“Fashion is a tyrant from which there is no deliverance; all must conform to its whimsical.”-French Proverb
It has been a big month for interns in general. The JFK/Mimi Alford affair was headline grabbing but that was about politics and sex. Though that was a pretty scandalous story the industry where you often hear about the scariest tales when it comes to interns is the fashion industry. The web site Fashionista recently did a piece on the horrors of a fashion intern. Young women’s experiences included washing a urine-soaked dress for a fashion shoot for Vogue, scooping up dog poop, retyping to-do lists and returning yogurt to a store. My personal favorite was the intern who wasn’t allowed to drink out of the same water fountain as the paid employees. That may be illegal. Even on the glamorized reality show The Hills even Lauren Conrad was treated like an actual intern at times when she worked at Teen Vogue (of course she later appeared on the cover of the magazine which I am pretty sure is not the norm for most interns at magazines.) On one episode her job was to dig out candle goo. This made us wonder is being an intern in the fashion industry truly the worst job ever?
Now, yes, you may be thinking the fashion industry is tough and these young women and men should know what they are getting into. Plus, everyone has to pay their dues even if this industry involves more bodily function dues than say being an intern for a tax attorney. But the treatment of unpaid interns is actually a major problem. More than 100 prominent fashion houses are being investigated by HMRC concerning the payment of their interns. Fashion houses including, Stella McCartney who has been notorious for using unpaid interns, Burberry, Mulberry and Nicole Fahri have all been sent warning letters stating they must pay their interns the minimum wage or risk prosecution. Tanya de Grunwald, founder of the careers website Graduate fog and campaigner for paid internships says this is not exactly breaking news as fashion houses have been exploiting young workers for years. “For too long, fashion houses have recruited brazenly for what are clearly illegal roles that take advantage of those who do them and exclude those who can’t afford to do them. These interns are not just work shadowing, making the tea and sorting the post. They are effectively doing full-time jobs, just without any pay. Most of the time they do not lead to paid, permanent jobs – only to another unpaid internship. Many fashion companies are known to have a revolving door system, where one unpaid intern is simply replaced with another at the end of their placement.” [tagbox tag= "fashion"]
It seems to not be much better for interns in the fashion editorial world. A new lawsuit has been filed by Xuedan Wang, former intern for Hearst and experts are saying it could significantly rattle the publishing industry and change the way interns are treated forever. The young Brooklyn woman is claiming Hearst Corporation owes wages to her and others who interned at Harper’s Bazaar and other magazines since February of 2006. Wang was the Head Accessories Intern at Harper’s Bazaar and said she interned at the magazine for four months until December, working 40 to 55 hours a week. The suit seeks millions in compensation for interns across the country and for a subset of people who worked in New York. Elizabeth Wagoner, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in an interview that the case is the first of its kind to involve “interns” but that there are many successful precedents involving minimum wage violations and jobs in which workers were paid only with tips. According to reporter Jeff Roberts, “in the case of Hearst, its practices may be no better or worse than the dozens of other companies that use interns. The publisher may simply have had the bad luck to have become a test case for the legal parameters of America’s internship economy.”
But surprisingly the responses we got from former interns was generally positive which is great, though, the stories were way less entertaining than having to switch tops in a limo with an insecure fashion editor (true story.) Quennette Karikari, now CMO of a dating site called Loveessence.com, was an intern at Louis Vuitton North America and Wenner Media (publishers of Rolling Stone and US Weekly.) She said everyone at LV was great and she got included in all the company celebrations. There was know holding models hair when they vomited or having to go back to Starbucks three times to get the right temperature of coffee. She was respected as an individual and got to see how a fashion label really works. Now, of course, Louis Vuitton, is a huge company with revenues of $14.93 billion reported in the first half of 2011. The group currently employs more than 83,000 people so they can afford to be more regimented and orderly in their treatment of interns unlike say a small label or fashion house.