fashion internships: good or evil?

the recent hot hot hot topic going viral in the fashion web world, is the infamous fashion internship. this has been a subject of debate for some time now and people just can’t seem to agree on who is in the wrong. i work in the fashion industry in montreal and it’s really interesting to see it from this perspective. obviously, we’ve all seen the devil wears prada (albeit not an internship but you get the idea) and are subject to the so-called horrors of working at a glossy, a design house or a stockist – but how much of this can we really rely on as truth?

life is so tough and dowdy for anne hathaway in the devil wears prada – image via moviemail-online.co.uk

 

listen to this completely unrelated but appropriately named remix by patrick lindsey released on german label shoes, bags and boys, while you read! xx


at my job, we have a couple studio interns that help out the stylist throughout the day. they don’t work longer hours than anyone else (in fact, they work less) and they’re definitely not out fetching coffee or picking up dog shit or doing any of the other various preposterous (british accent) tasks that seem to be part of the general idea of an interns day-to-day. but hey, maybe that’s just my work (we’re pretty awesome). and it’s absolutely inarguable that internships are 100% necessary if you want to get anywhere in the fashion industry. there’s seldom a designer, creative director, buyer, editor or stylist (or writer for that matter!) that hasn’t paid their dues in the form of some kind of internship. i’ve even put in my time with online internships. you can’t expect to start at the top, and it’s the same with any job – you have to start somewhere. this is one of the most competitive industries out there; for every girl that gets an internship, there are about 100 cappucino drinking, cigarette smoking, stiletto wearing, alex wang toting bitches just waiting for her to fuck up so they can claw their way into her spot. paid or not. and that’s the cold hard truth. common opinion in the fashion world is that, if you don’t like it and can’t gain or appreciate the chance being given to you, you can suck it because interns are pretty much disposable, and they can find another you in a new york minute. there’s definitely a correlation here – if it’s common knowledge that you’re replaceable, authorities can treat you any way they want because if you’re not down, someone else definitely is.

the great internship debate started in february when a former harper’s bazaar intern filed a suit against publishing house, hearst on the pretence that HB had broken labour laws in regards to work conditions forced upon the unpaid intern. she supposedly worked 40-55 hours per week completely unpaid. according to higherlegal.com, the suit goes on to suggest that “unpaid interns are becoming the modern day equivalent of the entry-level employee, except that employers are not paying them for the many hours they work”. there’s a bunch more crap about internships upping the unemployment rate etc etc etc. it’s not that i don’t agree. i do, i do, i feel your pain, hearst intern. but this girl knew what she was getting herself into. she could have quit at any point in time. i hear you all, sitting at your computers saying “but if she quit, she would ruin any chance of making it in the industry” – isn’t filing a lawsuit against one of the biggest publishing houses also ruining those chances? just saying. i’m definitely not saying the employers that force interns to work whacksauce hours are in the right, don’t freak out just yet.

the drama continued when jezebel released an article involving a young model by the name of hailey hasbrook, who published articles on her blog detailing an account of her recent work for marc jacobs during fashion week. hasbrook wrote about the long hours she was forced to work and the plans she had to cancel as a result. to top it all off, she wrote that the marc jacobs brand never paid her – or didn’t exactly completely really pay her. she was paid in trade. for those that don’t know, getting paid in trade means that instead of getting money, you receive products from the brand you’ve worked for. once the jezebel article went live, hasbrook released a statement in which she decided her former complaints were taken out of context and that she actually had a great time working for jacobs, was happy to be paid in trade and didn’t really mean any of what she said. how sweet. i kind of have a problem with this situation – you’re a model, you’re working fashion month for marc jacobs. it’s expected that you’ll have to work incredibly long hours, but it’s a total pay off in the end. your experience walking for marc is value in and of itself. and i don’t think i’d complain about getting free marc jacobs stuff, though, duh, the money would be better. the thing that made this situation fly out of control is when jacobs released a twitter “statement” saying that “models are paid in trade. if they don’t want to work w/us, they don’t have to”. oh marc. even though that’s entirely true, it doesn’t stop him from sounding like a complete twat. that’s the standard though, apparently.

now, goss/news hub fashionista has put up an article about the “possible” (unconfirmed) changes going down at conde nast (the publishing house for all the big league glossies like vogue, w and gq). the article states that inside sources at CN have stated that changes to the internship program will include things like a max number of hours per week, a mandatory mentorship program and that interns must receive school credit to be eligible for the position. this is a good start, no? the school credit thing is a bit off, mind you, because that leaves internships open to only those in school and i don’t know about you but i was much too busy binge drinking, getting stoned and cramming for exams to be able to devote x number of hours to a fashion internship, on top of working to pay my rent/support my vices. maybe that’s just me though. seriously though, what about people who wait to graduate before they move on to work a “real job”. what about all us suckers?! WHAT ABOUT US?

on the real though, the unpaid internship is a really confusing issue for me. even as i write this, i can feel myself flip flopping between which side i think is right. i definitely have no idea what i’m even arguing, as usual, but i think it’s really important. paid internships are hard to come by. i have a friend, living alone in toronto (where rent is pretty high) who is quitting his full time job to pursue an unpaid internship at the company of his childhood dreams. i called him nuts for doing it but i totally see how it’s worth it – you’ve waited your whole life for this opportunity, and nothing’s gonna stop you from at least trying. and if the conditions are bad, hey, everyone who’s anyone has been through these conditions and made it out alive, and probably, a better person and a better employee because of it.  and if it’s really that bad…well, the fashionista article quotes a CN insider who puts it best:  “don’t tell them it hasn’t been educational. after all, it has already taught you something about the values of the field you hope to enter. does that make you wish for a better field? or just a better internship?”  …all i have to say is…lawyered.

fashion’s most famous ex-interns, lauren conrad + whitney port – image via 39thandbroadway.com


then there’s the inevitable flip side. equal rights whatever whatever. i’m not saying that like it’s soo blasé (even though it kind of is) – i just think that that’s what internships are there for. but i’m supposed to be arguing the other side here, so on y go: there’s a fine freakin line between internship and forced labour. it isn’t fair to have someone work retarded hours, beat themselves to the bone and be unable to make end’s meet (because they have no time for outside employment) all in order to only maybe get one step up in the industry, and that goes for any industry. doing work that benefits the company or employer should be reimbursed, especially because the superiors to this intern are getting paid and without the interns, it would be the superiors schlepping their own coffee. zing zing!

i dunno though. if there were less interns vying for the position, would conditions really improve? are conditions even really that bad (we definitely have no way of knowing, aside from what we’re being told and we could be told that anna wintour shits rainbows and owns a unicorn, so how do we know who’s telling the truth?) furthermore, who enforces that the new rules be followed (remember when that flimsy rule was instated that models had to be over 18 to walk the runway? ya, that worked soooo well)?

all in all, i think people are attracted to an industry they aren’t necessarily prepared for. or perhaps the industry is just inherently insane. is the argument that “you get paid in experience” strong enough in this case, or in any case for that matter? plus, who’s to say that a 18-20 something student without any prior experience has enough chops to be guaranteed a spot at the company – internships are like a trial period, right? devil’s advocate: who’s to say they aren’t? why should their work be considered any less valuable than a 10 year employee.

sketchy business. so what do you think? internships – good or evil? are interns people too, or do you think they have to work their way up, like the rest of us? is it fair to start imposing these rules now? what about the hundreds of thousands of interns that worked like crazy before these rules, where’s their money? is there even  a solution to this problem? is it even a problem?

want to read more about fashion internships? clicky clicky to read fashionista’s new article with accounts from real ex-interns!

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