i'm an intern, not an idiot

The intern - he of the worn face and flustered expression; she dragging the oversized suitcase; that which has been slaving away for fashion, since a time before Tumblr (and doing it for free!) – is on the verge of extinction.

by Tish Weinstock
05 June 2014, 9:00pm

Photography Mitchell Sams

The fashion world has been all of a flutter: stories of sex (not really), lies (potentially), intern trafficking (definitely), government intervention, and tumultuous lawsuits, are being whispered at dreamy fashion parties and hash-tagged on Twitter.

"Is there some reason that my coffee isn't here? Has she died or something?" says Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, the film that reminds interns everywhere why they're dreading work on Monday morning. Countless coffee runs, endless returns, sweeping up cat vomit, sweeping up your boss's vomit, working on weekends, working every weekend, and the whiff of exploitation. If these rumoured tales are true, the life of an unpaid intern is a bleak one, but one that's just about to change.

Since the end of last year, HM Revenue and Customs has been clamping down on employers to ensure that all interns are being paid minimum wage, at £6.31 an hour for over 21s, and £5.03 for those over eighteen or £3.72 for under. Showing their support, the BFC said this: "we have been working with HMRC to clarify and communicate the legal situation regarding interns and work experience." So, good news for interns everywhere, payday might just be around the corner. All those who live outside zones 1 & 2, rejoice!

Aside from government intervention, something else is starting to change: (cue Aretha Franklin and the Eurythmics) interns are now "doin' it for themselves". From Intern Aware, the national campaign for fair, paid internships, to Intern Magazine, a new independent publication dedicated to interns and the state of intern culture, young people across the globe are starting to speak up, fight back, and call YOLO, proving that, yes, they may be interns, but no, they're not idiots.

Furthermore, in a tale of David and Goliath, last year saw two lowly interns slap publishing giant Condé Nast with a big fat lawsuit. Sick of being paid less than minimum wage, Lauren Ballinger and Matthew Leib have been following in the fashionable footsteps of Diana Wang (who decided to sue Hearst Magazines in 2012) and standing up for the little guy. However, in light of this, Condé Nast has threatened to end its internship programme and, with that, the dreams of fashion interns everywhere.

There's no doubt about it: internships need to change. Interns should start being paid minimum wage (or at least get expenses which cover travel costs from places further afield) and some clever person needs to invent a professional returns service, so interns don't have to drag huge suitcases around London (because what exactly are you learning by doing this, how to read a map?).

However, as Karl Marx's prophesy of everything solid melting into air becomes more of a reality, what with everything now happening online, there is increasingly less money available for print, and certainly none with which to pay interns. And, while the beauty of having iEverything means that people have free access to a wider range of material, the downside is that online publications don't have money either. So, in theory, paying interns is great, but as Jerry Maguire once said, "show me the money!" 'cos right now, there ain't none.

But this doesn't mean that internships should be banned altogether, especially those at Condé Nast, which publishes Vogue, Vanity Fair, and GQ. Just like no make-up selfies, YouTube videos of cute pets, and Instagramming pictures of goat's cheese and rocket tarts, complaining about internships has become the latest trend. It's therefore increasingly easy to get sucked into existing discourses about interns being slaves and magazines/fashion houses being the worst thing since Marc Jacobs leaving Louis Vuitton, which, in my experience, isn't the case.

Without internships, you can kiss goodbye to gaining critical experience; wave farewell to school credit; bid adieu to making friends, those future stars of fashion; and forget about getting your name in print. Everybody starts out as an intern; most of the i-D team actually begun as interns here. Internships are a rite of passage, and, although it may seem like a cliché, the longer you can stick it out in one, the greater the chance of getting a job by the end of it.

On top of this, as well as being integral to kick-starting your career, internships are crucial for figuring out which careers aren't actually for you. So, if your fashion internships aren't what you expected, maybe it's because you're just not right for fashion. Or, as a very wise friend once said, "if you can't stand the heat girrrrrl, get out the kitchen."



Text Tish Weinstock
Photography Mitchell Sams 

Condé Nast
minimum wage
think piece
devil wears prada