To get to the top, you inevitably have to start at the bottom. This is the reality of being an intern at London Fashion Week. The environment is fast-paced, highly competitive and extremely exploitive. There are rules, there is hierarchy and there are a lot of all black outfits.
Behind every great fashion show, there is a hardworking team of interns who make the performance of a catwalk appear effortless. Gone are the days of coffee runs. Interns are now treated as employees; all that’s missing is a paycheck. There are long hours on your feet, shouting and inevitable stress. You are advised to come prepared with a pen, snacks and, most importantly — I cannot stress this enough — comfortable shoes. One of the most important survival tips I have learned is fitting a day’s worth of supplies in my fanny pack. Essential contents include, but are not limited to a portable charger, lip gloss, granola bar and a hair tie.
LFW is celebrated for being groundbreaking, hectic and unpredictable. The autumn/winter 2019 season had a packed schedule featuring Victoria Beckham, Burberry, Vivienne Westwood and Adidas. The main venue, 180 The Strand, is the place to be seen. If you’re lucky, you might brush shoulders with Brooklyn Beckham, who’s supporting his “mum” at her show, or catch a glimpse of Gigi Hadid getting ready to walk the Burberry show. If you are not so lucky, you are stuck organizing a table of snacks for the models or pouring champagne for “VIPs” you’ve never heard of before.
The fashion industry is exceptionally competitive. While it does take hard work and dedication to make it, unpaid internships are creating a disadvantage for low-income students. As a student at Central Saint Martins in London, landing an internship at LFW was a dream come true. The dream quickly turned to a nightmare when I was expected to work 8-10 hour shifts without compensation, while trying to support myself financially and keep up with my academics. During my second season as a fashion week intern, I had the chance to work for both a public relations firm as well as as an independent Norwegian designer. Each experience was a once in a lifetime opportunity, whether it was shadowing the head of the PR firm or being in charge of the seating for reporters representing Vogue or i-D Magazine. I was fully immersed in the hectic reality of the fashion industry, and got a live look at what really happens behind the scenes.
The reality leaves no room for intimidation. When interns were asked, “who is a boss ass bitch?” I volunteered without hesitation and was thrust into a position that required a headset and clipboard – talk about a power trip. I got a taste of what it was like on the other side, the side with a paycheck. In this position I was required to memorize seating charts, the important faces of the industry and whether those faces were good enough to be front row or not. Once you have seated your VIP guests, you are left to fill empty seats and as quickly as it starts, the spectacle is over. After days of hard work and late nights, you are dismissed with a simple thank-you and left wondering if anyone even remembers your name, or if they ever knew it in the first place.
While some students are fortunate enough to land a paid position, the pay is still minimal and does not compensate the hours of hard work being dedicated. Students at King’s College London have decided to speak out against the demoralizing use of student labor throughout the fashion industry. Two students hung a banner outside of Somerset House, an arts center in London, that said, “Pay interns – it’s ‘in’ this season.”
Interning can be hard work, but pays off by giving an exclusive look at the execution of some of the biggest events in fashion.
The harsh reality is that interns, like myself, are being exploited and taken advantage of. The chance to see a five-minute fashion show is no longer sufficient payment for countless hours of free labor.