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Fashion Design Competitions for High School Students

6 minute read

Have you always been interested in the latest clothing and fashion trends? Excited to make your own fashion pieces? Fashion design competitions serve as great opportunities for young designers to showcase their creativity and innovation and also add pieces to their design portfolio. Participating in fashion design competitions can be a thrilling experience for a high school student interested in the fashion industry. These events often encompass various disciplines, from apparel design and costume design to product design and visual art. Beyond recognition and prizes, winning or even participating in such competitions can open doors to collaborations, and mentorships, and boost your resume to impress some of the best schools for fashion. In this article, we’ll explore what to expect from a fashion design competition, share our top fashion design competitions for high school students, and provide tips on how to prepare for these competitions.

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What to Expect From a Fashion Design Competition

High school competitions in fashion design are excellent platforms for aspiring fashion designers to showcase their skills and gain recognition. Fashion design competitions are typically very hands-on and require you to submit a drawing/sketch and/or actual fashion pieces depending on the competition. Each competition will also have its own theme that you should use to guide the vision and inspiration behind your design. Creating something relevant to the theme is important, as that will typically be a significant part of the judges’ scoring process and you will also have to submit a written or video description of your submission and how it relates to the competition theme. Any annual theme in these competitions challenges students to think creatively and push the boundaries of traditional design. These competitions also have very specific submission requirements, so be sure to read through those carefully before submitting. If your submission is a winner, you’ll typically be able to attend an in-person ceremony or fashion show where your work is showcased to others! Winning or even receiving an honorable mention in such competitions can significantly boost a student's portfolio.

Top Fashion Design Competitions for High School Students

#1 CCS Precollege Fashion Design Scholarship 

The College for Creative Studies, also known as CCS, offers a scholarship / competition that allows high school students to attend CCS’ Precollege Fashion Design Summer Program for free. The summer program is a three-week camp that earns each student three college credits, where you will be able to learn fashion design from CCS faculty in-studio classes. Besides fashion, students can also explore fine art, graphic design, and other visual arts, broadening their artistic horizons. Explore other design competitions to find the top art design summer programs for high school students if you’re looking to build skills through extracurricular activities. If you’re seriously considering going to fashion school in the future, then definitely look into this competition! Or, if art design is more your passion, research the best art design schools to find the ideal place to build your portfolio. 

The submission for the high school competition is a mood board that includes inspirational images, your ideation, and fashion drawings, and a one-page statement that summarizes your vision for designs and the Future of Fashion. The board can be either digital or handmade. What’s also encouraging about this competition is that most past winners haven’t had any previous formal fashion design experience, so don’t feel like your submission has to be perfect! 

Location: Detroit, Michigan

Competition Dates: N/A

Prize: Full scholarship for summer design program (value of $4,395)

Eligibility: Current high school freshmen, sophomores, or juniors

Application Deadline: March 15

#2 Illinois State University (ISU) Fashion Design Competition

In ISU’s Fashion Design Competition, participants submit a design sketch or window display photo to be displayed at Illinois State University's Annual Fashion Show. If you’re one of the first 10 submissions, you will receive a $1,000 scholarship to pursue Fashion Design and Merchandising at ISU. If you’re a top design winner, you’ll receive a $4,000 scholarship to ISU and also receive travel funds to attend the annual ISU Fashion Show. 

The theme for the 23-24 competition is Artisanal. The theme is centered around sustainability and the competition encourages participants to experiment with some type of sustainable practice. For example, this could be patchwork with different scraps of fabric that would usually be thrown away or upcycled. Along with your design entry, you will need to submit a typed description explaining your design process and the inspiration behind your design.

Location: Remote

Competition Dates: N/A

Prize: $1,000-$4,000 scholarship to pursue Fashion Design and Merchandising at ISU. Top winners will also receive travel funds to attend ISU’s Annual Fashion Show

Eligibility: All high school students

Application Deadline: March 15

#3 Taiwan Fashion Design Award (TFDA)

The TFDA competition encourages contestants to pay more attention to global environmental and ecological issues, advocate sustainable fashion, and deeply observe social trends. The grading for submissions focuses on “creativity of the work” (30% of overall score), “marketing and practicality” (30%), “material application” (30%), and “relevance to the theme” (10%). This design theme is intentionally very broad so that you can interpret it in your own unique way. Make sure to read carefully through the competition’s submission guidelines as there are specific ways that the competition wants you to take photos of your design. You can check out the winners from 2023’s competition here.

Location: Remote

Competition Dates: N/A

Prize: Cash prizes of up to $10,000 for first place. Finalists will receive free tickets to Taiwan to attend runway show

Eligibility: All high school students

Application Deadline: June 30

#4 Wool4School Design Competition

First launched in Australia in 2012, this annual competition now has a global reach. The competition specifically encourages students to use Merino wool for their designs. This year’s theme is the Elements: earth, fire, water, and air. Your design should reflect one of the four elements and also be 70% wool. What’s great about this competition is that once you register, the competition also provides you with learning resources to learn more about wool. 

There are also several competition categories based on your grade in school. Students in grades 9 and 10 are in the mid-designer category, students in 11th grade are in the senior designer category, and students in 12th grade are in the aspiring designer category. Each category has slightly different deliverable requirements and prizes, with the big prize in the aspiring designer category being a 50% scholarship to the Whitehouse Institute of Design, a design school in Melbourne, Australia. Explore other internship opportunities by researching the best art and design internships for high school students to find the ideal program for your skills.

