The Devil Pays Nada

An inside look at the life of an unpaid fashion intern

The creative job sector is a popular one.  Many students dream of working as the next big theatre managers, newspaper editors and high-end stylists – jobs of prestige, glamour, and let’s be honest, fun.

Yet these worlds are hard to break into.  No longer can wannabe hacks with a handful of GCSEs get a job at their local paper a la John Humphreys and Jeremy Clarkson.

Nowadays, most job advertisements demand a university degree and many require further training: masters degrees, diplomas and, the omnipresent call for ‘previous experience.’

In the world of fashion, the age-old paradox of ‘no experience without experience’ is even harder to come to terms with.  It is now an accepted fact a CV will be thrown straight in the bin if it is void of any work or ‘interning’ experience.

Understandable, if it weren’t for the fact internships are more often than not unpaid positions.

Internship adverts on creative jobsite Gorkana: hard pushed to find an internship that pays

Notwithstanding the questionable legality of free labour, fashion interns may find themselves being made to complete menial tasks that have no real ‘experience’ dimension at all.

Yet due to their position right at the bottom of the company hierarchy, many find it almost impossible to confront their employers over this exploitation.

Camilla, a third year Politics student, interned at a magazine over the summer.

“I found myself growing tired of having to act enthusiastic all the time, even when asked to refill my boss’s stapler or tidy the store cupboard.  I wasn’t learning anything, but I didn’t want to ruin my chances of getting a good reference at the end of it.”

The problems associated with unpaid internships suddenly get broader when considering their social implications. Many argue they are a barrier to social mobility as many applicants simply cannot afford to work for free.

Intern Aware campaigning at London Fashion Week
Photo: Intern Aware

What’s more, the British fashion world is by and large based in London, so most fashion interns have to pay to either live in or travel to the capital when offered a placement: both very expensive options.

Elvira, a third year French and German student realised the extent of this problem when interning at a beauty company last year.

“Unless you already live [in London] it’s pretty tough finding somewhere to stay. I was very lucky to have a friend who let me live in her room for free but if she hadn’t offered me that I would have had to fork out money from my savings in order to rent a room.”

“Nobody wants to speak out either. They are scared of being blacklisted and damaging chances of future internships and jobs so the vicious circle just goes on.”

However, the vicious circle is slowly but surely breaking. Intern Aware is a national campaign to end unpaid internships on the basis of illegality and exploitation, with ex-UBU President Gus Baker leading the corporate battle.

To directly combat the fashion industry, Intern Aware campaigners were in the midst of London Fashion Week, handing out tote bags branded ‘Pay Your Interns’ filled with information on the unfairness of unpaid fashion internships.

Gus told The Tab: “Fashion is one of the worst industries for unpaid internships. We regularly hear stories of interns asked to do menial work, for no money.”

“Our activists at Fashion Week were thanked by many young people and interns. It’s time someone told the fashion business that only the Devil Pays Nada!”