“If there would be enough jobs or internships in our industry, we wouldn’t have this weird sense of competition in fashion school.” – Alice May Stenson, MA Fashion Journalism graduate
In our poll, 87% of the respondents voted for a clear yes when it comes to whether there is pressure to secure a summer placement. Only 13% didn’t feel this anxiety. Following, 85% of the respondents also felt a certain feeling of jealousy when someone of their peers happened to secure an internship. Only 15% seemed to be immune to peer-to-peer envy. Seeing someone else from your class embarking on an internship can be wonderful, especially when they worked hard for it- but it always comes with this strange “this could have been me” aftertaste. “As most of my classmates are friends, it’s a weird mixture of being happy for them, but there is always a little of “why can’t I get anything” mixed in there,” says Alise Anna Dzirierce, a recent MA fashion graduate from the Antwerp Academy of Fine Arts. “If there would be enough jobs or internships in our industry, we wouldn’t have this weird sense of competition in fashion school,” says current MA fashion journalism graduate Alice May Stenson. Is an internship these days the potential catalyst to fulfil students’ career fantasies or is it just another cultural currency of privilege within the walls of fashion school?
“Sometimes, it makes me feel like I am running out of time to find what others have already found.” – Farid Renais. MA Fashion Image student
After months of searching and cover letter curation, how does one feel when no internship gets back to them? “Sometimes, it makes me feel like I am running out of time to find what others have already found,” says CSM MA fashion image student Farid Renais. A big fashion school is a great name on the CV. It provides the potential to open a door, but if one’s finances are rather tight, the dream of a summer internship can quickly become an unreachable illusion. In an industry where financial privilege rules the throne, interns are the most desired currency. They are willing to work for as little as no money, be grateful for the cheapest Tesco lunch meal deal as compensation and will work hard l in exchange for experience and the objective of a better future. Gatsby threw parties with the gleaming hope to win the love of his life back, fashion students work for free in gleaming hope to score a job that pays them less than the national living wage. “There is just something that really doesn’t sit right with me about this concept. As someone who is coming from a working-class background, I presume that a lot of people could relate to the terms of not having connections to help you gain access to spaces. This sits in the same sphere of that to me,” says Molly Muzsla, freelance stylist and fashion promotion graduate from the Manchester Fashion Institute. “And is completing unpaid internships for any longer than a week realistic if you need to stay in some sort of job whilst doing it? Again, I feel like this only leaves a sweet spot to work in it for very few people.” Yet still, browsing through job listings confronts one with more unpaid than paid internship listings. “Brands expect interns to work 45-hour weeks in return for “experience” and a name on the CV, but for many, that just isn’t feasible and in fact, it rather feels discriminatory! But do I think this will ever change? No. Where there is demand for it, the unpaid internship will never go away,” confirms a source that wishes to remain anonymous.
“As someone who is coming from a working-class background, I presume that a lot of people could relate to the terms of not having connections to help you gain access to spaces.” – Molly Muzsla, freelance stylist and fashion promotion graduate
Opening Twitter, another point rises- whilst students based in the world’s major fashion capitals only have to deal with the professional competition in the internship market, people who are located in Australia or other parts of the world have second to no chance to be able to finance their way through a summer internship, taking the rising costs of cross-globe relocation, visa fees and living costs into consideration. An anonymous source states that they didn’t do an internship, considering this particular issue of access. “On the MA, most people had done an internship before and yes, it was hard not having that experience since I came from a part of the world and a BA course that didn’t have access to those companies,” they say.
Does a CV full of unpaid experiences and big names make us a better designer or even a more hard-working human?
If internships are the postmodern seduction of our over-drafted bank accounts, why do we still gravitate towards them like a weak magnet? Even though fashion school fees seem to skyrocket every passing year, there are still things you won’t learn in those four walls. In an interview with the cutting room floor podcast, the team of Peter Do describe their experience of “googling every single word the fashion buyers said in the Paris fashion week showroom,” since even at FIT, they didn’t learn how to do business. “I did an internship during my gap year, which helped me a lot. Not only did I meet a lot of new people, but it also gave me a real picture of what the industry is actually about. Also, the internships I did made me understand on what I had to focus on during my studies,” adds Alise Anna Dzirniece. When Alma Wuttke Rodriguez, a recent BA fashion graduate of the Institut Français de la Mode did her internships, she perceived the experience as a very interesting one: “They approached the experience on a more personal level. That worked to my advantage, but also sometimes it worked in their favour,” she states.