Location: Remote

Competition Dates: December 7 - July 25

Prize: Varies based on age group: magazine subscription, sewing machine, an internship with an Australian brand, 50% scholarship to Whitehouse Institute of Design 

Eligibility: All high school students

Application Deadline: July 25


#5 Cooper Hewitt National High School Design Competition

The Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York hosts this competition for high school students around the country. The competition did not take place in 2024 but in 2023 the design challenge centered around unique ways to visualize data to tell stories about health, racial injustice, climate change, peace, gender equity, and much more. Although the competition isn’t explicitly for just fashion, a fashion-related design could certainly be used as a submission for the challenge.

If you’re selected as a finalist for the competition, you’ll have the chance to receive feedback from a mentor first virtually and then during an in-person weekend at MIT’s Norman B. Leventhal Center for Advanced Urbanism. To be notified about future competition announcements and the latest news, email [email protected]

Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts (for finalists only)

Competition Dates: April - June

Prize: The winner receives a custom design gift package valued at approximately $500.00 from SHOP Cooper Hewitt. Finalists attend a two-day mentor weekend at MIT.

Eligibility: All high school students

Application Deadline: February 13

#6 Thea Foundation Fashion Design Competition

The Thea scholarship is designed to help students in Arkansas who are passionate about fashion design to continue pursuing their interests in higher education. Participants must submit a portfolio of 3-5 mini design sketches in addition to their submitted clothing, accessory, or full outfit. Fashion pieces can be made of any material and must follow the theme of “Individual, and beautiful.” Submission requirements also include a short written essay, a video entry where you discuss your motivation for the piece and favorite part of the design process, a photo of your favorite designer and an explanation for what you like about them, and several other things.

Location: Online

Competition Dates: N/A

Prize: $8,000-10,000 scholarships for top 3 submissions

Eligibility: All high school seniors from Arkansas

Application Deadline: January 5

#7 East Texas Fair Youth Fashion Show 

The Youth Fashion Show at the East Texas Fair gives students of all ages the opportunity to construct a garment for their specific competition category. There are 7 different divisions in the fashion show: Construction (use traditional sewing methods and techniques), Nontraditional Construction (use non-fabric items, such as duct tape, and without traditional sewing methods), Smart Buying, Design Embellishment, ReDesign, and Event Plan & Design, where you can work in a team of up to 5 people. You can check out the competition information page to request information and learn more about the different divisions and how submissions are scored.  

Overall, this competition is very flexible and there’s a division for any sort of garment you want to create. The timeline for the competition is a bit complicated and highly dependent on your division, so read through the fashion show timeline carefully.

Location: Online

Competition Dates: Award celebration on February 29

Prize: Medallions and ribbons for 1st-3rd place winners

Eligibility: All high school students

Application Deadline: Depends on event category but around October-November time

#8 Fashion Reimagined

Fashion Reimagined is a contest that encourages students to share their best fashion business / clothing line ideas. For this contest, students make a video pitching their business idea and describing the target customer, potential competition, and how they think the business will grow. The suggested video length is 1-2 minutes, so make sure to include only the most important parts of your pitch in the video submission!

The prizes are scholarships to attend Long Island University, which has a BS in Fashion Merchandising and Management program. 

Location: Online

Competition Dates: N/A

Prize: $5,000-10,000 scholarship to attend Long Island University (LIU)

Eligibility: Juniors or seniors in high school

Application Deadline: March 29

#9 Harper Challenge

Hosted by the Harper College Fashion Studies Department, the Harper Challenge is a yearly competition where students are challenged to create an original garment using a pattern provided by the fashion department. All students who successfully complete their garments will have the opportunity to show them on the runway at the annual student-run Fashion Show, where industry experts are invited to jury and participate.

The 2024 theme for the fashion show was “WORN, TORN, REBORN,” focusing on sustainable practices and reducing fashion footprint. You can view past fashion shows and also see runway photos from 2023 on the Harper Challenge website.

Location: Online

Competition Dates: Fashion show on May 16

Prize: Awards for top 3 submissions but specific prizes not specified

Eligibility: Juniors or seniors in high school

Application Deadline: Garment dropoff on May 2

How to Prepare for a Fashion Design Competition

If you know ahead of time that you’d love to do a fashion design competition, it’s important to start as early as you can. Creating garments is always challenging, and starting well before the deadline will give you enough breathing room to figure out issues and overcome any roadblocks in your design process.

You should also save everything that you sketch or draw so that you have a record of your brainstorming process. This can be very useful for your submission, as sometimes contests require you to submit sketches of your garment and/or explain your design process, and having a record of your early ideas can help you better explain your vision for your work and how it eventually developed into the garment you submitted. These experiences will not only enhance your design skills but also prepare you for future careers in the fashion industry. Joining these competitions provides a valuable opportunity to connect with like-minded peers and mentors, paving the way for a successful career as a fashion designer.

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Fashion Design Opportunities at Polygence

Interested in doing a fashion project on your own timeline? Explore Polygence’s Research Mentorship Program where you can work with an expert mentor in fashion to help your research or design come to life! If you’re stuck on what to create, check out our blog piece on fashion project ideas for high school students.

If you’re looking for inspiration from other students, read about Polygence alumni Lydia’s experience doing a research project and recreating an 18th-century dress! Lydia was able to work with her Polygence fashion research mentor Desira, who had deep expertise in fashion history and sewing and helped Lydia understand sewing terminology and troubleshoot challenges with creating the dress. As Lydia told us, “Nobody in my school could have given me the wisdom that my mentor was able to give me. Finding someone who knows how to sew is one thing, finding someone who knows how to sew well is another, but finding someone who knows how to sew historically is actually like a third separate category.”