by Jordana Urman | Impressionist
With another fashion giant facing a lawsuit from former interns, the question of unpaid internships has once again taken the spotlight. A group of ex-interns are suing Armani for failure to pay wages or provide training in an educational program. Companies facing similar lawsuits include Donna Karan and Harper’s Bazaar. The argument may seem black and white: if you hire someone to work for you, at least pay a minimum wage. The way companies’ suck their interns in is by offering an educational program, explaining while the pay is not there, the information and skills they will gain are priceless. One of the plaintiffs in the Armani lawsuit, which was filled this summer in New York City, claimed that she ironed and folded clothing and set up the floor and arranged lighting for 16 to 20 hours a week, the same tasks performed by Armani staffers. In April 2014 Conde Nast settled a similar lawsuit. Conde Nast terminated its internship program four months after the suit was filed. As a former intern of several fashion companies and magazines, I will be the first to dispel the rumor that unpaid internships are the worst thing to happen since Britney Spears’ denim dress.
The intern experience can range from working at Runway (The Devil Wears Prada) to Composure (How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days). I have experienced an internship where I popped blood vessels in my arms from carrying garment bags across Manhattan and an internship where I sat in on meetings and met face to face with the CEO. Of course, more often than not in an unpaid internship you can become skeptical and begin to wonder whether you are a student or a serf.
Much like joining a sorority or a fraternity, interning for a fashion company sometimes includes ‘hazing’. Those in favor of unpaid internships feel that these students should be grateful that they have been given the opportunity to even step foot in the corporate building. That position is coupled with the almost universally accepted mantra that to be in the brotherhood/sisterhood of the fashion industry, you “must pay your dues.” Much like hazing, your boss (or pledge master) had to do it, and now, so do you. If you want to be taken seriously you must prove yourself by performing seemingly useless tasks. It shows your patience, and most importantly, your commitment to working in this industry.
Of course, there are those amazing internships where you never have to run and get a Venti Passionfruit Tazo Tea for your boss, but that internship is rare. Those yellow diamonds may have interns iron clothing and work with lighting, but not for a ridiculous amount of time. There is a big difference between a coffee run and doing something essential like vacuuming the showroom. Those small necessary tasks actually show you how much work goes into one shoot, and also how important every little detail is. But, as an interviewer once told me “sometimes you just have to do the bitch work, you’re an intern you know.” While that might not have been the best approach to secure a summer intern, at least she was honest.
While you may totally disagree with me and argue that there is no reason these companies cannot at least pay minimum wage or simply develop an educational program, making your way into the fashion industry is like wearing Alexander McQueen heels (you know which ones I’m talking about); if you can’t take the pain, stay at home in your slippers. Fabulous shoes take you fabulous places.
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