The Unpaid Internship

by Amelia Diamond
October 29, 2013
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I found value in mine, but am I the rule or the exception?

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Condé Nast announced last week that they were officially discontinuing their internship program. “The end of the program comes after the publisher was sued this summer by two former interns who claimed they were paid below the minimum wage during internships at W and The New Yorker,” wrote WWD.

The conversation quickly turned into an argument on unpaid fashion internships across all boards. It seems that there are two main camps regarding the topic: those who have had one and felt used, and those who have had one and felt lucky. I’m of the latter.

I had three completely unpaid internships, plus a grueling four months at a publication where I worked long hours for a small stipend. I was completely broke, always tired, had no social life and yet — I wouldn’t trade it. Textbooks can’t teach you experience, and the education I received (yes, even while lugging garment bags across town) was greater than I thought it could be.

I viewed myself as a student and my bosses as teachers. Each person I encountered taught me something. Each anecdote taught me something. You may argue that running garment bags across town is nothing more than acting as a glorified messenger but I’d tell you that it taught me emotional endurance, physical resilience and most importantly, the subway system.

The work wasn’t easy — mindless, sometimes, but never easy — and I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to stab someone. Instead, however, I grinned and beared it. Eventually I was recommended for my first “real” job. Once hired, the long hours didn’t shock me and the low pay didn’t dissuade me — I knew how fashion worked because I had already experienced it and knew I could – and wanted to – handle it.

It’s important to mention that not all fashion internships are beneficial. I am well aware that some companies treat their interns solely as vehicles to get clothes from one shoot to the other. I also know that many can’t afford to live in a city like Manhattan and work five days a week without proper compensation; I’m not arguing for mistreatment of interns and I’m not against them being paid. I’m simply speaking from personal experience, and how I feel about one important element regarding my unpaid internships. It taught me tenacity.

You cannot — and will not — thrive in this industry without tenacity. You may scrape by but you won’t reach the top. It doesn’t matter who your father is or what label shoes you’re wearing.

I had multiple friends who interned during the day and waitressed at night. They were exhausted all the time but determination carried them through. Isn’t this what aspiring actors and hopeful musicians do — spend their days laboring through various workshops and unpaid projects? Everyone’s hoping for his or her big break, and in the mean time, they work the late shift at a local bar, then crash on a friend’s couch in between sublets. My peers who worked and interned had a stronger grip on their dreams than those who didn’t. They were focused, determined, and nothing could shake them loose of the end goal. Tenacity.

Leandra forwarded me a New York Times article this weekend that had me nodding in agreement. It was an essay titled “Slaves of the Internet, Unite.”

The author, Tim Kreider, makes a plea for his fellow artists to stop creating online content for free. He describes (albeit a tad cynically) how those who used be considered artists — writers, musicians, etc. — have now become reduced to “content providers” courtesy of “employing” publications soliciting work where “exposure” is the preferred currency. I found myself championing nearly every word. Then I realized I was contradicting my own argument for the unpaid internship.

Couldn’t it be said that exchanging “experience” for what’s essentially free labor is the same thing? That it’s just as bad to ask a reputable author to write an uncompensated article as it is to expect a broke college student to work without pay?

Perhaps.

But at the same time, the difference between an experienced writer (or editor, stylist, illustrator, etc.) and an intern is just that: experience. One paid their dues and, the other — as of yet — did not.

For me, maybe that’s what this is all about. I feel like I’ve paid my dues. I didn’t come to New York City with a trust fund or connections, but I didn’t let a chip develop on my shoulder, either. Instead I scrubbed the floor with a two-cent toothbrush and the end result was a career.

It’s possible that I’m not the rule, that I’m the exception. When I look around at my fellow peers in the industry today, however, they all share a similar story to mine. We’re of an old school mentality and a dated system — but that doesn’t mean it’s right. So I’m handing the mic over to you now. Share your stories, your thoughts, and your arguments on the unpaid internship.

REPLIES
  • MGF

    I totally understand you, following the teacher/student model. I lived it myself as well for small companies and huge MNCs.
    If we are talking about MR business, or other SME, it can be fine not to be paid, as the company offers an incredible opportunity to learn, discover, create a network and challenge yourself.
    And yet, if we are talking about multi-millionnaire firms, selling 6€-magazines, with dozens of investors receiving dividends, then no, there is no teacher/student model my dear. This is business. Every work deserves a salary. These firms can afford to decently pay come-rain-come-shine interns. To love your job is not synonymous with liking the walls for diner. You provide an incredible job being an intern, probably much more than if you were a full employee (because you re frightened not to be good enough, towards the experienced ones), with full dedication- you deserve a decent wage.

    • imageWIS

      + infinity!

    • Coffee and buttercups

      I have to say I really agree with this! It depends where you intern and I think that multi-millionnaire firms should definitely offer payment to their interns. They also choose their interns and these usually provide very valuable work!

      http://coffeeandbuttercups.blogspot.com/

  • Quinn

    (I want you to know that I really, really, like this article. The delivery of the content just made so much sense to me. I totally agree. )
    I’ve been doing the same unpaid internship at the Canadian equivalent to Bergdorf’s, since grade 9 but the thing is, I’m only a junior. I obviously live at home and I’m in a European history class right now so I can’t really argue about being unpaid. However, this internship showed what I wanted to go into. I got the job because, classic, my mom worked there. I was/am so eager I still intern there even though my birther doesn’t. I got my foot in the door and just like you said, a textbook can teach me about Bismarck’s foreign policy, but it can’t teach me working experience, so I am grateful I got that experience at a younger age.

    • Alex Poirier

      Do you mind me asking what the Canadian equivalent to Bergdorf’s is? All that’s coming to my mind is Holts?

      • Quinn

        DING DING DING WINNER
        (yea Holts)

        • Alex Poirier

          I thought maybe there was some great department store I hadn’t discovered yet! With that said, I do love Holts. My girlfriend and I have had great service and luck finding stuff their. We are about three hours from the Toronto locations and try to make a big shopping trip to them a couple times a year.

          Online shopping is great, but just doesn’t compare a feel for the clothes in person prior to purchasing. Glad to hear people on the inside enjoy their experience working their as much as I have shopping there.

          • Quinn

            Golly Gee! Thanks for the nice words, they will be passed along :)
            Also I totally agree on that online shopping thing, different companies have different fits

    • Rebecca

      Ah yes, the same Holt Renfrew that has done everything in it’s power to stop it’s employees from unionizing? Please, do pass on my warmest kick in the ass to Galen Weston and family. I wouldn’t be so proud to work there…

      • imageWIS

        BTW, Mr. Weston is worth $7.6 billion! And it was his daddy that made the empire, he just inherited it!

        • Quinn

          Simmer down, Rebecca. We’re not here to talk about a family business. Don’t take out your frustrations on a grown man to a 16 year old girl

          • Hallie

            HERE HERE

    • http://chrisario.tumblr.com Chrisario

      During my unpaid internship this past summer at DDB Ad Agency down the street from Holts Bloor (Yonge & Bloor), I would spend my lunch break at Holts Cafe – loved their paninis. The cashier would always mistake me for a Buyer for Holts. It was one of the compliments I was always guaranteed to receive.

      I miss having lunch at Holts.

      • Francesca

        Holt’s Cafe charges upwards of $18.00 for panini, so the only thing I get out of this is that you were obviously more than able to afford being unpaid while still spending more than $20.00 on lunch everyday.

        • http://chrisario.tumblr.com Chrisario

          One of the major perks of interning with an ad agency with big accounts/clients – is free lunch at least once a week! :)

        • Quinn

          My initial comment was about how I have no issue being unpaid because I’m a student in high school that lives with her family. Also, employees get a discount at the cafe so the $20 is now $10. But again, my first comment wasn’t about being unpaid its about the experience it gave me

      • Quinn

        I could live off those paninis. Also there’s that one Asian style salad that is to die for

  • norwegian

    I used to intern on Capitol Hill, one summer unpaid, one summer paid. Those were at least 9 hour days, if not more. When I was a paid intern, I was in the minority. I also interned unpaid in law school, which again is the norm. So basically, the people making and enforcing the laws that these interns are suing under obviously find unpaid internships to be ok. Wouldn’t it make sense that the laws they came up with were meant to reflect that?
    It bothers me that people will take unpaid internships, and then later go in and sue. If they wanted to be paid, they should have looked for paid internships. If that meant they wouldn’t get the internship they wanted, so be it. But it bothers me that all of these interns are now suing, even though they knew what they were getting themselves into when they started. And even worse, they are ruining it for those hardworking people who will do anything to get very valuable experience and get ahead who are willing to take these internships. I learned more about how politics and the legal system really works during my internships than I ever could have in college and law school.

    • Taylor

      Honestly, while I am not pro-lawsuit, it’s going to take lawsuits to change the mentality and even out the playing field. No big corporation is going to be like, “Oh, out of the goodness of our hearts, let’s start paying our free labor.” Sad, but true.

  • http://www.delectablychic.com/ CynthiaC.M.

    I had three unpaid internships, including one that was part of a program I was taking. Since you don’t get paid to go to school (sorry, but that scholarship you have is not a salary. You just have it so you don’t have to pay as much/pay at all to attend class) and an internship for credit is, well, school, you shouldn’t EXPECT a salary like staff would, save for maybe travel expenses and an honorarium at the end. When I had my internship for school, I was expected to write weekly journal entry about my experience and part way through the internship, the prof/advisor would meet with my supervisor to discuss my progress. That’s what an unpaid internship SHOULD be. As for my other internships, I guess they were really filler positions I had between jobs. They weren’t good, nor were they bad, but they did give me more experience in the event planning/PR field, which I was in for a few years.

