If you want to work in fashion, all the popular advice on google says “get an internship!” And while internships in fashion are a great way to get your foot in the door and gain some experience, they’re not accessible for many people.
First, what if you don’t live in a fashion hub? There aren’t as many opportunities to intern as a fashion designer outside of big cities, so you have limited options.
Second, what if you didn’t go to fashion school? Most fashion designers land internships through college networks. Beyond that, established fashion brands that offer internships are usually looking for candidates who are in the process of getting their degree.
I’m going to tell you if you really need a fashion internship in a sec (hint: you don’t), but first, let’s review some of the internship fundamentals. This way, you have a good overview of what you do in a fashion internship, and you can for yourself decide whether or not you need one.
Depending on what kind of brand you get an internship, the role and responsibilities can vary. Some will provide hands-on experience, but I’ve also heard horror stories of interns being exposed to nothing more than getting coffee, filing, and even unpicking threads from prototypes.
Here are the most common tasks for fashion interns:
If you’re lucky*, you may get additional experience by getting to sit in on:
*I’ve heard stories of interns, and even assistants who are employees, not being allowed at these meetings. It can be for a variety of reasons, either the brand is too secretive (even with internal staff) or they don’t want you wasting your time when you could be filing (#eyeroll). Just know that depending on the brand, the value you get from an internship can vary from a total waste to priceless.
And most interns in fashion will be responsible for some mundane tasks like:
If you’re lucky enough to get an internship, make sure the experience you’ll get matches your expectations… Which can be really hard, whether you live in a big city fashion hub or not. Because here’s the thing with getting a fashion internship…
If you live in a fashion hub like NYC, LA, London, etc, there are more internship opportunities. But there is also a lot more competition! Plus, some of the big name brands that have offices in prime locations are often the most notorious for offering crappy internships where you’ll just be getting coffee and making copies. Yuck.
If you don’t live in a big city, there are fewer opportunities, but less competition. That’s great! Your internship may be with a smaller “no name” brand, but from my personal experience (building my fashion career from Denver) and stories from our SFD community, this can actually be better. It’s often in a smaller, lesser known brand where you can get more hands-on experience. Woot!
Which is a crappy deal because most people looking for fashion internships have mountains of student loans to repay (fashion school is expensive)! Unless you’ve landed a cushy trust fund, you’re probably pretty concerned about how much money you can make as a fashion intern.
I can’t speak for opportunities abroad, in the US, it’s very common for fashion internships to be unpaid. Legislation has been passed in some states banning this practice, but due to the competitive nature of the industry, a lot of brands are still forcing interns to work for free (even if it’s technically illegal).
So bottom line? Many fashion internships pay zero. Zip. Nada.
There are a million designers lined up for every job posting or internship opportunity. Which is why brands get away with abusive practices like using unpaid interns.
Now, if you get valuable hands-on experience, it can be worth it even if you didn’t make a cent. But if all you’re doing is fetching coffee and filing, all you’re getting out of the deal is paper cuts and maybe a free cuppa java. Awful deal.
Most people aren’t in a position to do this. So unless you’re financially well off, you’ve just lost out on most of the internship opportunities out there.
If you are one of the lucky few who get paid for a fashion internship, it’s usually hourly minimum wage. Don’t expect to be rolling in the dough. Not by a long shot.
Finding an internship in the fashion industry can be pretty hard unless you went to fashion school and have connections or a network. Many professors and fashion universities have industry contacts that you’ll get access to as a student.
But how do you find a fashion industry internship if you didn’t go to fashion school? Or if your college doesn’t have any resources for interns? You’re on a good ol’ internship hunt, my friend. And Google will be your best friend.
You’ll be browsing job postings and searching high and low for an internship opportunity, which can be hard AF to find. I did a search on StyleCareers in the NYC metro area, a HUGE fashion hub. I included 3 job functions – product design, technical design, and textile design.
The results? THREE internship job listings. In one of the biggest fashion hubs in the world.
THREE MEASLY OPPORTUNITIES. #WTAF
If you’re searching for a fashion internship without the network that you (hopefully) get through fashion school, it’s abysmal. The opportunities are limited AF.
Good luck. You’re gonna need it.
The short answer is no. Despite the fact that everyone says you need one, you really don’t need an internship to be a fashion designer. As you can see, they’re crazy hard to get unless you have the right industry connections through fashion school and can afford to work for free.
Even after all that, you may walk away with nothing more than some barista experience. It’s a sh!t deal.
For a succinct summary…
So, what can you do instead to get ahead in the fashion industry? The answer may surprise you.
YOU GOT THIS!!!