Working 9-7. Experience Or Exploitation?



It’s simple isn’t it, just get some experience? Commute from home, travel through London, work a ten-hour shift, oh and by the way, you don’t get paid and your expenses aren't covered.

Unless you are born and bred in one of the fashion capitals it is almost impossible to gain the experience that is necessary to get an insight into the career you want. In my case, even just living outside of London still places you outside the boundaries of realistically getting the experience you are expected to have, by most companies.

It’s undeniable that most fashion journalism and design students have been pulled in by the spell of Sex in the City and The Devil Wears Prada – of course it would be simple to move to the city, write a column for £5-per word on the side of the internship and fund the design shoe obsession. 

Of course this is laughable, but I feel that it is necessary to tell future fashion students that it is a lie. It more or less comes down to the un-romanticised ability to fill the fridge with milk and a Tesco meal deal, or to be able to get on a packed train to London after four hours of sleep.

Around 121 institutions in the UK are offering courses in Fashion and textiles, and around 46,410 students studying in the Creative Arts & Design bracket in 2015, it is hard to see how all students are expected to commute to the fashion capital on a daily basis without an income or expenses paid.

With around 70,000 interns in the UK 15,000 of those are unpaid.

It’s a never-ending circle for a budding student willing to get into any industry, nevertheless the fashion industry. To bag the career or job you’ve worked hard for, you must have experience – but to get experience is the hardest part of all, when is there an available minute to get this experience?

With most students running into debt through their choice of education, there is little money left to help with the commuting for an unpaid internship or placement – let alone eat in the meantime. The average graduate will still owe almost £60,000 in tuition fees after 30 years of repayments.

It’s a competitive world, understandably the fashion industry is a dog-eat-dog world. To stand out you have to show your passion, but it does come across that your passion is often not enough for companies. However, what is valued the most is your postcode.

Internships are the modern day pot of gold. If you get an internship with a company, you are likely to proceed through the company from making teas to maybe one day actually being able to write. However, the unrealistic expectations continually being pushed onto students is often too much. 

It seems that the industry are also set on the unrealistic expectations of not only graduates, but students. Claiming that it is easy.

"Move to a big city, and just take what you get" 

The reality of this is becoming an unpaid intern, which more-so than often, revises of making tea and never seeing the reality of the career you have spent three years working hard for – let alone the experience that they claim to provide.

In many cases unpaid internships often become a fight - exploitation or experience?

Prospects of gaining experience fall to whether or not you can afford to commute, or leave behind your morals or ethics. Fashion interns often claim that they outnumber paid workers and claim that some companies rely heavily on free labour.

When discussing the aspect of exploitation for unpaid internships there are many horror stories out there, and also many positive stories to inspire you. However, one story that stuck was that of a 25-year-old Postgraduate fashion student who took an unpaid internship with Alexander McQueen. 

She stated that most days she worked from 8:30am, till 2am; on a seven days a week. Additionally the extent of unpaid interns within the fashion house was outnumbering the paid workers. 

"In the pattern making department there were 10 interns and only 5 staff, whereas in embroidery there was just one designer and 10 interns." 

Later through her statement, she claims that the financial difficulty led to the decision to leave the internship early. But this was not the first time that the graduate had taken on an unpaid internship, it was her fifth. 

It is distressing. After sending out hundreds of emails a week, with covering letters selling your soul to the fashion industry and a CV attatched with every qualification the company have been asking for, a mere:

“thank you, but you have been unsuccessful this time”

would be more than appreciated. It’s undeniable that without some reply, whether that is mass undisclosed email to everyone who had emailed, it is going to push students away from the industry. Not just this, but what harm could it do to provide an unsuccessful applicant with information on what they could do next time to be successful next time, or even some advice?  

There seems to be a Curse on the Creative Industry. With around 63% of cultural and creative graduate students working unpaid.

The estimated outgoings of a London-based intern were £926 per month back in 2014. Two years later and it is likely that the estimated outgoing has sky-rocketed. But does this mean that unpaid internships favour the rich London based students? 

Earlier this year MP’s have called for a ban on unpaid internships, stating that they:

“unfairly penalise working-class young people who cannot spend long periods of time working for free to get into their chosen career.”

However, this has now been blocked by the government.

In an elitist industry that is fashion, it’s hard to see how they can continue to avoid hardworking students with exceptional writing skill, and an inevitable passion for style and Journalism. It is sad to hear that many students are having to lie on CV’s about their address, by providing a fake London addresses. 

Ultimately, it shouldn’t be down to the student to go into additional debt for experience that should be provided by the institution that are training them. Nor should students be penalised for the career that they have chosen to pursue.

What do you think about unpaid internships? Do you think that they are vital or should they be banned? Let us know what you think, we would love to hear from you.