What is it that makes us feel guilty about not interning? Does a CV full of unpaid experiences and big names make us a better designer or even a more hard-working human? What might look like a way of learning, is the constant battle of status versus circumstance. One of the Instagram poll answers states: “It’s always about status. No one cares about the learning when they check your CV.” Averagely, the hiring manager spends a gracious two seconds with an applicant’s CV before they move to the next. A big brand equates to a secret codeword of approval- it opens the magic door every young fashion creative desire to get their foot in. One big brand approves the other one, it’s almost like dominos. In a video on the CSM BA fashion YouTube channel, the menswear designer alumnus Jed Partridge describes how the connections of his school led him to be a creative assistant to Kim Jones at Dior: “Through Saint Martins, I was able to have an internship with Lanvin, since they came here specifically to interview us. That led me to Paris, which then led me to working with Kim Jones now.”
“It is one of those stresses that simmers away in the background. Any free moment you have, where you might want to pick up a book or watch a TV programme, you feel this pressure to check job boards or the fashion workie webpage.” – Molly Muzsla
Before securing a placement, Molly Muzsla describes inner unrest: “I distinctly remember being stood on the stairs of my second-year student house and just internally having the biggest tantrum of my life so far.” Throbbing unrest and stress led her to frequent mental breakdowns, resulting in a permanent stress. “It is one of those stresses that simmers away in the background. Any free moment you have, where you might want to pick up a book or watch a TV programme, you feel this pressure to check job boards or the fashion workie webpage. This was also a time where a lot of comparison kicked in- you might not want to, but you find yourself comparing yourself to your peers, even though everyone has a different path.” Why do we equate a shortage of jobs with personal failure? Since Covid, a lot of potential internship spots have been scrapped indefinitely. Why does a potential internship hold the same value as a full-paying graduate job for students? Opening our phones, we are constantly exposed to an el-dorado of productivity and achievements. Instagram is the glorification of hustle culture and LinkedIn is the magical spot where everyone seems to land the job offer of their lives. When we asked how it made people feel if they did not secure an internship in our poll, a lot of respondents expressed negative emotions from failure to even worthlessness. Per definition, failure is a “lack of success”, but why do we define success in such a low and privileged parameter?
Internships are like anything else in fashion school: tied to privilege.
So what happens when we are reaching the fringes of summer and no internship has been secured? Before Fyre started her MA in Arts and lifestyle journalism, they had one objective- to find an internship for the summer 2022. “Now, as I am writing this, it is July 7th and I haven’t found one yet. Nevertheless, the pressure is still there. I keep telling myself every day that I absolutely need to find an internship over summer,” they say. Internships have the power to help one’s career, there is no doubt about that, but do they give students skills that would otherwise be unachievable? Even though her internship helped Molly, she underlines that the skills could have been learned elsewhere. “In a more general sense, I truly believe that being open to things helps your career more than anything else. Try things out- it does not need to be an internship necessarily. Email the person you would love to assist, do that test shoot you’ve been talking about for months, submit your work to a magazine. Be open to everything you want to achieve, even if it is scary.”
Someone once said that the presence of someone else’s success does not equate your failure. Failure is a word all too frequently used- we live in a day and age where you can be famous from your bedroom and start an empire in your attic. Yet still, not finding an internship won’t ruin your or anyone’s future.
Internships are like anything else in fashion school: tied to privilege. Yet still, we compete for them every year. It might be seen as a way to individualise ourselves, even more, a way to set us apart from the masses that graduate each and every year. The throbbing anxiety to drown in a pond full of talent is rising every second. The competition for any given opportunity is no surprise. The summer internship question is a vicious cycle, operated by the devil themselves. Seeing peers securing what one wishes has never been easy, but breathing in the stress of it all whilst everyone on Instagram is somehow in Italy feels unfair sometimes. Someone once said that the presence of someone else’s success does not equate your failure. Failure is a word all too frequently used- we live in a day and age where you can be famous from your bedroom and start an empire in your attic. Yet still, not finding an internship won’t ruin your or anyone’s future. Sometimes, it comes down to luck or other things way out of someone’s control. Whereas an internship gives one valuable skills, it is certainly not impossible to achieve them elsewhere. At the end of the day, it is about creating opportunities for yourself not chasing rejection and competition.