    • idlywriterly

      I think school-credit internships are entirely different beasts. I’d point to old-fashioned apprenticeships, which weren’t always paid, but often provided (at the very least) room & board. Additionally, these “apprenticeships” differed from internships in that their take-away was more tangible: making a physical product or learning an intricate skill like pharmacology, rather than “how to increase your SEO” or something like that.

    • thebostonista

      When I was in college (and a recent graduate) looking for internships, Conde Nast had a rule that you MUST receive college credit in order to be eligible for their internship program. It had something to do with insurance and the fact that their internships were unpaid. I graduated in 2007 but I can’t imagine that they would have changed that rule.

  • Filipa Leite

    Were I live there are paid and unpaid internships, but most of them end up not teaching you a thing except how to use a copy machine.
    And that’s why I am one of those that say, you want me to be a slave? fine. but you have to pay me, at least enough to pay for my expenses.
    Life is hard for everyone, specialy for a student, with no trust fund or connections. And most of the time those people, who have nothing but love for the industry, are the true troopers who never get the chance to do an internship (and wouldn’t mind running around with clothes and getting editors coffees) but they can’t because it’s impossible to live in a foreign city/country when you work +8 hours a day and at the end of the month you get no money.
    How do you eat? Where do you sleep? How do you pay for subway tickets? How do you pay for your normal expenses?

    I’m one of those that would leave my country for an internship like the one you did, but how could I do it with no money in a city I don’t know, in a place that when I first get there I have no friends, no family, no connections? It’s very very dificult, but that changeswhen the company you’re going to work garantees you a pay check at the end of the month that garantees you that at least you’ll have money to pay for a room to sleep!

    I have made an internship (for a month only) but I was lucky enough to have my father working there as well and I didn’t spend any money, but what I got form that internship? Nothing! Oh wait, I did that people look at an intern as someone to take copies and to do what no one else wants to do (and that’s ok but once I’m there to learn at least teach me how to do it and don’t throw things at me say DO IT!)

  • http://www.fripperyvintage.com/ Frippery Vintage

    I had so many unpaid internships I can’t even remember all of them. I worked in auction houses around the world and there was so much competition for these spots! We were begging to be unpaid. I wouldn’t trade my experiences for anything. The contacts I made were invaluable as well as everything I learned. There was no way these places would have paid any of us we were totally inexperienced yet we did things no one else wanted to do. I think it is a win for everyone. I will encourage my child to do the same thing.

  • Petra

    “Once hired, the long hours didn’t shock me and the low pay didn’t dissuade me.” This is supposed to be a good thing? Are you kidding me? I guess that’s how they reel you in.

  • http://jessjoycej.wordpress.com/ Jessica Joyce

    I’ve always been on the other side of the argument, but I completely agree with you there. But I guess it really comes down to if you really want it or not; you need to love what you’re going after. ProPublica is doing an awesome campaign that’s researching the cost of unpaid internships across journalism schools.
    And in the end, is it still about the millions of other girls who would kill for the job?

    Your Friend, Jess

  • CayC

    You are overlooking a major issue with unpaid internships, which is the class issue that is behind them. College students who don’t have financial backing from their families are at a severe disadvantage, in that most of them don’t have time to have a job in the side (especially in internships in the fashion industry, where the hours can run late) as well as school. I had a few unpaid internships, but not many–I simply couldn’t afford it, particularly when I was arguably learning better people skills from my jobs that actually paid me (I work in the industry now, and the job that actually provided me with the best skill foundation for what I do is the work study job I had at my school).

    The bottom line is that the internship system is broken. It favors students and recent grads who have parents who are in a position to support them and who aren’t buried under crushing student loan debt (because a late-night job a few times a week to pay the rent for a little while is not going to help pay that off). There is a difference between putting in your dues and being taken advantage of. Even doing something so simple as paying a minimum wage would go a long way.

    • Taylor

      Thank you. It is alarming to me that so many people in this thread don’t or won’t see that. My friend once won an unpaid internship at Conde Nast, but was told that she couldn’t work another job because the hours would be too long. She couldn’t take the internship, because she simply couldn’t afford to do it. She was not what you’d consider “poor,” either. She was pretty squarely middle class, but she still couldn’t swing it with the cost of her private college.

      • Rebecca

        Exactly. Poor little rich girls can’t see beyond the ends of their turned-up noses to see the social injustice of the entire thing.

        • imageWIS

          Well if the French revolution has taught us anything, they are the first ones to get guillotined.

      • CayC

        Yup, that was me, too. I turned down one of those holy grail-internships in college, because there was just no way we were going to be able to swing it with the hours. My family is financially stable and middle class, and I still wasn’t able to do it, not with the hours and necessity of having a job on the side/doing well in school. So if someone in my solid, fairly privileged situation couldn’t manage to do it, honestly, how many people actually can?

      • Brie

        Not to mention, even if your family has the money, why would you take it? I never would have taken money from my parents to put me through law school or to provide for me once I graduated and the economy was shit. I rolled burritos and delivered flowers until I got a job. They had the money to give so that I could work an unpaid internship at a firm, but it is my responsibility, not theirs.

      • Meg

        I do think it is harder to take an unpaid internship if you can’t afford not to work but it is possible. I came to NY without help from my folks and had to work a full-time job while interning at Conde Nast but in the end (after 6 months of non stop work without a day off) the internship lead to a job at Conde Nast which I would have never gotten without the internship. As someone who later oversaw interns there, I made sure they got the support they needed to do what it took to make it and worked their internship around their paid jobs and school. Its not easy but it is possible if you really want it.

        We are not are not all trust fund babies, and worked hard to get where we are.

    • http://longleggedlady.com/ Jessi de Bergerac

      Beautifully put.

      The work interns have been doing will still exist, and Condé Nast will have to pay someone to do it. Now, the competition for those positions will include all the people who previously couldn’t afford to try. Personally, I can’t wait to see what kind of talent we’ve been missing.

      • CayC

        That’s a really good point. Conde’s abrupt response to all of this interests me, because it makes me think that they realized that they were going to run up against that tricky law where it is illegal to have unpaid laborers (which, at the end of the day, is what an internship is) doing work that you would otherwise pay someone to do.

        There’s also just the basic fact that you get better work out of the people that you fairly compensate.

      • Guest

        OR Conde Nast will divide those responsibilities among its current employees. If they didn’t want to pay interns and they were getting that work done for free before, you really think they are going to create several well-paying positions and therefore opportunities for people you “previously couldn’t afford to try”?

    • imageWIS

      Yup. I know tons of kids from Long Island and Westchester that are living ‘the life’ in NYC in unpaid internships because daddy is paying the bills, and then they go and get good to great jobs because they had the means to go out and make the right contacts. Most of those kids are self-entitled brats who wouldn’t comprehend the real world if you dropped them into the Congo with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

      It’s utter and complete BS and it’s only getting worse.

    • Anna

      AMEN. Let’s talk about structural inequalities and make it a central part of the conversation about internship culture (instead of a minor, anecdotal part).

  • Poplar

    I find this argument to be a bit of a waste of time. I agree with another commenter that if you want a paid internship, then don’t take the unpaid one. If you think you are too “good” or have proved yourself enough to get a salary, then only apply for internships that you know will pay. Plenty of people support themselves during an unpaid position with part time jobs and if all you’re missing out on is the party scene, you will get no sympathy here. Unpaid internships offer people with no experience in a certain field a chance to try it out. I have had several unpaid internships, zero paid ones and my final internship position earned me the job I have now. Through those internships I learned that I did not want to go into one industry and that I did want to learn more about another. Yes, I got coffee and rearranged magazine archive closets, but I also built a portfolio and a resume that earned me more and more responsibility. Having to work hard to reach a goal makes you better at maintaining it when you get there. I now supervise an unpaid intern and yes, he makes copies, records media mentions and stuffs press kits, but he also has the opportunity to build connections and gain invaluable experience. Perhaps non-profits are another subject all together, but many of them would crumble without unpaid interns. I can vouch for my organization that we definitely enact the teacher-student model. The internship market should be a free market one-if you treat them poorly and they don’t get anything out of it, you won’t attract new ones. If the experience you give your interns lands them a job, you will be able to recruit more motivated individuals who wish to follow that same path. I would take an unpaid internship position that benefits me in the long run over a paid one any day.

    • imageWIS

      “If you think you are too “good” or have proved yourself enough to get a salary, then only apply for internships that you know will pay.”

      Utter and complete nonsense This isn’t charity and it isn’t volunteering If you work, you get paid, period. Do you work for free? No? Then why should someone else?!?

      • Poplar

        No it’s not charity but it is sometimes very very close to volunteering… And that’s not always a bad thing. Like I said, it can offer you a chance to break into an industry. I worked at an unpaid internship at 19 at a magazine – I had literally no related experience, had only ever worked as a lifeguard and a waitress, but really wanted to get into that field. At that time I wouldn’t have paid me! I didn’t have much to give to the company besides my time and dedication, no experience. So yes, imageWIS, I did work for free, and I got a lot out of it!

