The fashion industry as we know it wouldn’t exist without interns. It’s as simple as that.
Unfortunately, over the years, it’s become a habit to not compensate interns for the work they’re doing, which is only one of many problems within fashion. Internships over the last few years have been primarily unpaid, which is something that’s regarded as ‘normal’ and simply the way the industry operates. Students and people looking to gain industry experience are expected to work for free, which is very much regarded as an honour. You are supposed to be grateful for the experience; however, the bigger conversation around why these workers aren’t being paid and therefore properly valued is left not talked about.
Undoubtedly, this leads to a huge class divide in fashion as only a fortunate few can afford to work without pay.
Why aren’t we paying interns? Why is the industry continuously exploiting and taking advantage of people?
The fashion industry overall has a big issue with not paying their workers, whether that’s in the garment sector or internships. One could almost argue that human labour isn’t really valued at all within fashion.
Brands are willing to put money behind the promotion and marketing of their products and collections, but very few of them actually make an effort to pay their workers even though they have the budget for it.
Daniel Peters from Fashion Minority Report says: “We’re not valuing the people who managed to make that happen and come together fairly. We’re devaluing their time and their talent. I’ve seen a lot of young designers who struggle to pay interns for that time and they rely on that. And I really get it. But at the same time, it’s then flipping that lens and saying, well, I was probably in that position a year or two ago. And whilst it potentially helps you to get your foot onto that ladder, you also need to think of the person that comes behind you and how are they going to feel? Are they going to be able to do what you’ve done? And have you only been able to do that because you’ve had the, you know, the financial support of family?”
This really shines a light on how much internships have to do with privilege.
Ultimately businesses have the power to change the system as they are the ones culpable for creating an unlevel playing field, and that’s where the experience remains socially exclusive among those with the means to have to work unpaid. It’s very much a self-fulfilling cycle where if you can’t afford to work unpaid and break into an industry that way, it’s almost impossible to break that cycle.
So how can we break the cycle of unpaid internships within fashion?
The industry needs to stop perpetuating the idea of working unpaid breeds success; experience doesn’t pay the bills at the end of the day. Free labour is way too often glamorized and based on the idea that if you do free internships, it will eventually pay off which simply isn’t true in all cases.
Ultimately, a fair, open and inclusive recruitment process will lead to real change in the industry. There’s still a massive lack of accountability and every brand has the responsibility to do better.
What can brands do differently?
In a nutshell: If you can’t afford to pay your interns, perhaps don’t recruit anyone.
What can students/people looking for internships do?
-It’s important to value your time and don’t sell yourself for less than what your abilities are worth. Of course, this is easier said than done, especially in times where competition is as tough as ever.
-If you’re unable to find your ideal job within the industry that you wanted to work for, consider doing a similar thing somewhere else with the possibility to go back into fashion later on. The important thing is to develop experience and skills that are easily transferable to different industries that you can apply later on.
-Finding a mentor can be really useful to support you during all stages of your career and application process.
-Last but not least, it’s really important for people to know that even though they’re interns, they still have rights, such as holiday entitlement, protection against discrimination, harassment etc. It’s important to be aware of these!
Andrew Loader, the Founder of FashionWorkie created a petition against a proposed law change, which is called the Unpaid Work Experience Bill.
“If passed, the Unpaid Work Experience Bill will legalise unpaid positions that can easily use “work experience” as an exemption from payment for up to four weeks.
Legally exempting positions from payment for up to four weeks in an attempt to “ban” and “end” unpaid internships will simply prop up and legitimise the exploitation that the Bill is supposedly attempting to eradicate. Those engaging in unpaid recruitment will be able to use “work experience” as an excuse for a vacancy being unpaid. It will be easily taken advantage of, resulting in more unpaid internships and less paid internships as NMW becomes harder to enforce.”
Please consider signing this important bill here.
To find out more, make sure you listen to the fifth episode of our podcast ‘Consciousness Beyond The Product’ featuring Andrew Loader, Daniel Peters and Charlène Manil.
As well as find out more on our Instagram account @sabinna_com
Any questions? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org or send us a DM via Instagram.