If you’re reading this, you’re likely creative to some degree. Maybe you’re trying to get your big break in a creative industry of sorts, be that fashion, art, or music. Your motivation waxing and waning as time passes. All the while, hustling away to pay the rent on your flat, fund your craft, and pay your student loans.
When asked via an Instagram poll, it became apparent that 79% of our followers work jobs to fund their creative practice. The majority of them are in hospitality and retail, whilst some work in related roles including photography, content creation, production and graphic design. There were some pretty niche ones, too- shout out to our dominatrix, florist and safeguard at sex-in-venue club nights.
An ocean of creatives is treading water in extracurricular roles, desperately trying to stay afloat until they catch their wave.
Fashion is a hub of creative ideation and freedom that traverses art, music, publishing and more. It’s also an industry notorious for its unpaid internships, underpaid roles, bounded entry and limited opportunity. As a result, an ocean of creatives is treading water in extracurricular roles, desperately trying to stay afloat until they catch their wave. Does this affect one’s creative output?
72% of our poll respondents feel as though it does. For more insight, we spoke to a series of young creatives, all working related or unrelated jobs in addition to their respective crafts in art, design, image making and writing.
Designer Alonso Gaytan is currently completing her BA in womenswear design at CSM. On top of her studies and placements, Gaytan is a waitress. Collectively, she works seven days a week. Every week. “It means I’m unable to invest as much time and energy as I’d like into researching and developing my designs. I have to be extra disciplined and make a lot of sacrifices to stay on top of everything,” she says.
“When your brain and body are stuck in this survival loophole, nothing helps. This lifestyle forces me to compromise my creative streak and the quality of the work I produce.” – Dorottya Csókási
Fashion photographer, student and waitress, Ana Margarita Flores, who quit her job as a lawyer in Switzerland to pursue photography at LCF, feels similar. Flores has looked for related work, but, given the freelance nature of much of it combined with what her visa permits, her choices are considerably restricted. Instead, she waitresses at a restaurant.
“Depending on the shifts I’m given, I can be working all day on my projects and collaborations, then go straight to work at the restaurant where I don’t stop until midnight or later. This can happen for several days in a row,” says Flores, continuing: “Then, if I’m offered a relevant opportunity, like assisting on a shoot, I’ll do this before a shift and the rest time gets shorter and shorter, impacting my creativity because I’m so fatigued. It’s a vicious cycle.”
Dorottya Csókási is working in retail whilst she completes her BA in design at CSM. “I always go the extra mile, but sometimes, when your brain and body are stuck in this survival loophole, nothing helps. This lifestyle forces me to compromise my creative streak and the quality of the work I produce,” she says, further touching on the fatigue many creatives feel, ensued by having to take on so much.
“I used to think that as long as I was making garments as a job I’d be content. I soon realised that wasn’t the case. I need to be working in a role that allows me to nurture my individual creativity.” – Emily Sharman
Whilst building her own brand, knitwear designer, Emily Sharman, has been working as a knitwear technician at the University of the West of England. “Fortunately, my work is related to what I want to do in the future. I recently quit another job as a seamstress that didn’t feel relevant so I could dedicate more time to building my own brand,” she says. “I used to think that as long as I was making garments as a job I’d be content. I soon realised that wasn’t the case. I need to be working in a role that allows me to nurture my individual creativity.”
“There is no balance between bartending and my creative work because there is no money coming in from my personal practice. I can’t survive off it so I can’t do it.” – Elisa Juesten
“Before I quit the seamstress job, I was turning down opportunities and sales for my own brand because I didn’t have the time to physically make my garments. This wasn’t a sustainable way of working and whilst I’m making less money and struggling more financially, I’m much happier with the work-life balance,” says Sharman.
Balance is key, but when finances come into play – it’s not always possible, as is the case for journalist, photographer and bartender, Elisa Juesten. “There is no balance between bartending and my creative work because there is no money coming in from my personal practice. I can’t survive off it so I can’t do it.”
“We’re dealing with an overcrowded market and getting a creative job is almost impossible.” – Alonso Gaytan
And, Juesten is beginning to lose hope. “Bartending is fun but it’s not what I studied for four years to do. I’ve been looking for fashion work for nine months. Nothing. I’ve recently shifted to part-time from full-time so I can really focus on my applications and freelancing, but part time doesn’t pay the bills,” explains Juesten. “At times, I’ve thought I might have to move back home to Germany.”
Many of our interviewees have tried to find work more in tune with their ethos and aspirations. But, as Gaytan puts it: “We’re dealing with an overcrowded market and getting a creative job is almost impossible.”
86% of internships in the creative industry are unpaid or pay less than minimum wage yet the experience is almost mandatory to acquire a paid job down the line.
Until recently, Gaytan had not been paid for any of the work she’d undertaken in the industry. She’s not the only one. This is the crux; when starting out in the creative realm, free work seems to be implied. And, in the name of ‘Portfolio’, many take it on. Our time is not valued. In fact, it seems worthless, financially. It’s like the concept of survival has been forgotten, like we don’t have rent or bills to pay.
86% of internships in the creative industry are unpaid or pay less than minimum wage yet the experience is almost mandatory to acquire a paid job down the line. An internship is an amazing ‘in’ to these paid positions, but, the reality is unless one has the economic ability to do free work, they simply can’t partake in these roles. In some cases, unpaid internships can end up with a financial penalty, costing the person undertaking it through travel/food expenses and lost time that could be spent on paid work. Under such circumstances, an opportunity once ideated to educate instead becomes a barrier to entry and untold amounts of creative genius are lost to these financial limitations.