    • Kate

      In theory the internship market as a free market should work. The internships that use students as errand boys and do not result in the connections, experience, and resume boost needed to get a paid position – even an entry level one – should get fewer and lower quality applicants. However, because the current labour market has an imbalance of educated young people entering the labour force versus the available positions, this does not occur. Instead companies are able to take advantage of interns in a way that they did not used to be able to because of the competition for even the more menial internships.

      The old model no longer works because the market has changed dramatically. Internships used to be a way for anyone to gain the connections necessary to enter a competitive industry regardless of their background. Today, the fact is that the financial barriers for most simply can’t be ignored. Though I do think it’s important to point out that the location of the internship makes a big difference. There are many cities in which someone could support themselves on part-time work, but I don’t believe New York is one of them.

      • Brie

        A great point.

    • marie a

      Besides ignoring huge class issues, you are also assuming that all these internships lead to paid jobs in the industry as long as you work hard. With how common unpaid internships now, and the way companies use them for free labor, this is no longer the case.

  • Dot

    Such an interesting topic for me right now. I run a start-up fashion label and am thinking about seeking out an unpaid intern or two… I am wrestling with the moral dilemma’s this confronts me with, and also the legal ones.

    Personally, I shunned any unpaid work (but I came to the industry later in my twenties when financial responsibility and family had already set in) so why should I expect others to do the same?

    I’m hoping I can come up with a strong enough program that will give interns as much relevant experience as it will give my business a boost… And who knows, if we all do a good job then maybe in a year I WILL be able to pay!

    • imageWIS

      I’m going to be a bit shameless, but do you need any marketing / social media or web / ecommerce help? I do consulting and specialize in the fashion world. =)

      • Guest

        but not for free….

        “Utter and complete nonsense This isn’t charity and it isn’t volunteering If you work, you get paid, period. Do you work for free? No? Then why should someone else?!?”

  • Hannah

    I had an unpaid internship in college but it was part-time because I coudn’t afford to intern full time (I had to have a paying job as well). I will say that my peers whose parents paid for everything were at an advantage because they could afford to intern full-time and were able to work their way up to being full-time employees at the companies they interned for. I did not have that luxury. So I agree with CayC that the system is broken. Not to mention tuition at most schools has tripled since I was in college, so how in the world are people supposed to pay for school, work for free, and not live on the streets?

  • Amatoria Clothing

    Does this just go back to that article about Millenials being “entitled”?
    If you take an unpaid internship, you are signing up to work hard in exchange for that exposure and connections to get you a job later on. You are not a slave. It is your choice to do this.

    • CayC

      What you are showing here is your sense of entitlement. There are plenty of millennials who simply cannot afford to take an unpaid internships, particularly if they are students.

      Moreover, no, unpaid interns aren’t slaves. They can leave, in theory, in that they can walk out the door and not com,e back. But leaving an internship early, first of all, burns bridges, which is dangerous to do in an industry that is as small as fashion. And second, we’ve created a job market where an “entry level position” requires two years of experience. If you want a decent job out of school, you HAVE to have some sort of internship experience. So no, they’re not enslaved. But they are, in a lot of ways, trapped.

      • Amatoria Clothing

        I am entitled to my right to make choices. I did not have the luxury of having everything paid for by my parents, and I did not have the luxury of taking an unpaid internship. I could not afford to work in exchange for only work experience and connections.
        I found a real job to pay my bills and get experience in merchandising and management. You are right that people who have rich parents have an obvious advantage to get into the industry, but this also applies to most things. And if someone takes on an unpaid internship, they should either be in a position where they don’t need that income, or be willing to work twice as hard the way Amelia described. I believe these struggles actually make you stronger and more prepared for the real world.
        Ideally, it would be lovely for these internships to be paid, but that is up to the market. If there are people willing to work for free, there is no reason for these companies to pay (other than their own beliefs). If more people decide that this is not fair, and stop applying for these positions, there will be shortage of interns, and they will need to start paying.

        • CayC

          That’s not the way the United States works, though. In a theoretically perfect world, yes, that would happen–unpaid internships would become a thing of the past because no one wants them. But the only way that sweeping change is going to happen here is if there is a change in the law/they actually start enforcing the law about unpaid laborers not being allowed to do the same work that paid laborers do. We aren’t a pure free market, and you are conflating the concept of paying your dues, which is a very real and necessary thing, with situations where powerless unpaid workers are being taken advantage of.

          • Amatoria Clothing

            The feminist in me cannot agree with the idea of us being “powerless”. However, I see your point that many students are taking internships in which they are not getting enough real-world experience to be worth the sacrifice. Maybe the answer would be to have internship only be allowed if part of a school program. This could help ensure that the intern is actually learning something, rather than just running errands.
            I just worked with an intern this summer, and although she did not have any “requirements” from her school, we all made sure that we were actually showing her real-life skills and answering her questions. I feel that potential interns should do their research before entering into these situations to make sure that the company they are considering actually provides growth opportunities.

    • imageWIS

      You get paid to work? So should everyone else!

      • Amatoria Clothing

        I do get paid to work. I worked hard to get a full scholarship to college and worked full time while in school to pay for all my bills. I am not applauding the idea of an unpaid internship, but the act of accepting such a position is a choice. I would not have had the luxury of doing something like that, so I didn’t. If someone makes the choice to take that, they are accepting to work in exchange for the benefits of that experience. If that is not enough of a reward for the work, then they should find other options.

  • Sydney

    I would disagree with your premise as to how the camps divide over this issue: I don’t think it is about feeling used or feeling as though you benefitted. It’s about fatalism and optimism: ‘this is how it is’ vs ‘how it is’ is wrong and we can do something about it. As a wage equality advocate, I would never claim that your experiences as an intern were not valuable or enriching – I would argue, however, that it would have been just as enriching, if not more, if you had been given a living wage. Even minimum wage (which is not, of course, a living wage). How would getting paid adequately have detracted from your experience? By annihilating the position? The work will need to be done, and if people refuse to do it for free companies will eventually buck up and pay someone to do. As they should. Multi-million dollar companies can afford to pay you minimum wage.
    I furthermore think it puts unfair restrictions on individuals who literally cannot afford to go under- or unpaid (think single mothers, students, anyone with debt). It is keeping these opportunities in the hands of certain people, people who can live at home with their parents, people who don’t have dependants. It’s wage exploitation, pure and simple.

    • Anne V

      Excactly! Do people really think that they wouldn’t have learned as much if they’d been paid for the work they did? Or that, if the companies didn’t have any unpaid interns, they would just manage without copies and coffee and transportation of garment bags? Of course not; they would have a paid employee do the job!

  • Taylor Fuller

    I have had a number of internships, some very good and others not good at all. One particiular internship at a fashion house that is amazing (and I still pinch myself that I worked there), treated me as if I was a messenger for most of my internship. I was the coffee girl and that was pretty much it. While I look at that internship with complete disdain, I had the opportunity to work market week and that ended up being very rewarding for me.

    Another internship that I did while at school in Baltimore was incredible. It was at a magazine and it was just me and the editor in the style section. I did EVERYTHING. I did stuff that she did and went above and beyond that. I got to choose items that would be shot for the magazine, I helped style shoots and I was even published in multiple issues…

    It’s all about your attitude and the people who you are working with. I was very fortunate that in my later internship, the editor wanted me to learn. She wanted me to understand the business side as well as all of the stuff it takes to get an issue published.

    My issue is with people not giving credit to someone for working a job that may not be in the industry that they want. I have always wanted to work in fashion and write and my current job is the complete opposite. I spend my days on excel and write when I get home at night, but that doesn’t seem to matter to those interviewing me for a job that I really want.

  • Hailey Xue

    Everything you said – tenacity, resilience, experience – is not mutually exclusive with getting paid for the efforts. There’s simply a difference between overachieving and letting people take your efforts for granted.

  • c

    I think all of this depends on who you intern with.
    I work in the industry, and I got started interning in several fashion house.
    It never bothered me that I wasn’t payed, as that was the deal to begin with.
    What bothered me was the junior executive assistant who talked to me like I was some half-witted appliance, because she was on payroll and I wasn’t.

    Conde Nast has a serious bad reputation for treating their interns like shit… Maybe they should start looking into educating their editors on how to talk to act with some sort of respect to their intern…

    It isn’t a surprise that the uprise happens in the bichiest industry of all…

  • Life Sucks In A Strapless Bra

    I preached the same thing on my blog. I would be nothing without my unpaid editorial internships at fashion mags. http://lifesucksinastraplessbra.com/2013/10/25/got-crushed-conde-dreams/

  • Taylor

    I hope you didn’t have to “grin and bare it.” Freudian slip? Ha.

    I paid for my own college, so I couldn’t have done an unpaid internship. I do think it’s a big disadvantage for those who are not well off to have to work unpaid, even for experience.

    I’m many years out of college now, and if I owned a company, I’d never ask someone to work for free. At least give minimum wage!

    • Amelia Diamond

      Freudian slip! I bared my teeth when I grinned? (Just caught that too though, thank you.)

      Minimum wage, at the end of the day, is going to be the best solution.

