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Tish Weinstock

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I'm an Intern, Not an Idiot

Posted: 28/12/2013 22:58

The intern - he of the worn face and flustered expression, she dragging the oversized suitcase, that strange creature who has been slaving away for fashion, since a time before Tumblr (and doing it for free!) - is on the verge of extinction. The fashion world is all of a flutter; stories of sex (not really), lies (potentially), intern trafficking (definitely), government intervention, and scurrilous 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, returns in the rain, returns in general, scooping up dog poop, scooping up human poop, being called the wrong name, having no name, 24 hour days, seven-day weeks, 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.

Earlier this month, HM Revenue and Customs announced they'd be clamping down on employers to ensure that all interns are being paid minimum wage, at £6.31 an hour for over 21s. 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 One and Two, 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, this 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 are following in the fashionable footsteps of Diana Wang (who decided to sue Hearst Magazines last year) and standing up for the little guy. However, in light of this, Condé Nast has decided 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 heavy suitcases around London (because what exactly are you learning by doing this, how to read a map?). But, 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 i-everything 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. Like Throwback Thursdays, YouTube videos of cute pets, and Instagramming pictures of goat's cheese and rocket tarts, complaining about internships has become the newest 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 pretty much forget about getting your name in print. Everybody starts out as an intern; it's a rite of passage. And, the longer you can stick it out as one, the greater the chance of ultimately getting a job (that is, of course, unless HR swoops in and forces you out before you get one).

On top of this, as well as being integral to kick-starting your career, internships, work experience and Take Yo' Kid To Work Day, 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''.

 

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