“Having to hustle is part of learning and life. These experiences can only help you grow. But, on the other hand, we all deserve to earn for our creative property. We’re very underappreciated, that’s for sure,” says journalist and part-time shot girl Emily Phillips. “I’ve lived on soup cans for weeks and fed my cat over myself. I’ve had to have friends spot me just so I could take the tube to work.”
“There’s so much money at the top of the art world, yet so little of it is fed down to nurture talent and learning.” – Rowan Kelly
Having recently received a pay rise from her journalism job, Phillips has been able to cut down on the number of night shifts she works a week. “It became impossible to manage and frankly, I was pretty miserable. If I hadn’t received the raise, I would have just had to work more, only adding to my then declining mental health.”
It’s frustrating that we’re often not rewarded for our craft. Especially when, from what we can see down here, the powers above are prospering. So says artist and designer Rowan Kelly: “There’s so much money at the top of the art world, yet so little of it is fed down to nurture talent and learning. The arts are really important socially. It would be a great investment.”
Kelly continues, omniscient and exasperated: “I always think about people who got to be apprentices in renaissance painter’s studios and how their paid education went on for life, and ours goes on for just a couple of years, costs a fortune, then you’re stranded, just to repeat the same mistakes that older artists have figured out but aren’t able to share because we’re so structurally severed from each other,” she pauses to breathe. “It’s kind of like ideas and techniques have a much quicker turnover rate now because they last one person’s career and are not so collaborative.” Analysing her own thought, she concludes: “Obviously there were great flaws to Renaissance times – but they were good at funding arts.” A structural severance and a mass lack of conversation and collaboration between professional phases. Yes!
“I’d really like a bit more stability but I realise that’s probably not the reality for someone just starting out as a freelancer or working in the creative industries.” – Bluebell Ross
Conversation and collaboration are something image maker Bluebell Ross would like to see more of. Ross has worked freelance as an assistant across photography, styling and production since graduating with an MA at CSM last year. “My working week changes all the time. I’d really like a bit more stability but I realise that’s probably not the reality for someone just starting out as a freelancer or working in the creative industries,” she says. “I just wish more people further on in their careers would speak out about this.” We need more transparency, less allure and the candid truth regarding the humble beginnings creatives have come from and struggles they’ve faced – and continue to. Playing up to the facade of fashion, where the expectation exists that people can survive from their craft alone, only perpetuates and glamorises the problem.
Gaytan is aware that time spent on unrelated work might take from the opportunity to converse, collaborate and network, aiding valuable connections that could result in work. “If I were able to spend more time interacting with others in the industry, I might have a better chance at demonstrating what I’m capable of.” She notes how rife informal opportunities are in fashion and fears that, without a little black book of pre-existing relationships, she could be disadvantaged.
For Csókási, whose retail job means she frequently moves from store to store, it’s less about opportunity and more about like-mindedness. “I feel alienated and drained, forced into a situation that I don’t really fit in that aligns with the misleading consumerism-washed messages and values that are extremely outdated and socially, economically and environmentally unsustainable,” she says. “It makes me want to break out of the cage even more and do my part in changing the world, or… at least, the fashion-led side of it.”
“I’m at the beginning of my career so I try to put things into perspective and tell myself that the situation will evolve.” – Ana Margarita Flores
Despite the palpably exhausted morale embedded within this text, all of our interviewees are, somehow, simultaneously hopeful and optimistic. The lack of time and opportunity enforced by extracurricular work might affect creative output, but inspiration and motivation prevail. For some, it’s even further fuelled.
Self-medicating through self-care, Flores tries to keep rhythm and routine. “I try to wake up early, read, write, research for upcoming projects and continue to be inspired by artists I admire and new ones. I try to find the time to go to exhibitions and watch movies to take things as they come, to balance my work and my creativity and use everything as a source of motivation.” She continues: “I’m at the beginning of my career so I try to put things into perspective and tell myself that the situation will evolve.”
“I always try to grab the useful essence of hardships and get to the lesson quickly so that I can positively invest it into my practice.” – Dorottya Csókási
Csókási’s experiences have taught her a lot about what inspires her craft. “Working in retail and hospitality showed me the thwarting mirror of reality which I really don’t want to fuel in the future. Right now with my part-time job, I’m experiencing everything I have to be aware of before I establish my own brand. I always try to grab the useful essence of hardships and get to the lesson quickly so that I can positively invest it into my practice,” she says.
“It’s funny how the overall life situation in which I’m stuck right now gives the core values of my design practice, process and driving force,” Csókási concludes.
The social and sociological of it all can be most enduring. The people met; the experiences shared; the humbling and enduring camaraderie; and nurtured work ethics. Not to mention, the vast range of learnings and skills gained during the hustle.
Creatives seem collectively confident that their efforts won’t go unnoticed. And, they won’t, right?
That being said, Phillips is a little sceptical. “I’m lucky to have a job at a recognised magazine in my field so I don’t think I’ll be at a disadvantage but I do think other creatives will and I think that’s fucked.” We can only hope that employers will appreciate skills learnt in unrelated work and consider the circumstances as to why someone is unable to partake in related experiences. Although, the results from our Instagram Q&A, where we asked our followers what they make of a CV with non-creative work, hint at a divide. Some feedback was positive: ‘100% respect.’ ‘All work is good work.’ ‘So many skills are developed in any job.’ ‘Hard worker. Does what’s needed to stay afloat.’ (All of which is true). But, the feedback wasn’t all good: ‘Intolerable.’ ‘Waste of time.’ ‘My first thoughts would be that the person doesn’t have the right experience.’ As a full-time waitress myself, I’d be interested to know how unrelated work is really received.
There needs to be an inherent understanding that getting started is difficult. Yeah, creativity is innate but it requires time and practice. If you don’t give people a chance to apply themselves, how can they grow?