  • Megan Corletto

    Finally someone agrees with me. I’m 20, a junior, and studying Journalism but wanting to go into fashion. I had an unpaid fashion PR internship earlier this year and yes, the work was tedious but I was learning and making connections. When I talked to my major advisor about my internship she informed me that it was actually illegal in the state of California to have an unpaid internship and that I could potentially press charges. I didn’t want to get them in trouble though, they were giving me and opportunity to learn and honestly since they were such a new and small firm, they probably didn’t know. I really don’t mind having an unpaid internship as long as I’m learning, networking and getting myself out there. Fashion internships in San Diego are pretty much non-exsistant, so I’ll take what I can get, paid or not.

  • Jill A.

    I think that you should probably proof read your posts before you go on a rant about how you are so experienced.

    • Leandra Medine

      Hey Jill! I don’t think her point was to rant about being super experienced so much as it was to convey a point about culling experience – any experience – from the internships.

  • Steffi Gtl

    Condé Nast is a company that makes billions of dollars. I never minded not getting any money during my internships when i was with small businesses or NGOs. But this is simply hypocrisy. I’d be very very careful to generalize personal experience as well (not only because of survivor bias): anecdotes are not evidence. How you feel is not evidence. The fact is that there is very strong evidence showing that social mobility has been declining for years and I am sick and tired of being told that all those people are not trying hard enough.

  • http://rivercitychic.com/ Alicia Chew

    I did two unpaid internships in NYC and I feel kind of torn. While I did learn a bit, at my first “big name” internship, I wasn’t even allowed to sit in on any meetings or really get a good insight of what my boss does from day to day — which is what I was hoping to gain. My family was (barely) able to handle me living in New York, unpaid, and supporting all of my finances, but I know there are tons of people who simply can’t afford that luxury and a lot of unpaid internships unfairly go toward people who come from upper middle class + up families.

  • Rebecca

    I am totally against unpaid internships that are NOT a formal part of an educational program. If you’re hosting students through a recognized educational institution and making sure that the work benefits them (not the company) and that it is part of a course for credit, fine. I myself worked for several months for free as part of training for my career, but it was overseen by my school and done for credit. But most internships don’t fit this mould; they are basically a type of slave labour that only the independently wealthy and privileged (read upper-middle class and rich white kids) can access. So not only do they take advantage of free labour (with little or no rights for the worker), but they keep entry positions to prestigious media companies, financial institutions and the fashion industry closed off to anyone who doesn’t “belong.” Anyone who says they benefited from one of these internships is clearly coming from a position of privilege and doesn’t recognize what unfair practice this is. Also, as Amelia points out, internships becoming the “norm” makes other industries (like the arts) think that they can ask artists, writers, web designers and other creative types to work for free. NOT COOL. There is a shit ton of money in this economy…most of it sitting in the offshore accounts of the top one per cent of earners. Why the hell would anyone support exploitative labour practices that keep young, talented workers unnecessarily poor? The whole thing just reeks of social injustice. Fuck that shit.

    • Jessica

      PREACH

  • diane

    As an experienced (read: older) magazine editor, I see this issue from two diametrically opposed vantages. Over the course of 15 years, I ran an internship program at two different magazines wherein college credit was awarded to candidates instead of a financial stipend. The best interns were those who never balked when asked to perform a task that helped the editorial team; they were most likely to get hired (and a good recommendation from me) afterward, especially when compared to those who were there only to get a byline and usually bristled at doing “menial” work. On the other hand, after two decades in the business, I am now often offered internet “exposure” instead of compensation when pitching a freelance article.

    • truthHurts

      Karma’s a bitch, isn’t it

  • Nikita Prosser

    Im all for the unpaid internship. Look where it got the lovely ladies of Man repeller, Along with their hard work and dedication. Some of the greatest things in life are earned through hard work. That being said, I just wanna know how you fed yourself, clothed(in the top trends no less) and afford a place to sleep, also subway tickets? Probbaly from saving while in highschool and during college because they knew that it was likely to go into an unpaid internship. If thats not that casE? HOW? ramen noodles everyday? :) xox

  • Ching Llera Vilar

    I was paid very little. I experienced famine. But I guess, what made me decide to leave was not the money but the creative and artistic difference. I can’t work on something (for free) which I don’t enjoy or like. The moment I felt the urge of tenacity was gone, I let go.

  • Chicspace/Marguerite

    My hope is that unpaid internships become paid internships. Period. The work has to get done, and people should be paid to do it.

    I did an internship in publishing and was paid (slightly above minimum wage, if I recall; this was Boston), and cannot understand why fashion does not pay their interns except that too many girls beg to do the work, so they can get away without paying (supply and demand, after all). I get unpaid internships if it’s a startup zine. Vogue? Seriously?

    I work in engineering now and there is no way in hell that anyone would do an unpaid internship (even if you get to work on rovers and land on Mars, which may be the engineering equivalent of Vogue).

    • Chicspace/Marguerite

      Replying to myself: everyone arguing for unpaid internships, would your arguments for their value change if they were paid? Would they be of less value? (Again, my assumption is that the work in the future will be paid, as it needs to get done no matter what; internships just allow shorter work stints and more people to get through the program than normal employees.)

  • fashion genius

    If you look at the industry it’s not just interns who work for free. All the fashion companies do a whole a lot of work for free for fame and exposure. The difference is the pros also have compensated work, while interns don’t.

  • imageWIS

    In other countries, like England, they have paid apprenticeship programs that unlike internships actually have you learning meaningful things, NOT schlepping bags around. Your boss works and gets paid, why shouldn’t you get paid for working?!?

  • NinjaCate

    The problem with unpaid internships isn’t that they don’t provide valuable internships, it’s that they’re exclusionary by nature. The existing structure only reinforces the wealthy/white status quo. Most people simply cannot afford to work without pay. And yes, you could work at night, but that presupposes you could find a job with flexible hours. Not to mention the physical toll that working that hard can take.

    Frankly, there’s no good reason NOT to pay interns. If they work they do has value to a company, then they deserve to be paid. It’s really that simple. Not to mention the case the other day where an unpaid intern had no recourse after being sexually harassed by her supervisor because only paid employees were protected under NY’s sexual harassment laws.

    Internships are about paying dues and doing the work, but they’re also about people, and unpaid internships do nothing to help/support or protect the people who do them. That’s a problem.

  • idlywriterly

    Here’s the point with which I disagree: the idea that it was necessary to gain this “experience” without earning a wage at the same time. Why are menial tasks like lugging garment bags less “important” or worthy of compensation than writing an editorial? I’d argue that, while they might deserve different hourly fees or yearly salaries, they both merit some form of payment. Internships, in my experience, are often trial processes for potential hires, and I don’t find that fair — as a company, you shouldn’t have the luxury of half-assing your commitments to people. Hire them or don’t, but don’t make them pack mules until you’ve made your decision.

  • JMO

    For me, an unpaid internship after I had graduated was the ONLY option for getting my foot in the door without family connections or a previous internship for college credit (basically me, paying them, to work for free) and I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity. I would even consider it again if it meant I could show my worth to a company i aspire to be a part of. It makes me sad this option is no long out there for those of us who would not abuse the system by filing lawsuits. I think simply setting limits and understanding the agreement of an unpaid internship should be a workable compromise.

  • J

    I love MR, but was disheartened to learn that she does not pay her assistant…when she clearly has the financial means to do so. On another note, I was offered a position at Hearst Magazines as an intern but was turned off by their cascading waterfall entrance and fancy shmancy elevators. Clearly, they have the financial means to pay interns…they just choose not to.

    • Charlotte Fassler

      Hi J! I did work for Leandra as an intern for a year while I was still a student and received financial backing through an awarded internship grant from my school. Leandra was incredibly understanding and encouraging about the fact that I was in school full time and my schedule was determined based on that. Immediately upon graduating I was hired as a full-time employee and have been working here since so it is definitely a bit of a unique situation as far as internships go.

  • Kim P.

    I try to give money no respect, but I do believe it affords certain comforts and access. Personally, I think it is a bit unfair to offer no compensation at all to those who intern- whether it’s a paycheck, stipend, or boarding coverage. It limits the access of many people (although there are other avenues to receiving money for unpaid internships), and in a way, it’s almost devaluing for both parties. Obviously by not being paid, you feel as if you are at the mercy of the corporation. But also, if you (the corporation) value the choice you’ve made for me to fulfill duties as an intern, I mean you obviously chose me out of a sea (or few) candidates, didn’t I have to pass some qualifications? Doesn’t that then make me some form of an asset and not just a desperate needy intern?

    Again, money is neither here nor there for me. I could care less. I understand I need it to live a certain life of comfort, but it in no way is my main motivator or de-motivator. That is a choice I have made no matter how thirsty my bank account may get. Until I reach a certain level of success, I can’t really be a prostitute of my talents. In the early walk of our career, we must give, give give in order to receive #bible.

    So I get it, tenacity. That’s important. And it often sets the real apart from the fake, real quick. It’s important, but I don’t believe money is wholly tied to that in the way these corporations may believe.

    Great post. Man Repeller- always so relevant!

    –kim

  • http://www.downtownhautefashion.blogspot.com/ Leslie

    I did one internship while in school and felt more like a personal assistant than anything. I’m sure it’s all different depending on the company/employer but in my experience I felt a bit used and completely underpaid.

