Fashion vs. Intern: The Industry

As someone who has undertaken many internships, placements, work experiences, labour camps or whatever you wish to call it – I can say that my experience of trying to break into the fashion industry have been mixed. I may not be able to speak of other industries but I can of fashion; the demands, as you try to worm in, are stupidly high.

If you have been (or indeed still are!) an intern, you will already have your own definition of what it means, but a quick Google search throws up its own ‘official’ definition: “a student or trainee who works, sometimes without pay, in order to gain work experience or satisfy requirements for a qualification.” This seems like a very apt (or rather idealistic) description of such a person, no? Well keep on looking and some synonyms may hit closer to home… To imprison, hold captive, to detain (let’s just chuck slave onto the list for good measure) … any repressed memories of drowning in a fashion cupboard surfacing?

If that sounds familiar then I’m sure some of you will feel you need compensating, or at least your therapy bills covered, by the people you worked for. The continuous debates have had many crying out that all work placements, should be, nay, MUST BE, paid at least the National Minimum Wage. I, however, think that is a terrible idea.

Yes we are basically doing the same job as paid employees. Yes we are doing the same hours. But everyone in those higher positions had to go through the same thing. I know many excuse the free labour as a right-of-passage but it is, to an extent, true. In the current climate of employment (or unemployment for many) taking on work experience is in itself a big task; there is simply so much competition. Start making it the law to pay minimum wage and the competition only increases a thousand times over, with employers taking on fewer and fewer interns. The job market is a bloodbath as it is, but considering the alternative; I’ll take my already low employment chances just the way they are thank you.

Now, how many of you were promised worthwhile experience with a company saying they could provide it for you? How many of you are still waiting for that worthwhile experience to be delivered? I think I just heard a sea of tea being split as people shake with anger and tut irritably. Many companies tout no end that a work placement with them will garner excellent experience, or even the “opportunity” of a paid position upon completion. Not only will many of you think this is utter tosh, but an out and out lie. Still, it is really all that bad?

I used to have no experience. I started at the very bottom just like many of my contemporaries, but it was a great way in. My flatmate at the time (also one of the most driven people I know) got herself an internship with a luxury accessories brand the day after we had moved into student halls. And as her first friend in the Big Smoke she asked if I want to come along to help.

So we trotted along in our most fashionable clothes to a small presentation space where small labels were presenting their SS14 collections. All we had to do was stand there, smile and make the garments look pretty. In retrospect it was dull work, but at the time the fresh-faced fashion student that I was loved it, all because it was Fashion Week and I was part of it.

That’s where it all started. I have since gone on to write freelance for a number of magazines (doing actual writing… who’d have thought!), as an editorial assistant to some big name publications (more writing; having my work published on a daily basis and seen by a big audience!) and doing show reviews. All thanks to my ex-flatmate (now best friend) and that humble intro to the fashion world. But would I have gotten that chance were all internships paid? Possibly. Would I be where I am now were that also the case? Definitely not. So cheers to all those people who paid me nothing – I owe you one.

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