Sofia Redgrave

What did you do this summer? Most of us will provide the generic answer: a bit of time at a beach/festival/house in the country and a lot of time doing work experience or internships. Gaining experience at fashion companies often involves hours of unpaid work. However, this is generally considered the only way to gain access to the industry.

After graduation, the fashion world needs to see continuous commitment, not just an impressive online application form. Such dedication has often been criticised by the press, who have often deemed internships as the equivalent to ‘slave labour’.

Yet, no matter how bad some internships can be, there will always be fantastic ones out there. It is possible to gain a real insight to the fashion world, and make great friends along the way. However, let’s not forget the few horror stories that have been reported this year.

The Guardian researched and produced a piece about the hard working conditions for the interns at the Alexander McQueen showroom. It was found that the interns would work up to 17 hours a day in the lead up to fashion week, outnumbering the actual number of paid staff by 2:1.

Yes, people put up with these conditions because internships are essential for anyone who wants a career in the industry, but how do you avoid being bundled into the fashion cupboard for months on end with endless returns and tidying to do?

It’s difficult to avoid, so, for starters, don’t be star-struck by the prestige of the company that you are working for. Ask for more responsibility and input. They will more likely than not welcome pro-activity and be pleased to give you other work.

For starters, don’t be starstruck by the prestige of the company that you are working for

For example, a few summers ago, I interned at a leading fashion magazine. My responsibility was to organize Fashion Week for the team, a mammoth task which involved co-ordinating with hundreds of PRs in Paris, New York, London and Milan. A friend of mine got the chance to go on cover shoots and work with well known models. However, these tasks often involved staying late to ensure our share of the work was done.

This summer, I tried a different part of the industry, and interned at a fashion PR company during Fashion Week. Although many of the tasks were simple and not creatively challenging, I was given the opportunity to meet and talk to a number of industry insiders – whether it was inviting them to a celebrity dinner or showing them to their front row seat at the hot show of the season. This, I learnt, was the ticket. The networking opportunities that fashion internships offer are often as, or more, important than the internship itself. And make sure you keep in contact with your fellow interns – one day they might be giving you a job.

So, tips for getting an internship: persistence – if they don’t reply to your letter, phone call, or email, pester them till they do. Secondly, keep a clean internet profile. Your Facebook page is the first thing that any employer will look at, and, sadly, they won’t be impressed with that photograph of you funnelling beer on Wednesday night. Lastly, pull favours from people you know. If you ask around, you might be surprised how family friends have connections in the fashion world that might very well lead to an interview.

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