  • http://www.stylefile.in/ Dayle Pereira

    I enjoyed the article. No matter how glamourous a magazine is on the outside, the work on the inside isn’t quite it, especially for an intern. I remember my internship at Elle had a minimum stipend for my travel and such and yes, I had my tasks where I had to deliver presentations etc. but I will never forget it. It was a lifetime’s worth of experience, knowledge and memories which was so enriching :)

    http://www.stylefile.in

  • Allegra

    I’ve interned at a huge publisher here in Germany and they did pay something but still not enough to come up for a rent or something to bite… I must say I was lucky as my parents did support me financially but the thing is I didn’t have any connections, I guess it was pure coincidence that they chose me as an intern as I was still at the very beginning of my studies, so I also felt lucky being able to work my ass off for something I dreamed of ever since I can remember- and I would. I would work hard and be nice, put on a smile if they demand to re-organize magazines according to year and month (2004-2013) or tons of maps of inspiring editorials according to seasons of the year, to copy stuff, to run up and down, down and up to get everything right, to make a fool out of myself, if you will. And even though I sometimes felt that way, I kept on, always with a smile on my face, of course. And yes, of course some tasks were mindless, just as you said, and of course, there always are those who do work AND intern which must be highly honored but there are also those who “know someone who knows…” and take things for granted, don’t care, don’t (have to) try hard – and I think that’s the point at the end of the day: it’s not about generations and mentality gaps, it’s about seizing the opportunity because it may be the one in a lifetime! It’s about investing to being able to win! The costs for training (incidental and direct) differ though from individual to individual – an easy economic equation, if you will… but that’s just my story or rather the way I see things

  • marie a

    I believe in paying dues and gaining experience, but I don’t know why you can’t at least get paid minimum wage for it? I know you say that you didn’t come to NYC with a trust fund or connections, but the reality is, working an unpaid internship would be completely impractical and borderline impossible for a lot of people. And it goes back to our discussion on Lena Dunham- I don’t believe that any of her talent is owing to her parents position (I think she is genius), but the fact is, a lot of her success probably is. It is the same with the fashion industry- there are thousands of extremely talented and hardworking people who would be brilliant in the industry. Yet their position makes unpaid internships a dream.
    It seems like this post is very much about the American dream and “hoorah capitalism”- but the reality is, this only works at rewarding the most hard-working people if the people begin at equal advantage. While I completely agree that we shouldn’t be handing out jobs to people who don’t work hard or who aren’t willing to pay their dues, I don’t see any reason why we should be promoting unpaid work. I believe that you had a great experience yourself, but your experience is not accessible to a lot of people and so I would say you are definitely an exception.

    • marie a

      I would also suggest that maybe the reason you find a lot of your peers have the same story as you, is because it is those who could truly afford an unpaid internship who have “made it” in the industry. I’m bet there are plenty of talented and hardworking people who are not your peers because of financial reasons, rather than a reflection of their merit.

  • lefukaka

    DO NOT GET ME STARTED!!! I was in bumble-fk upstate ny with my ex in-laws when I spotted this baby and my heart skipped a beat. I may or may not have had a heart attack at the perfectly cropped, hand beaded, wear over anything masterpiece. It has no label and my incredible ex father-in-law was able to finagle it down to $15. Needless to say, it lasted longer than the marriage and it is my ALL time instant go to piece.

    • lefukaka

      I just posted this on the completely wrong page, I was getting to this story later today… I will try again.

  • misswhitney

    At first, I was one of the many who felt frustrated and aggravated by the internship-machine. Having completed five, I gained invaluable experience, learned what I liked, disliked and was passionate enough about to make a career in a niche that was fitting and not a haphazard “well I guess I’ll just do this now” choice. With that being said, I do believe there is a point to those who are angry about being “used” — but I would disagree and say that not all unpaid interns are used, but instead the issue may lie in the changing status quo: that a couple internships no longer pass for “enough” experience. An entry-level job today is asking for 2-3 years of experience at times (I’ve seen more than I can tell you…), meanwhile some also request that those who apply cannot count their internships as experience at all. So where does that leave the energized graduates with ideas and a desire to contribute hours of work and potential insight? My guess from personal experience: A bit beat-down, tired of work legitimately done (and not appreciated at times) as well as confused about what the marketplace and employers really want. Granted, there are employers who abuse the system and take advantage of interns, but I would argue that we have lost the stepping stone from internship to entry level job… it may still be there, but it’s not as easy to achieve anymore given that everyone is clawing for a spot in a very crowded club.

  • Aubrey Green

    Isn’t it called a “labor law” for a reason? – the law isn’t defined by
    what you call the workers, be it interns, or copy girls, etc.

    I think interns should be paid; minimum wage at the very least. Regardless if you are getting paid or not, you are still getting the experience you want/need. Your experience has no relevance of whether or not you were paid, except for the fact that you might hate the people you are working with,or the company/boss for not paying you for all of your hard work. You take away what you CHOOSE to take away from an internship, paid or not. There are so many companies who take advantage of those that can and are willing to do an unpaid internship, including not having parking paid for, which then is an expense for the unpaid intern, as well as working through lunch, often times getting treated like dirt.

    I don’t think the two people who sued were right in the sense that they knew they were taking unpaid internships, but it does take someone to speak up to change something that is wrong. I think this gives more opportunity to everyone, they won’t hire for free, ie: unpaid interns, but they can still hire part-time assistants at minimum wage – which doesn’t that benefit those who would still do an unpaid internship, they are just now a hired employee with pay, which ultimately also looks better on your resume. If the concern is that they won’t hire anyone who doesn’t have experience, well they may have a hard time hiring someone with experience who is willing to work part-time for minimum wage, not very likely to happen.

    So, now they know how we feel for working for free…

  • Ja’mie

    Interesting article. I agree with the article to the extent that internships can pay off, but I feel as though it is often passively accepted as a necessary evil. It seems the only way to climb to the top is to suffer as an unpaid intern first, when it doesn’t have to be that way. I always feel if there isn’t pay, some sort of education or valuable skill set must be taught, but when that isn’t part of the contract either (which is usually the case), then interns are essentially young people who wait, loiter, and hang around till they are summoned for a task. In essence, their time is evidently considered disposable and for free use for the company’s benefit, but at our expense. We shouldn’t settle, nor accept the notion that this is the only way to climb the ladder because the fashion industry is designed to exploit, so others may succeed. It’s like the sorority everyone wants to join, but one must endure the hazing before being accepted first. I don’t get it, is that the only way to test tenacity and dedication?

    • mgk

      best comment yet.

    • Amelia Diamond

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment Ja’mie, and thank you for your use of the apostrophe because I love Summer Heights High.

      “Enduring hazing” as you called it, is not the only way to test tenacity and dedication. Not at all. But for me, after multiple unpaid/low pay internships and long, hard hours, I learned that I STILL wanted to be part of this industry and was essentially willing to do whatever it took. Maybe if I’d had examples of people before me who fought for pay, I would have questioned some of my experiences. It’s great, in that regard, that the conversation is being started to hopefully better things for the future.

      I also understand your point that some internships (paid or unpaid) offer no real education, and that’s a shame. A more recent commenter offered advice to always ask questions in the interview process to make sure you know what you’re getting into. When I had my interview at Condé Nast, I understood I was doing this for school credit, that I would receive a stipend to essentially cover lunch, and at the same time I believed I would receive a fantastic education in addition to a huge network of contacts. I also knew, without anyone having to tell me, that it would be a world of opportunity. (Getting my name in the Condé Nast system as intern meant that to this day I am still approached by their HR department for jobs.)

      But as I said in the post — this is my story, and unfortunately there are many out there who felt differently.

      In the end, after reading everyone’s comments, I really believe that perhaps what needs to change is the overall treatment of interns in general: setting up a more structured, educational intern program, making sure students can receive school credit, etc.

      • Stephanie

        Amelia,

        I understand your point, that with the hard intern labor comes tenacity, but I’m wondering…would you have valued the experience less had you been paid $8/hour? You would still have performed the same difficult tasks, been eager to please your superiors in the hopes of a good recommendation or job referral, and learned a great amount about the fashion industry. The take away would have been the same, no?

        The fact that our society has accepted unpaid internships as the norm simply perpetuates the disparity between the haves and the have-nots. Those who can’t afford to work for free are forced to take jobs outside of their fields of choice, or work two jobs. There is no way that a person can give 100% to an unpaid internship, a side-job job, and their coursework. Something has to suffer. Similar to Tim Krieder’s point, the unpaid system is only continuing because we allow it to. Just like the girls who spread their legs for anyone who buys them dinner – we set our own worth. If all of us demanded to be paid, and if every girl demanded to be treated to respect, we would be. Plain and simple.

        Steph

  • Guest

    Does anyone feel like Conde is just dong this as a big f— you to
    the world? here is my (questionable) perspective: Conde Nast provid(ed) a
    coveted experience and internship program for young adults. a couple
    kids sue them and it’s almost like, “Well World, this is what you get!
    how do you feel NOW? These are the consequences. Because we think you
    should be more disappointed in these kids, than us…and now we’ve come
    to the conclusion that we can go without all of these little
    twenty-somethings. #bye”

    I understand that this move saves CN from future legal litigation. STILL…thoughts?

    • http://stylecontext.com/ Style Context

      I interpreted it the same way.

  • Courtney Cartier

    I really loved this article Amelia. I live in a smaller city where internships in fashion and journalism is harder to come by. When I was laid off last year (come to think of it, it will be a year in a few days. cheers!) I applied to similar full time jobs with no luck. I realized this was my chance to do what I wanted to do, not just get a boring desk job for a good paycheck. My lay off was a blessing in disguise. I got a 6 month internship with a online fashion site where I was surrounded by high end labels (heaven basically). After that I reached out to a mutual acquaintance and now I am a buyer at a high end consignment boutique in the area. I am much happier than i’ve ever been. I get paid so much less than I did at my old job, but the pleasure I get going into work every day, and the connections I’ve made, make it so much more worth it. SOmetimes you just have to trust your gut and do what you want. Trust me, those unpaid internships will work out in the end.

