Thursday 7 November 2013

The Truth About Interning

I had planned to write this article for quite some time yet needed a certain mental distance from the subject that I am addressing to finally pen it down. This time five months ago I was in a complete state of despair. Why? Well despite having gained a degree from a top university (UCL) in a solid subject (history), having done 5 internships in the course of my second and first year, giving up my summers to do so and obviously running my blog, I was struggling to score more than an unpaid internship. Many of you may say that it isn't the worst scenario that could happen, after all not naming names many of the companies that offered me these unpaid roles look very prestigious on paper. However without the benefit of parents that can pay your rent and more importantly food these internships are barely doable with a student loan coming in and, for me at least, impossible when faced with rather expensive adult life. Of course the fashion industry can get away with this for several reasons. For one for any internship position turned down a hundred willing girls are waiting to fill it. It's an industry essentially built on free labour and to us, the ones that have inevitably picked  it as our chosen profession it's a price we are, at least to a certain point, willing to pay. 

I no doubt had great experiences in my internships, learnt a lot about the mechanisms of the industry and made connection that  helped me a lot in the years since. However that is not to say there weren't  bad times too. It seems that the people in actual employment have gotten too used to the endless supply of faceless interns going through their doors to see you as more than a human tick list of tasks they don't have time to do. That went from the ridiculous, having to go to three Prets to find a crayfish salad for a certain editor, to the physically exhausting like carrying twenty ten kilo boxes down three flights of stairs by myself when the office lift was broken. I am well aware that these internships are part and parcel of building up the experience needed to get a job, the issue for me is that this rarely actually happens. 

It's not only the fact that through luck and hard work I eventually managed to score a job in fashion that I felt able to write this article but the sad reality that many of my incredibly talented friends have been interning for years on end, able to do so through generous parents and part time retail work, and have been at the edge of giving up on fashion for good many times. Are they incapable? No. Fashion simply is no meritocracy and despite this sobering realisation I have never given up on it. I don't regret the interning I went through but at the same time believe rules that were recently introduced to limit unpaid interning to 6 weeks to be a positive development. Of course this doesn't mean more companies will offer paid internships or god forbid real jobs but it addresses the deep engrained problem of free labour in an underfunded, underpaid yet glamorous and to me regardless forever endearing game that is fashion. Looking back on my intern days my words of advise to those still at the beginning of their career is to do a few but not too many, I always believe there are only so many returns one can do, work incredibly hard without a word of complaint and leave a lasting impression by being you. I hope that those friends still interning for free in their twenties will finally get the position they deserve but the reality is fashion is elitist, about the right contacts, determination and a bloody good amount of strong nerves. No doubt the intern game will continue but I hope it won't be to the cost of loosing a great amount of talent to other industries that simply can't afford to work for free even with the grandest of visions for their future. 


Bene said...

I'd like to react on this well-written post that exposes a fact common not only in fashion but in a lot of other fields like publishing, the field I'm specialized in. I'm French and, even tough internships must be paid 400 € per month in our country if they last longer that 2 months, a lot of companies use interns as cheap, interchangeable workers. I know interns in their thirties now, and I'm outraged that, under the cover of teaching young students the ropes of their dreamed job, internships become to replace real, full-paid jobs.

Claire Sugars said...

I am a Journalism student at one of the UK's best journalism schools and I find it ridiculous how much time and effort everyone on my course has to put into these ridiculous internships. I too have felt like I am one of many interns doing what my editor doesn't have time to do.
It sucks that I have only done two internships during my time at university, and am now faced with the prospect of doing many more after I graduate because I 'didn't do enough'.


welcometocoolsvillepopulation-us said...

I'm a textile design student and I think its all about valuing your skills and knowing that your worth more than free labour.


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Lauren said...

Well said. I moved to London a few months ago and am refusing to do full time unpaid work experience, as I simply can't. I work full time but low wages mean I can hardly afford to live in London as it is, never mind managing to save up enough for work experience. I can't exactly quit my job for a little while to do work experience that will probably come to nothing. It's extremely frustrating. x

Unknown said...

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Anna said...

Haven't been following your blog or anything before and I don't even remember how I found it but I must say, I like it :) Especially your well written texts.

I definitely understand the frustration. Isn't the actual idea of an internship that one should be able to experience (and learn about) how a permanent position works? Interns have always and will always obviously have to do smaller practical tasks which the others don't have time for, but not all the time! Note that, this is just what I personally expect from my internship, as well as my teachers when we were to look for internships as apart of my programme. I had a great intern experience and even got asked to come back (for paid work) even if it was just a temporary position. However, my field of study has nothing to do with fashion and this was in Scandinavia which probably makes a big difference. It is however, still not easy to find paid work within my field but I can't say that I've been looking for much yet.

I sure hope the stricter rules will lead to some improvement.

RUStyled said...

I'm currently interning and this post have given me a little hope. Interning both stifles the creativity and exploits. Yes, it provides experience but at a price.

Thank you for being an inspiration. x