The unglamorous life of an intern

Models on the catwalk at the New York Fashion Show, Autumn 2007

Working in the fashion industry conjures images of haute couture, catwalk shows and the latest trends. However, interning in the stylish world of fashion is extremely competitive, demanding and above all, exploitative.

Charlotte Brooks, 22, a Fashion Communications graduate from Birmingham City University has been interning since she was 16. She has had work placements at five different companies, including Browns, the high-end fashion boutique.

Interning in the fashion industry is an expensive business, an opportunity reserved predominantly for those who can be supported by their parents. Charlotte told us that if she hadn’t been lucky enough to be able to stay with family and friends during the placements, then she would have spent “easily a few thousand pounds.”

Managers also push the limits of what is expected of an unpaid intern. Charlotte described one incident where she was made to collect a scarf belonging to a manager’s husband from Gordon Ramsey’s restaurant, where he had left it at the weekend. She has also assumed the roles of a waitress and cleaner, and said she has been sent on Starbucks and sushi runs “more times than I can remember.”

Charlotte said: “They know that they can push the limit of things you are willing to do because you are merely an intern.”

She added:  “I don’t see why someone should have to work for free for months to be worthy of being considered for paid employment. Businesses are running on free workers. It’s unfair that after years of education you should have to work for nothing.”

Similarly, Sophie Williams, 22, a politics graduate from Leeds University, condemns companies for using interns as free labour. She explained how, at her current internship at Exposure, a fashion PR company, there are entire teams comprised of unpaid interns, which shows that the positions are “necessary jobs that someone should be paid to do.”

There is little prospect of being hired after a work placement because unpaid internships are replacing entry-level jobs. At a time when graduates are burdened with student loan repayments and employment prospects are increasingly scarce, their dreams of entering the fashion world and securing a permanent job are dwindling.

Graduates who want to work in the fashion industry will be severely disadvantaged without having multiple work placements on their CV. It is essential to get ‘a foot in the door’. However, demand for work experience means that businesses are able to exploit the ambitions of thousands of hopeful, hard-working interns.

One Response to “The unglamorous life of an intern”
  1. Tom says:

    It’s disgraceful that young workers in the fashion industry are being treated like this. I wonder what the bigwigs (no pun intended) at the top get paid?

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