    -Courtney
    http://www.415bond.blogspot.com

  • terri

    Floods of old memories just came crashing back into my head while reading this post. I remember those days of crying when I used to intern for free in the morning and waitress at night, wondering when these gruesome days will ever end and when I can have a full day to myself doing absolutely nothing.

  • http://www.hautechildinthecity.com/ Chelsea

    I don’t work in the fashion industry, but I feel that the argument crosses into other industries. The success I have had in my career is a result of hard work, blood, sweat, and tears; time spent in jobs where i wasn’t earning much of a paycheck but was earning my stripes and gaining experience. I am not advocating that people stay in positions where they are not gaining experience (and not to completely feed into the nay-saying of the current generation) but I feel like this latest generation is lacking that desire to put in the work, for pay or no pay.

  • Caroline

    Thank you so much for this. As a 17 year old who will be looking for my first internship in the near future, it’s really great to hear all the discussion, but also nice to hear it from someone who has gone through the process and been successful without a trust fund or connections. The thing that worries me the most about interning is being able to afford working for free. While Conde’s ban on internships is definitely alarming at first glance, hopefully it means there will be more paid opportunities in the future.

    http://itsraininglavender.blogspot.com/

  • Kathryn M.

    Great article! Though my story takes place in a much different setting and through a much different career path, I opted for an unpaid internship in the field that I thought I wanted my eventual career to be in (even though paid is rarely an option in my field.) I actually had to pay around five dollars a day in tolls and used to joke that I “paid to go and work for free.”

    That being said, I loved every minute of it, so much that they let me hang around for a second semester. The amount of knowledge and experience that I gained from being around my soon-to-be mentors cannot be traded. I graduated college in 2010 and ended up landing my dream job with them last year. As perspective, the application process is usually something of a four to six year process.

    When it comes down to it, it’s definitely “paying off.” Pun intended.

  • Dani

    I interned over the summer for a Toronto fashion magazine, I wasn’t paid, I had to come in 5 days a week for 6 hours a day… some days I had to stay longer… I didn’t get any experience, I was ignored and I didn’t so much as get a thank you.

    • Dani

      PS Writing for their stupid blog that obviously needed a facelift, but they didn’t think it was worth spending money on… then they call themselves #1. Sue ME, I’m bitter

  • The Street Styler

    Wholeheartedly agree.

    Re: The Unpaid Internship – http://www.thestreet-styler.com/2013/10/re-unpaid-internship.html

    x

  • carla blixt

    I guess this is just how it is… The fashion industry may look glamourous and sparkly from the outside, but to get in, you have to do the dirty jobs – and without getting paid. but is that true? i guess the experience is your pay… but still. you have to eat. and you have to live somewhere. not the finest apartment. not the best food. but something. And I feel really bad about that. it is slavery with a sophisticated name “intern”.

    But i guess thats the name of the game. I’m already exhausted, if this is the only way in. I want to get in somehow, but I don’t think internships are the ONLY way in to the fashion industry. You have to be a little creative, and also a little cocky to get in the window instead of the front door…

  • JAKSPAPER

    Jeez, the poor students.. I did a unpaid internship with a Fashion Magazine in Norway for 4 months, I even paid for the trips doing their shit. Yes I wanted to punch their faces, but you can’t start on top, you have to make your way there. And its hard work, can’t believe this is news to someone at all.. I guess they weren’t forced to take the internship at Conde Nast, they knew what it would be like, or not.. Either way, they should be BLOODY GRATEFUL to begin with to get the internship there.

  • Bo

    You most definitely aren’t the exception.I think that becoming more experienced is the main point of internships and what people learn while interning is essential.However I believe sometimes doing really harsh tasks all day long without being paid can demotivate interns.

  • http://twinsoulmusings.tumblr.com/ Stephanie

    I can relate! I’ve had two unpaid internships while living and studying in New York City. I, too, didn’t come to New York City with any street cred or connections but left with a Bachelor’s degree, knowledge of where to be seen and hang out, and two amazing internships under my belt. Though my dreams of interning at a magazine for school credit was crushed, I’ve had opportunities to work for Vagabondnyc.com and Pamela Love Jewelry.

    It was hard giving my time and energy into something I wasn’t even getting paid for, yet alone school credit for. But the industry insight I’ve gained and the quality of professionalism I was able to learn was priceless. Of course, I was mad at certain times because I felt like I had been a great help but wasn’t getting recognized for it. But as time past and I started to do my own thing, I realized that I learned so much from them.

    Not a lot people can say that they’ve spent two days a week at the studio of Pamela Love delivering jewelry or was two inches away from industry experts like Andrea Perini and Naveed Hussain AND was gifted a pair of shorts by Alexander Wang. Not a lot. So unpaid internships are exactly that – experience. It’s a take it or leave it deal. I’m so glad I stuck with it while I could. This post was great, Leandra! Btw, I hate clogs but love love love harem pants.

  • Lilli

    I would give my right leg to be working anywhere in the fashion industry right now. I want the experience, i want to be working my ass off, i want to almost cry at every minute while knowing that I’m learning how to cope with where I want to evenutally be. However right now I’m eating plain corn chips for the third night in a row for dinner all because i cut down on shifts at work to fit in my UNPAID internship. I love it so much but I honestly feel like I can’t make ends meet.

  • EPT

    Other industries have unpaid internships where interns can enjoy a “livable” quality of life, thereby enjoying their experience working for the company (and working hard for the company) even more, because of stipends or fellowships. I’ve worked countless unpaid internships because of readily available stipends and fellowships. None of these would be “available” to students who work in for-profit industries, but that does not mean that these industries could not start their own programs! Indeed, as many commentors point out, many businesses make sufficient funds to offer stipends and fellowships or scholarships.

    As a side note, the sentiment of your post is spot on until you admit that your primary motivation is to make others “pay their dues.” In other words, you’re not content to have them work the same hours and work just as hard as you did, you want them to suffer in the off-hours. I can’t tell you how outdated and illogical I think that is. Would that make you feel better? Instead, why don’t you focus your power and energy (you clearly have a lot of both–you’ve been a wild success) on establishing stipend or fellowship programs. These programs entirely avoid the “minimum wage” issues and provide a way for students to live without fear and suffering while learning their way in the fashion industry. I’m all for that. I hope you are too.

  • Karlotta

    @Amelia Diamon
    I’m french ( so sorry for my english!) and I work in fashion for 9 years now and I really want to comment your article, which is a really interesting point of view.
    I will tell you my story like that you could understand what is really the problem with this system.
    I was intern in one of the most beautiful and creative Maison de couture of Kering ex PPR group. I was working with the 1st assistant of the AD for a 6 months internship, which was the last one I could have legaly ( so important to find a job after or be employed directly). I was paid the legal minumum wage 360 euros (420$). I work during 2 months more than 50 hours per week and the 2 months before the show I work every day, almost non stop. I was doing my 1st part of the day at the studio til 10-11pm and after I was going to the “atelier” to sew prototypes or test materials until 2 or 3 am. Most of the time they forgot to order some food for the interns. The preasure was crazy, the day or miraculously i finished before 9pm I was just coming home by foot to be outside and see how “real life” was!
    2 nights I slept in the atelier because i worked all night, no one ask me if it was a problem for me, my boyfriend, my family..No one ask me if I would like changing clothes, because the employees, they slept at home.
    One day a person from the Atelier ask me, ” it’s you, who sew that yesterday?”, I answer “Yes” and she start yelling at me because it was not perfect and i cracked! I told her that it was not perfect because i did Her job after a day of 12 hours in front of a computer, and after I went to the atelier to sew white bird feathers on a white shirt with no natural light during hours and hours and I was paid like an indian kid in a basement!! In France , person who work as dressmaker are syndicated and work 35 hours per week, they quit at 5pm everyday and sometimes, they are paid the double each extra hour, interns finish their job or do a part. This woman was the Union representative and she was like everybody here, really happy that someone could help her to make a fabulous, creative, artisanal work like so few people could do in the world.
    I learn so much during those 6 months, I worked with genius, incredible creative people, but if I was not there to do all these little but important things they could not do their work as good ad they make!! And if my parents didn’t support me to pay a rent which was 3 times my compensation internship I could never do it because when you work as intern in a Maison de couture you could not have a job on side.
    For me it’s completely incredible that these kinds of brands continue with this system because they could pay more if you’re intern and they could also employed super junior assistant. Yes for sure to work in fashion you need more toughness!!
    But if I follow the fact that you need to endure that to be sure of your career choice, i think you have also to rely on your parents to help you and pay the bills and government who close his eyes on elegal working conditions and concealed work!!
    In France, some interns did some strikes to show their work conditions and explain that it’s most of the time the multi millionaire brands-groups who abused of this situation.
    Sometimes in some studio you have 3 interns per employee, in a brand I will not say the name, there’s 5 employees for 15 interns who do also the special clothes for singers or actress and they are not pay one tenth of the price of the dress they make!!
    I have trained several interns in the respect, i explain them the effort to work in fashion but they never work after 7pm except special event, i speak to them with respect and now they have both really good job in beautiful brands in Paris ! And I’m proud of them and me not doing the same thing i endured during my 4 internships of studies.
    ( sorry again for my english!!)
    NB: French fashion is amazing…but don’t forget who help these brands making billions dollars!

