Many young women and men from all over the world dream of working in the fashion industry. And usually their journey to making their dream come true lands them in cities like Paris, Milan, Los Angeles, and most of all, New York. Being from New York, I knew I had a leg up when it came to breaking into a job in fashion. I knew the landscape, how to network, had friends who had friends in bigger places. And while this opened doors for me at certain places, I quickly became disillusioned with the industry. While many of my friends and associates told me how classist and even racist the fashion industry could be, I didn’t expect how badly some stylists and corporations run their businesses and how unwilling they are to pay their interns. But, like a true New Yorker, I refused to be taken advantage of and beat certain employers at their own game.
The first thing you have to realize is your talent. Many people move to bigger cities and find themselves desperate for a way in, and often times sell themselves short looking for any position that will fill their resume. Don’t let that happen to you. Know your worth. Many places will try to sell you short under the guise of “paying your dues”. Paying your dues means nothing unless you’re getting paid.
Secondly, do your research! There are many companies and publications in fashion who do not like to pay their interns and can even abuse their interns. It goes largely unchecked because people may feel like it’s normal for any industry to be treated that way, so they don’t report it, and because many internships are largely unpaid. However, a good employer will give you a form of compensation. Research the company’s history, their history with employers, and if it’s a company that you haven’t heard of, you’ll have to make snap judgements about them based on their websites. This may seem unfair, but if their website looks out of date, and generally doesn’t give off the vibe of a place that you would want to be associated with, do not go for it. Remember, you have to put these people down on your resume, you’re allowed to be picky!
Thirdly, know what’s normal, and what’s not. If you are on your way towards getting a degree in the industry that you aim to work in and have prior experience, you should be getting paid from your internship.. If you don’t have prior experience but are working towards a degree, you should be getting paid from your internship if they are asking you to work more than 2-3 days a week. If you aren’t working towards a degree in the industry you want to work in but you have a good amount of entrepreneurial or working experience in the industry with demonstrated expertise, you should be getting paid for your internship. If you aren’t working towards a degree in the industry you want to work in and don’t have much or any experience, then you should take an internship that is no more than 4 days a week (so you can have a job to provide for yourself on the side) and you should be getting your travel and food expenses paid for. The basic thing that any employer should take care of is food and transportation.
Fourthly, be wary for offers that sound sketchy or unreliable. There are many websites that list fashion internships, but the ones you should look at are freefashioninternships.com and the career section of fashionista.com. I checked freefashioninternships twice a day and was always one of the first people to apply to an internship. Unlike the name, you do have to pay $3 per application after your first application, because they do list big names like Vogue and Marc Jacobs, but if you stalk their website and are one of the first to apply for a listing, then you can apply for free! Pay attention to the listing and how the description is worded and if they list their requirements and what they offer. I can tell you one thing, if there’s a listing that looks like this
“STYLIST NEEDS ASSISTANTS FOR PHOTOSHOOT
REQUIREMENTS: PUNCTUAL, CREATIVE, HARD WORKING, DETERMINED, IN SCHOOL, JUST OUT OF SCHOOL, KNOWLEDGE OF WORKING THE SUBWAY
RESPONSIBILITIES: DROP OFFS, PICK UPS, RESEARCH, CHECK INS, ON SET HELP”
Don’t apply. A trusted employer will take the time to write a detailed description.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to walk. Just because you’re just starting out, doesn’t mean you’re allowed to preserve your dignity, time, and space. I worked for multiple stylists this summer and I can tell you, many of them don’t take care of their business when it comes to interns. I backed out of an opportunity to work with a celebrity client because the stylist I would be working under didn’t pay their interns a dime, didn’t feed their interns while they worked from 7 A.M. to 12 midnight, expected them to carry 60 pound garment bags on the subway (without paying for the metrocards!) and even yelled at her intern when they said they had to leave to go to their job. I just left. I did not want to meet someone I admired while being associated, even as an employee, to someone who abuses their interns. Know your value. You deserve to be treated with dignity and you should not have to take disrespect to “pay your dues” especially since there are so many ways to capitalize off your talent. I hope I was able to give you a different perspective on fashion internships + let you know that you can be selective even when starting out.