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.