    • Amelia Diamond

      @ad5b355b19dc9cb503ae0c26e464326e:disqus Thank you for your thoughtful comment and your English is perfect! It sounds like you’ve endured some hardships but made it out wonderfully in the end, only now you’re much more sympathetic to others because of what you endured. It’s fantastic that you treat your own interns so well — I believe that will carry on a wonderful trickle down effect!

  • klokke

    I did two unpaid internships, and while I loved my experience… I am kind of against them. The first internship I did was in New York, I had family friends in the city who put me up, I worked nights in a restaurant and survived on pasta and tomato sauce – I am not American and the exchange rate from Australia at that time was pretty rough. I was there for three months. The other girl doing an internship had worked unpaid at *major media company* for 18 months. She lived in a flash apartment and did not do any paid work. She had wealthy parents. After 18 months of unpaid work she started to get some paid gigs. That’s what unpaid internships do, they create a system where people with wealthy parents can do whatever it takes to get a job in these industries, and these industries, surprise surprise, end up full of rich kids (hey, I count myself as one of those kids, I managed to do it for three whole months, so I’m not knocking them that hard). That unpaid internship has opened many doors in my career, I am very grateful, but the bigger picture of what it means for the media industry concerns me.

  • IZZ

    I’ve had 3 unpaid internships and based off of my experiences I think that they are beneficial if done correctly. If you’re learning then great! Who cares about money. If you are sitting around doing nothing or doing grunt work then that’s for someone else. You are free labor and the “payment” you get is experience. If you aren’t getting experience get out of there. There also have to be limitations to hours etc. It’s one thing to work a 13 hour day paid but doing it unpaid is exploitation.

    My first internship was at Hearst and was worthless. It was unpaid and was a huge waste of time. I did pretty much nothing but read issues of the magazine I was with at my desk and look at the Hearst website. However my supervisor acknowledged that I was unpaid and respected the rules that Hearst had for unpaid interns. I had to leave the office at a certain time everyday to go home and I was given an hour for lunch everyday. Two years after my internship though I was invited to join a law suit against them (I didn’t). Other interns hadn’t been so lucky and had been forced to come in early and leave after everyone was done. That’s beneficial to no one. The wanted compensation for overtime because they had worked overtime for the unpaid internship contract they’d signed.

    My boss now is great. He believes that we both need to get something out of it, that I’m not just there for slave labor. I’m helping out but learning a lot in the process.

    Summary: Unpaid internships are only good if done right!

  • http://www.madeofjewelry.com/ Sophie

    Never have been an intern, but internships are needed. And in a way it is normal it is unpaid.
    Internships are actually never paid jobs so those who get paid even how much that amount is can call him-/herself lucky. Internships are indeed about learning things that you can’t from books. It’s an experience to take with both hands.

  • Delfi

    I don’t think that these two girls who thought they were paid below the minimum wage understand the opportunity of being an intern in Condé Nast. I live in Argentina, and is very very difficult to get an intership, and more complicated to get one in the fashion industry. I wish I could intern for free in one of these big fashion labels, and work as a waitress at night, and live in Manhattan. I wasn’t lucky enough to be born in a country as yours, with all so many opportunities, don’t get me wrong I love Argentina.

  • Jessica

    I am currently an unpaid intern in Soho. I got lucky with my internship. They allow me to ask questions, learn the inside and out of how the fashion industry works. Yes, of course I have to go across town and carry garment bags, but it’s worth it. I guess it depends on who the interns work for..? That’s NYC for ya :T

  • Matt

    I know a friend who worked an internship at one of the most prestigious modeling agencies in NYC with a stipend, but still had to work part time at a bakery on her off days to make up. All I’m saying is that even though the opportunities should be approached with a grateful heart (even if it means doing s**t work for your boss), it’s still hard out there for those who want to do an internship for either the experience (OR the connections) because of the extreme costs, especially in NYC.

    On a different note, this summer I did an (unpaid) internship in Manhattan and commuted to NYC from NJ… for the weekdays I would live at my grandparent’s in Queens (I’m still in high school) to save on the commute from NJ and back, which was still $20 per week. AS A REFERENCE FOR EVERYONE: In the end after buying (acceptably healthy/edible) food, Metrocard swipes, and train tickets, 2 and a half to 3 months of interning totaled up to around $1000-1200. I’m just posting my experience to give a general idea for those who wanted to know (I worked for a small fashion company)
    To break down my expenses for coming in 4 days a week, I usually spent my money on <$10 lunches and only sometimes brunches/mid-day food when I had money, and tried to limit myself to 2-3 Metrocard swipes per day… it still ended up costing a lot in my opinion. But I thought it was definitely worth the experience.

  • Daniella M

    Just because you are an unpaid intern at a prestigious company doesn’t mean you should be abused. As a company, they agreed to follow the laws that come along with holding an internship program and they should be held accountable if they don’t abide with those rules. No exceptions!

  • @FreyFreyyy

    Once I interned for Leandra Medine and she taught me a lesson. Even though your boss is awesome and you want to be best friends, and you can be, the tiniest bit of professional courtesy is required. For example, while Skyping with your best friend while at work might seem like a good idea, it probably isn’t. Especially when your boss suggested you didn’t, and then you still throw the computer straight in her face. Although, I’m still unsure if it counts while you’re strewn across your boss’s bed. In her parent’s house.
    But nothing could be better than Sixteen Handles runs every other day. I may apply again, but this time i’ll bring a resume. ;)

  • http://www.fancyalterego.wordpress.com/ Heather P.

    As a college professor, I often recommend internships to students. However, I also tell them to ask a LOT of questions before jumping in, especially if it’s an unpaid internship: How many hours will I need to devote to this per day/week? What are the tasks I’ll be doing? Will I also have a mentor to talk to/guide me? Do I get compensated for travel/driving miles (I live in Ohio, so this is often part of both paid and unpaid internships)? How many of your interns have gained employment after graduation? Will I get college credit for this?

    I often tell students that it’s not only your job to sell yourself for an internship, but also the company’s job to SELL YOU on what their intern program can do for YOU. If they cannot convince you that working for them for free will lead to any sort of benefits later on (good reference, better jobs, etc.) then walk away. Odds are, if they can’t convince you that it’s worth the time/sweat/stress, it’s probably not.

    Paid internships can be tricky to navigate, so again, ask a lot of questions. If they cannot or will not address your concerns about pay, hours, credits, etc. then WALK AWAY. I have seen students fail out of school because of over-demanding internships. It’s not worth it if it also means you will ruin your academic record (which is the whole reason you’re in college in the first place). Stick to your guns, and the right company will want you because of it.

    Where I think a lot of young students go wrong is thinking ANY internship will be good for them in the long run, and that’s not true. Finding one that suits your needs financially, academically, and professionally can be tough…but it’s worth taking the time to find them, instead of whatever comes along first.

    Talk to your college advisor, and I guarantee you they can help you find something that will work for you. It’s how I found one of the only internships available for me in graduate school. I got it simply because I was the only one who asked, and it was a great experience for me to learn more about my field of study.

    So in short? If a company wants to use illegal practices to get/keep interns, don’t jump in bed with them. If a company can show you their program will benefit you in the long run, and works with your school/work/social schedule, jump right on in. You won’t regret it!

    • Amelia Diamond

      This is fantastic, fantastic advice.

      • http://www.fancyalterego.wordpress.com/ Heather P.

        Thanks. This is one area I have a lot of experience with. Pairing boyfriend jeans with evening wear? Still working on it!

  • Shay

    I’m so glad that this topic is being discussed more. As someone who has had 4 internships, I must say the experieince is invaluable. Although some were more valuable than others, internships are a great way to test what field is of interest to you. All of my internships were unpaid and while I do agree that interns are aware they will not be compensated, there are times when interns are given work equal to paid employees, if not more. All internships aren’t great experiences that lead to full time positions.

    I believe companies should provide paid transportation for interns. Some of my fellow interns traveled from different states just to have the “NYC Intern Experience”. I feel paid transportation such as a monthly metrocard wouldn’t hurt an intership program. In fact it would provide some leverage. It shows that although a company would like an intern to “pay their dues”, they also care enough to understand that traveling is an expense and not all interns have the luxury of being able to work for free while also gaining “experience”. Two of my internships would collect my receipts for the month and reimburse me monthly for my metrocard. This method was simple, easy and showed some humility towards interns. It is unfortunate that Conde Nast had to take such drastic measures to end their internship program. Working for such an esteemed company is great exposure for anyone looking to launch their career.

  • Natella

    This is so much of an issue for me right now. I’d be happiest person, If I got unpaid internships within fashion design industry, but i don’t even send any applications yet, because I know, it will be impossible to rull out. I’m a dog walker in a daytime, I have a language school, that I have to attend in order to be legal in the US (more than that, it all sucks, when you’re a foreigner), and I take classes at FIT, where I pay 3 times more, than if I were a resident :( (3 years New Yorker). Maybe if there was an internship even with $7 an hour I’d step over my inexistent finance, and be in business, partially, but happy. Anyway I know this is not something to argue about. Fashion is competitive, that if you really want to succeed you have to pay the price, though nobody pays you. :)

  • Lucy

    I completely agree. I am a senior in high school and I have already had two unpaid internships. It was the best experiences that I have ever had. It was really my first time in a professional environment. It was wonderful. Working for public relations firms and learning everything there is to know about fashion, tv/film, and pop culture I wouldn’t be where I am today. I have a much better insight into what I could possibly to with my life and it has definitely encouraged me to move in progression.

