishments and trims.

Those who are self-employed may also spend much of their time marketing their business and promoting their designs. They will also need specialist business knowledge, such as how to copyright their designs.

Hat designers usually work irregular hours as their workload depends on the number of commissions they have. Those employed by a larger company or hat design franchise may have more regular hours. Longer hours would be required when meeting deadlines or preparing collections. Part-time work may also be possible.

Most designers will work in a studio, small workshop or factory. Most self-employed milliners will have a home-based studio. The job is likely to involve travel to trade shows and to meet clients.

Protective clothing is required when carrying out factory-based tasks, such as using chemicals, heating devices and hydraulic machinery. Milliners may be required to participate in physically demanding work, such as standing for long periods of time.

Starting salaries may be around £15,000 a year. With more experience designers and milliners may earn £20,000 or more.

Well-established designers or the head of a design team may earn up to £30,000. Those with a distinctive and successful brand may earn much more.

Self-employed hat designers and milliners charge each client an individual price, which can be between £150 and over £300.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Hat designers and milliners can work in a number of different market areas, including exclusive haute couture, designer, high street, catalogue, specialist leisure and sportswear.

Some hat designers establish their own business or work on a freelance basis, selling their designs to existing companies. It is also possible to be involved in a hat design franchise or to set up a hat hire business.

It is estimated that fewer than 1,000 hat designers and milliners are in paid employment in the UK (source: Skillfast-UK business survey 2008). Jobs within major fashion houses are highly sought after and there are more applicants than vacancies.

Competition from European designers is strong, but there may be space in the market for hard-working designers to establish their own company. The market for hats has grown in the UK over the last 15 years, as hats are now seen as a fashionable accessory in high street, as well as haute couture fashion.

It is useful to gain knowledge of the industry by completing paid or unpaid work experience. Some particularly dynamic designers may set up their own business straight from college, but this requires considerable perseverance, talent and luck.

Jobs may be advertised in trade publications such as The Hat Magazine or the British Hat Guild website. However, networking at fashion shows and exhibitions, and approaching companies directly are the most common routes into jobs. The website of the British Hat Guild also includes a list of hat designers, manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers.

Education and Training

Due to the competition for jobs, and the need to have appropriate skills, most hat designers and milliners start their career after gaining a degree or a higher national diploma/certificate (HND/HNC) in a related subject, e.g., in fashion and/or design, or a specific millinery course.
A wide range of higher education courses in fashion design are available across the UK and some offer a millinery option.

For example:

Leeds College of Art and Design offers a BTEC HNC in millinery

Kensington and Chelsea College offers a number of millinery-related courses, including a BTEC HNC.

London College of Fashion, part of the University of the Arts London, and Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design offer a variety of short courses in millinery, as do other colleges, including Huddersfield and Warwickshire.

The qualifications for a degree are usually a minimum of two A levels and five GCSE's (A*-C), although other qualifications may be accepted. The Diploma in creative and media may be relevant for this area of work.

For foundation degrees and HND's/HNC's, candidates typically need one A level and four GCSE's (A*-C), or equivalent qualifications. Useful subjects include art and design, and IT.

As entry requirements to courses are likely to vary, candidates are advised to check with individual institutions.

City & Guilds (C&G) also offers a variety of awards in millinery, including:

  • Level 2 award in creative techniques in fashion - millinery.
  • Level 3 award in creative techniques in fashion - advanced millinery.
  • Level 3 award in fashion - advanced millinery.

As well as academic qualifications, employers will usually expect to see a portfolio of design and millinery work.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Most employers expect new hat designers to have learnt basic design and construction skills at college. Some may progress from junior positions, gaining experience and undertaking training whilst on the job.

It is also possible to work towards external qualifications whilst in employment, if supported by the employer.

The Chartered Society of Designers offers a membership scheme for professional designers in all types of design work.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A hat designer or milliner needs:

  • Creativity, an imaginative eye and good artistic skills.
  • Practical hat-making skills and production knowledge.
  • Good understanding of colours, textiles and patterns.
  • An understanding of materials and how they can be used.
  • Business and marketing awareness.
  • Excellent communication and people skills.
  • Knowledge of head sizes and what types of design will suit different face shapes.
  • To work well alone or as part of a team.

Your Long Term Prospects

Promotion opportunities may be limited due to the small number of people employed in the industry. However, senior and high-end designers are increasingly in demand.

Hat designers with wider skills in fashion design may be able to progress into a related area, such as printed textile design or retail buying. This may also lead to opportunities to work abroad.

Many milliners aim to set up their own label. This requires good business skills, along with a good reputation in the industry. It may also be possible for these designers to move into the related areas of printed textile and accessory design.

Get Further Information

British Hat Guild,
PO Box 48664, London NW8 6WS
Website: www.thebritishhatguild.org.uk

Chartered Society of Designers (CSD),
1 Cedar Court, Royal Oak Yard,
Bermondsey Street, London SE1 3GA
Tel: 020 7357 8088
Website: www.csd.org.uk

Kensington and Chelsea College,
Hortensia Centre, Hortensia Road,
London SW10 0QS
Tel: 020 7573 5333
Website: www.kcc.ac.uk

Leeds College of Art,
Blenheim Walk, Leeds LS2 9AQ
Tel: 0113 202 8165
Website: www.leeds-art.ac.uk

London College of Fashion,
20 John Princes Street, London W1G 0BJ
Tel: 020 7514 7400
Website: www.fashion.arts.ac.uk

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