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For young designers, New York might not be the first stop. Try Boston. Or Minneapolis. Or even Vietnam.

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For Ithwa Jasurin Huq , Boston felt like the right place to launch a career in the fashion industry.

Huq, who graduated from the Massachusetts College of Art last week, had thought about moving to Minneapolis, where she had interviewed for a design apprenticeship with the mass retailer Target.

But in the end, the native of Bangladesh opted to work with designer David Josef, who is based in the South End. She not only liked the job for its ``hands-on" nature, she liked the city for its artistic personality. ``Boston is still in the phase of exploring the fashion world, and I love that," said Huq.

Once upon a time, students fresh out of fashion school may have had few options but to join the crowd of designers, editors, and retailers hoping to make a splash in New York. But as fashion extends its cultural reach -- thanks in part to America's growing interest in affordable design and the influence of TV shows such as ``Project Runway" -- many young designers are choosing paths that don't necessarily cross Seventh Avenue.

Some of this recent crop of graduates are staying in New England. Some are heading for the West Coast. Some are looking for ways to go abroad -- to Europe or even as far away as Asia.

With various companies based outside of New York -- Target, Anthropologie, and Urban Outfitters in Philadelphia, and Abercrombie & Fitch in Ohio -- observers say young designers looking for a foothold in the industry have more options. Even Alabama has registered on the fashion map in recent years with the burgeoning fame of Project Alabama, a company that works with local artisans to make clothes.

``Luckily now, there's more choice than there was when I graduated," said Jennifer Comar , who left the Rhode Island School of Design in 1991 and now works in New York for the Hingham- based company Talbots. ``When I graduated it was New York or New York."

Some say opportunities for young designers have grown because of support from within the industry. The Council of Fashion Designers of America is involved with several programs aimed at young people, including the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, which awards money and mentoring to emerging designers. The council also works with Target to offer apprenticeships, and with Boston native and designer Joseph Abboud to offer college scholarships, and is discussing ways to support high school students who have an interest in fashion, said Steven Kolb , the council's executive director.

The womenswear company Anthropologie recruits a handful of graduates for internship positions, which sometimes turn into full-time jobs, said design director Johanna Uurasjarvi. Many recruits will choose Philadelphia because it is a more ``manageable" city than New York, she said, and the company appreciates when they do. ``We like having the young talent in here," Uurasjarvi said.

New England itself is increasingly a destination for those who want to study fashion design. Enrollment in MassArt's fashion program has doubled in the past five years, said department chairwoman Sondra Grace , and the school has added a fashion certificate program in its continuing education department. At Rhode Island School of Design, which counts Nicole Miller and Tess Giberson among its alumnae, the apparel design program now has 84 students, up from 54 in 2001, said department head Mary Kawenski .

At the School of Fashion Design on Newbury Street, which has had fairly consistent enrollment, many students use tools such as the Internet to launch their own lines. Only a few have moved on to New York, said director Jim Hannon , who described that city as ``overrun with designers."

While many designers see New York as the ultimate goal, Hannon noted that careers are based on ``who you know and being in the right place at the right time."

``Like any career, you have to put your time in," he added.

Many students say they are not afraid to take their time to figure out what they want. David Bermingham , who graduated from MassArt last week, plans to stay in Boston for now to work for the retailer Alan Bilzerian before moving to Chicago or the West Coast, places where he believes he will be more able to maintain his individuality as an artist.

``You don't want your voice to get lost," Bermingham said.

Nora Sibley Denker, who graduates from Rhode Island School of Design next month, said she will check out job possibilities in San Francisco. She had considered working at Target but decided she wanted more adventure.

``For me right now I need something a little more open and creative," Denker said. ``I kind of want to go out there and see what it's like."

Her classmate Maureen Cambridge is looking to move to Philadelphia possibly to work for Urban Outfitters. She said she is glad to have choices other than New York but adds that it's not completely off her list.

``I really love New York, and I think I'll move there eventually," Cambridge said.

Dawn Mello, who is probably best known for helping to revive Gucci in the 1990s, believes a stop in New York, Paris, or Milan is still crucial for those breaking into the field.

``You really need to work at the right hand of a successful designer," said Mello, who previously worked for Bergdorf Goodman. She graduated in 1951 from the School of Fashion Design when it was known as the Modern School of Applied Arts.

Mello, who recruited the designer Tom Ford for Gucci, noted that Ford had absorbed lessons at companies such as Perry Ellis before achieving worldwide fame with the Italian fashion house.

``By the time he got to Gucci, he had that eye," said Mello, who now works as a consultant.

Some students are choosing to go further afield. Taylor Brown , who graduated from MassArt this spring, will spend the summer working for a designer on Cape Cod before moving to Vietnam to work for a designer in Ho Chi Minh City.

Brown will work in the studio with the pattern maker, picking out fabrics and generally helping with design. It's hands-on experience she's not sure she would have been able to find in the United States.

``In America . . . I wouldn't be a designer right away," she said.