  • truthHurts

    “It doesn’t matter who your father is or what label shoes you’re wearing.”

    That is an absolute lie. What you’re boosting in this post is the Horatio Alger “bootstrapping” myth that the Tea Party loves so much. But you’re substituting unpaid internships for the right’s lentils and penny pinching.

    All that matters in fashion is the size of your parents’ bank account, and who your friends’ fathers are.

  • jen

    im a fashion design student applying for an intership now,soo scared and excited at the same time

    http://iheartfashion-styleaddict.blogspot.co.uk/

  • http://erinhughesstylist.com/ Erin Hughes

    Very interesting move by Conde Nast, as a (semi) successful stylist now transitioning from assisting, to my own work, I came up interning in New York City, for no pay… long hours.. blah blah the whole deal.. and of course, I wouldn’t be where I am today without that experience. However, I thought then, as I do now, that it isn’t a big inconvenience or expense for companies to pay interns at least an hourly wage, providing the intern shows real promise and worth, maybe after a trial period. (Especially in NYC!)

    I’ve also found, working for certain people, that there is this need to pass down whatever ‘suffering’ they endured when they were ‘your age’ (faxing requests! cold calling! carbon paper!) And if you were an unpaid intern the attitude of “Well, I had to do it, why shouldn’t you?” is perpetuated on.

    The flip side of that coin, is that now that I myself am in need of interns, and have interviewed dozens and tried out several, unfortunately, most turned out to be not worth paying- there aren’t that many of “Us” out there, and maybe the process of interning is a way of weeding out those who aren’t cut out for the business.

    So, I guess you’d say I’m still torn, since “why shouldn’t you have to intern for free?” is still as true as “why shouldn’t a large company pay you for your work?”

    PS- know any good interns?

    http://erinhughesstylist.com/lastlooksblog/

  • Leonie Soyel

    my internship at vogue netherlands is paid.not much but a little bit and i think it makes the work attitude better ;)

  • http://erinhughesstylist.com/ Erin Hughes

    Very interesting move by Conde Nast, as a (semi) successful stylist now transitioning from assisting, to my own work, I came up interning in New York City, for no pay… long hours.. blah blah the whole deal.. and of course, I wouldn’t be where I am today without that experience. However, I thought then, as I do now, that it isn’t a big inconvenience or expense for companies to pay interns at least an hourly wage, providing the intern shows real promise and worth, maybe after a trial period. (Especially in NYC!)

    I’ve also found, working for certain people, that there is this need to pass down whatever ‘suffering’ they endured when they were ‘your age’ (faxing requests! cold calling! carbon paper!) And if you were an unpaid intern the attitude of “Well, I had to do it, why shouldn’t you?” is perpetuated on.

    The flip side of that coin, is that now that I myself am in need of interns, and have interviewed dozens and tried out several, unfortunately, most turned out to be not worth paying- there aren’t that many of “Us” out there, and maybe the process of interning is a way of weeding out those who aren’t cut out for the business.

    So, I guess you’d say I’m still torn, since “why shouldn’t you have to intern for free?” is still as true as “why shouldn’t a large company pay you for your work?”

    PS- know any good interns?

    http://erinhughesstylist.com/lastlooksblog/

  • LMS

    As an unpaid intern myself in the fashion industry in New York, yes I agree that internships provide irreplaceable and incredibly valuable experience. I do however think that for the amount of work we put in, and not to mention US laws, that we should be compensated for our efforts. Not paying an intern immediately degrades the position and may make colleagues and superiors more willing to use interns for the so called dirty work, rather than using us in areas that our schooling is training us for. After all, isn’t the whole point of an internship to let us see part of the industry and give us experience? Sure the physicality and mental exhaustion can be seen as teaching us resilience, but I do not think a small amount of pay would take that away, it is only ethical. Many students may even be deterred from working their dream internships because they are unpaid and settle for something less satisfactory. Is this what we really want? I work multiple other jobs besides my internship as well as go to Parsons full-time and am constantly mentally and physically exhausted. Sure it is a test of resilience, but is this really how we should be living our lives?

  • Tao Jassi

    I’m a 17 year old fashion student from the UK and I had a Fashion Industry work placement I had ‘won’ as a result of good course work and a industry style presentation I gave. My fashion specialized course set me up to take on the two week challenge, although I had already done other fashion relevant work placement schemes (Expenses Paid), so I took the opportunity to learn from a thriving work environment. I arrived in my best ‘dad’s’ shirt and found that my main position throughout the two weeks was designated ‘Print Bitch’. I was made to print off other staff members work. My permanent position was next to the printer, often fixing and adjusting it, amongst many other ‘helper’ jobs around the studio. Despite that, I did improve on my CAD skills, the realities of high street design processes and perhaps most importantly, I learnt the values of organisation.

    So whether or not I got paid was not a thought I really pondered. I think I would, obviously, have prefered to have got paid, but which Student wouldn’t want money to go toward travel/food/new shoes for the commute/perfectly furry skirt? The experience I gained in my short time there allowed me to grow to learn the realities to strike down some of my naive thoughts regarding the ‘real world’ and I wouldn’t trade that for bus fare. However, I do understand the struggle of students that are made to work for free for longer periods of time with increasing grueling work. Companies see students as cheap labour and take advantage of their interest, capabilities and general niavity. So I see it moral to reward (financially) them to allow them to survive.
    It may be work experience that we are gaining but in the ‘real world’ workers are financially accommodated and students should too because they live in the ‘real world’ too.

  • LOST ANGELES

    LOVE THE WAY YOU WRITE! TENACITY.. VERY TRUE

  • Why me

    For me personally, I am a student wishing to participate these internship from Korea to different countries. It shouldn’t be hard to say that unpaid internship is worthy of giving a try ,but for international students it would be very hard..

  • Behind the Mirror

    I love your take on this, and I just forwarded your thoughts to about 20 friends! Thanks!!

  • Paige

    I have had a total of five unpaid internships in the fashion industry, both during and post college life, with my most recent two internships in the fashion closet of a major publication and a fashion PR firm. All of these of course gave me wonderful experience and each taught me something new from the previous internship. While I agree that the biggest lesson learned is the grit to persevere in such an industry, I also believe that at certain companies, there are wasted opportunities to teach interns about the actual work at a higher level. Excusing interns from run-throughs, where there is actually a lot to be learned, or not involving them in the overall process even simply as observers, is where I disagree with the actual “experience” being gained. I personally found that because there was no cost to hire interns, there were too many hands for the individuals to be involved in the aspects of the work that could truly educate us.

    The one other problem is that I believe it promotes underestimating the value of my own work. I entered the workforce not trusting that I was worth being paid anything. I lacked the confidence to apply for positions that were paid because my internships were never compensated in any way.

    I do truly appreciate all of my experiences with internships. However, an internship’s value I believe very heavily depends on how the supervisor of this internship chooses to utilize the interns, and how much value they place on the role.

  • Hallie

    I’m a major proponent of the upaid internship: case and point my career. My first internship I was literally a messenger (**I did nothing else**) and I complained about it – but guess what – I got another internship out of that one – and then a job out of that one -and then another job – and then another. So balancing the amount of time spent interning with the amount of time spent being paid, my investment (ie personal time) has paid back ten-fold.

    Also… newsflash! No one gets into fashion for the dolla billz $$$

  • swashi

    I am against unpaid internships because many people cannot afford to work full-time and not get paid (at all–low pay for experience is definitely worth it). Unpaid internships grant experience, yes, but they could easily offer the same experience at minimum wage–which would still be more for experience, but would also allow people who are not living with their parents to actually have those opportunities. Many industries utilize unpaid interns either for free labor that could go to an employee, or do not grant experience to the interns (museums who have “interns” hand out programs but do nothing else). Paying interns minimum wage would open up these opportunities to people from low income brackets.

  • http://www.erptraining9.com/ SAP Training

    You should be well against the unpaid, lower paid internships.

    Bl**dy they get every new student as a freebie.

    This is height of exploitation.

    This is what happens when people are willing to get exploited.

    Because if you will not then others will grab

    The so-called opportunity and feel lucky.

  • Bianca

    Conde Nast needs to bring back internship opportunities! As a student at NYU, I am disappointed in their lack of open doors!

  • RM

    Hey all, I am a student in london studying FDT Womenswear. I am taking a partial year out to continue on placements…this means that I am classed no longer as a student until I return back to university, In London this can be an issue as its less expensive to insure a student that a graduate for example (so they only allow 1 Month stints). Can I pick your brains on wether similar feedback applies in NY? I would really like some help on this matter, before I apply for jobs (Which I have been offered previously in NY as a student!) Thanks and apologies for the ramble.

  • Joe NoFsToGive

    I think the issue with unpaid internships is very simple: if you aren’t getting paid, how do you afford to live? so only the people wealthy enough to support themselves have the luxury and privilege of an unpaid internship. It perpetuates privilege. Among the class of people who will need jobs soon, it helps create a wealth gap.

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