“Um, excuse me? What do you think you’re doing?”
“I’m leaving.” I said.
“You can’t just leave!” she squawked after me. She spoke in the kind of high pitched condescending frequency that settled in the ‘I’m better than you’ vocal range.
Overwhelmed and exhausted I disappeared out the door.
It has always been my ambition to work in fashion. When choosing my university degree I didn’t want to pigeon-hole myself so I chose a humanities course. What I didn’t realise was that I was making it harder to be taken seriously by employers in fashion – without any contacts in the industry I was starting to panic. So you can imagine my joy when after many, many emails to various fashion companies I finally got a response. It was from a London based e-commerce company offering a twelve week long fashion internship with the opportunity to deal with important customers and high fashion brands.
The interview – which took place two days after I sent them an email – was unexpectedly a breeze. Within about fifteen minutes I was told I was hired. I was ecstatic. In just 48 hours, I’d gone from a panicking unemployed graduate with no experience in fashion to a fashion intern working in Central London! Sound too good to be true? It was.
The atmosphere day to day was toxic. As a girl with proficient fashion knowledge and an approachable demeanour I thought I’d make a few friends but boy, was I wrong! My supervisor was abrasive, condescending and a bully. Everything I said was scoffed at or mocked. The full-time staff in their Fendi, Gucci or Prada outfits would sneer or comment on my brand choices even though I was well-dressed, I just didn’t have the money to compete. One of the girls even went on a rant about how much she hated Michael Kors bags because they were “tacky” and “only worn by losers”. I then lifted up my own MK backpack – a birthday gift from my parents. You should have seen her squirm.
Fashion companies often use interns as cheap labour and the pay didn’t even cover half my travel but I’d expected that. The opportunities I’d get and the contacts I could create would make it worth my while, or so I assumed. Every day for 8 long weeks I sat for eight hours a day in a cramped office and did nothing except data entry. In my interview, I had been promised numerous duties working with various fashion brands and high profile customers but none of that ever surfaced despite polite reminders.
Every day I travelled to and from London feeling like I wasn’t learning anything new and I wasn’t any closer to working in fashion. The internship was a sham to get cheap labour, preying on young people who were desperate to work in the fashion industry. There was no prospect of a job afterwards either. Once the internship finished you were out and a new intern started. It was like we were on a factory conveyor belt. The thing is, I didn’t mind running errands or cleaning up or data entry but I was treated like a lower class human being. I didn’t get a lunch break and I was bullied by the others in the office. The internship I applied for was not the one I got.
Don’t rush into a fashion internship because it’s the first offer you receive. It’s always important to read up on the company and look for any warning signs. For example, in my interview I was told that the company did not want someone to quit after a month because that had happened many times before. Question why that might be. Don’t assume (like I did) that those past interns left because they were lazy. They might have left for the same reason as me, because they weren’t being treated lawfully and promises went unfulfilled.
My internship gave me no chance of possible future work, no connections to make and even a reference didn’t seem worth it. I arrived at my fashion internship willing to start at the bottom, be as useful as possible, and get my foot on the employment ladder but I ended up out of pocket and no closer to a future job than when I’d started.
These kinds of fake fashion internships are extremely common – so for the sake of your health, time and money, be careful. If you stay polite and true to you you’ll find your way on to the first rung of that ladder.
Hazel is a 22-year-old English graduate. She’s currently writing a novel of fiction whilst working her way into the fashion industry.