Updated: Sep 4
So many young people dream of joining the fashion industry when they grow up.
We grow up admiring the glamorous shoots, the high-profile meetings, the quirky creatives – and the outfits of course. As someone growing up and aspiring to be part of the fashion industry your biggest fear tends to be a Miranda Preistly style boss (and even that is kind of aspirational too)
Actually growing up and becoming a part of the industry is so much more terrifying. We love to write about the exploitation of garment workers and the horrible ethical issues that plague the fashion industry. But one area that we think we tend to forget is the issue of fashion and the unpaid internship.
For some reason this is a glamorised idea. Fashion students laugh about being over worked, running across London with heavy suitcases of clothes, skipping sleep and skipping meals as if it’s okay – and it’s not. We grow up dreaming of the day we become a fashion intern and jet off to New York, London or Milan to work tirelessly for big companies or employers. We apply to work free for billion-dollar brands, sending off cover letter after cover letter - usually not even receiving responses. We dream that that summer program or part time fashion job which doesn't pay us financially will instead pay us with amazing contacts, experiences or insights.
In reality the majority of unpaid internships in the fashion industry will have you running round as someones PA, not getting included in big conversations, trained and nurtured or relayed with big opportunities. Instead we find ourselves working a full time job - without the pay check. All because it will 'look good on our CV'. But really at the end of the day - if we do the work, and spend the time - we deserve payment for it.
The creative industries are the only area where our talents, skills and hard work can go completely unpaid and uncredited without the bat of an eyelid. Imagine someone training as a plumber or a chef doing full length shifts of hard work and leaving with no payment. (let’s not get it twisted, some training programs etc. are unpaid because you’re actually being taught real skills and not doling out professional level work at the same level as your mentors – and that’s okay!)
It isn’t fair to push desperate young people to these extremes. I have made people logos that brands still use to this day, written hundreds of articles for profitable websites that are still published and run profitable social media pages for brands – without ever receiving a penny for my work, and often never being credited anywhere on the work either. If you are in a situation where you are filling a real job role and providing constant profitable, necessary work for a company then you should be a paid employee.
And when you spare it a thought the unpaid internship is discrimination at it’s finest.
You have to have a full education and experience for an unpaid entry level role (the amount of unpaid roles I've seen advertised which require applicants to have a MA and at least 3 years relevant industry experience... it's mind blowing. And that’s a whole group of people with tons of skill and energy discounted from the very start if they couldn’t access or afford the same education as others.
You have to live in a city or have the money to commute every day (remember you aren’t being paid – so you need to have this travel money just sitting around on hand) which discriminates geographically.
You have to be from a privileged enough situation that you can work full time in a job that gives you nothing and still afford rent, food, bills and everything else in life so there's the class discrimination.
The reality is that for you to tick all of those boxes you are already in a position far ahead of so many others, and here you are getting another opportunity – to be honest you probably are already qualified for a paid job! If internships truly served the purpose of educating and training young people they would be accessible to those who have previously lacked opportunities, they wouldn't select the best of the bunch (ripe for real jobs and paid work) and exploit them.
Slamming the door shut on people from disadvantaged backgrounds not only adds to the discrimination that the fashion industry pretends to be fighting. But it actually damages the industry too. Imagine how many more diverse viewpoints, and fresh talents we could have circulating in our industry if we allowed everyone to be a part of it and supported young people instead of exploiting them?!
There is a petition at NoToFourWeeks.com where you can fight against the 4 week unpaid internship, but unpaid jobs are still going to find their way to weasel through the cracks. How many times to designers have to lend their hand-made garments for free, how many stylists run all around the city carrying huge bags of clothes for nothing, how many times do full on shoots for publications as big as vogue have no budget and just rely on the drive of young creatives to make content…. CONSTANTLY is the answer incase it wasn’t clear. (The kicker is when the publication profits from or otherwise benefits from these shoots and doesn't share that with those that made them possible!)
And its easy for us to say well, lets just say no, lets just all refuse to work for free and eventually they’ll have to pay. But reaslitically if you won’t work for free, someone else will, and in such a cut-throat industry we all scramble for any scraps we can get.
What we need to do is to speak up, to call out and to fight for fair pay/credit whenever we can. We can also try to lead by example; if you are in the position to pay someone for their work do it, if not at least make sure it is beneficial to them and that both parties get something out of the connection. If you are going to be paid for a job, split that pay with everyone who offered you support or came to assist.
It's rare to find that glamorous fashion internship where you actually get to network, be in a supportive environment and work realistic hours - if you find yourself being ripped off you don't have to take it! The industry is gradually changing, and newer start ups are much more positive in the way that they treat their interns than the big, old, slow-moving Goliaths of the industry. There are social media pages which call out exploitative brands and leaders (see diet prada!) and if in doubt just drop us a message!
Maybe if we make enough noise someone will listen.