Thursday, 21 February 2013

Diary of a Protestor: London Fashion Week

Pay Your Interns: London Fashion Week Protest


I have encountered many fashion dilemmas in my 20 years. Are sequin wellies a good idea (yes) how many novelty jumpers is too many novelty jumpers, and what do you wear in the snow when all you own are dresses and skirts? But on Friday I was faced with a fashion first:  how to accessorise a t-shirt emblazoned with the words ‘PAY YOUR INTERNS’ that I would be wearing to London Fashion Week.

On Friday morning as fashionistas slipped on their stilettos for the start of fashion week, I pulled on my t-shirt and headed to the University of the Arts London’s Students Union. I was meeting up with the team there that had been working for days packing ‘PAY YOUR INTERNS’ tote bags with information for interns.

“I’d say it’s probably the first time that London Fashion Week goody bags have contained information about National Minimum Wage Legislation…” said Fairooz, Culture and Diversity Officer at SUARTS, as we grabbed armfuls of bags and ran for the bus to Somerset House.

As we stepped off the bus and approached the London Fashion Week flags flapping in the breeze, I began to feel incredibly conscious of the slogan printed across my chest. ‘Unpaid internships’ and ‘fashion’ are phrases that seem to roll off the tongue together in the same breath. Yet to question the system, and to raise the question right in the face of the industry like this at London Fashion Week… Well…

My ears rang with the clicking of heels and the silence of stares.

“This is a bit scary, isn’t it?” I said to Fairooz as we approached the entrance.

There was little time for fear though as we gathered with Intern Aware and the rest of the protestors and headed together through the stone archways. We assembled in the courtyard and watched as the faces turned.

Then a moment later: “are you giving out those bags?” and, “Pay your interns. Yes. I completely agree,” and we were off.

Throughout the morning we handed out tote bags and talked to hundreds of people about the campaign. Most people were overwhelmingly supportive. I felt a rush of excitement watching the bags disappear with people into the crowd, our message carried on their arms.

When I first came to London Fashion Week it was as an eager unpaid intern. It is safe to say I am somewhat jaded now, and that coming back this time felt very different.

Despite my initial fear on turning up at London Fashion Week dressed like I was, I am not really scared. As protestors we may have been outnumbered by bloggers, editors and buyers who were far more fashionable than us, but I know that the messages on our baggy white t-shirts were right. And I know that we were representing thousands of people who feel the same way, people who dream of working in industries like fashion but just don’t have the means to work for months at a time without a wage. People who are no less determined or talented than those who get the breaks, but who just can’t afford the price of a future in fashion.

There may be a way to go but I am hopeful that one day we won’t need to wear these t-shirts because interns will get a wage, not just because it’s the law, or because it makes long term business sense for companies to have the widest possible pool of talent to choose from, but because it is right.

Suddenly some stilettos and stares seem a lot less frightening when you realise you are right, and you are not alone.

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Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Amazing Grace?

Picture 13

“I think there are a lot of interns that feel very entitled. 

They think we owe them something.”

Grace Coddington was my hero until she said those words at New York Fashion Week. Creative director of US Vogue, she is idolised by fashion students the world over and I was no exception. I admired her work and her attitude and I chiseled my way diligently through her brick of an autobiography.

Grace’s words echo the widespread notion that it is OK to mistreat someone because they are young and desperate for experience. Although internships can be great experiences, and mine have certainly given me an insight into the industry that I wouldn’t have had otherwise, they are exclusive and often exploitative.

I understand that the fashion industry is an extremely competitive one where experience is valuable, but I am tired of being told that to question the internship system is to feel entitled.

But maybe Grace is right, because I do feel certain entitlements.

I feel entitled to a day’s pay for a day’s work, just like everyone else.

I feel entitled to the same opportunities and access to the industry that editors like Grace had. One in five young people today have done an internship, compared to 2% of people who were my age 30 or 40 years ago. We are continually told that unpaid internships are a right of passage, but the reality is they are a relatively recent phenomenon, and not necessarily something experienced by those telling us to work for free.

I feel entitled to the same opportunities as people with wealthy parents who can financially support them for months at a time whilst they intern for free.

I feel entitled to fair access to experiences and to be judged on my abilities, not on my connections or my background.

I feel entitled to fair treatment, and I feel entitled to be known by my name, not just as ‘the intern’.

And why shouldn’t I be? Why shouldn’t interns be entitled to their basic rights?

As I read Grace Coddington’s words I felt like a phoney dressed as an elf had just told me that Father Christmas doesn’t exist. And then proceeded to slap me. Maybe it’s time to find a new hero and a new dream.

Or maybe I need to be the heroine of my own story. A better story.  

On Friday I will be raising awareness about the widespread use and mistreatment of unpaid interns in the fashion industry by demonstrating at London Fashion Week with SUARTS, NUS and Intern Aware. We will be representing interns and those who are shut out of opportunities because they cannot afford to work for free. Join us at 9:30am at Somerset House, or if you cannot be there in person, show your support online:

@LibbyLovePink @InternAware @SUARTS @nusuk #payinterns #devilpaysnada


Monday, 11 February 2013

Why I hate Valentine’s Day

From where I am sat on my bed I can count fourteen heart shaped objects and six mentions of the word ‘love’. And that’s not including my bed sheets, which are entirely covered in a ‘lovelovelovelovelove’ print with hearts for the ‘O’s.

It is probably safe to say I am something of a romantic. Moulin Rouge is my favourite film, Rob Ryan’s heart-achingly beautiful words make him my favourite artist, and frankly I think most things are improved if they have hearts on them. But for someone so soppy I teeter strangely close to the precipe of cynicism.

Every year when Valentine’s Day comes around I am struck by an overwhelming urge to head to my nearest Clinton Cards with a box of matches and some petrol. (Please note, I am not actually an arsonist. I am too scared of fire to light candles.) I don’t know if it’s just me but I think Clinton Cards shops always have the same weird carpet and weird smell of stale emotions. On the 14th of February the ‘Me to You’ bears come out of hibernation armed with flowers and declarations of affection. ‘Love you forever,’ says an animal with stuffing for a heart.

I can’t bear it (gettit?). I can’t stand the cards with their pictures of puppies and ducklings and their pre-written messages. I can’t stand the heart shaped chocolate boxes and the candles and the Pizza Express vouchers that arrive in my inbox.

My dislike of Valentine’s Day started a long time ago, probably at a time when the only cards I received were from my dad. I have seen Valentine’s Day from the other side too though. I went on the first date with my first boyfriend on Valentine’s Day, and although I admit that the date of the month didn’t spoil it, it didn’t make it either. The date on the calendar was unimportant to the date itself.   

This Valentine’s Day I will be working, preparing for a protest I am planning at London Fashion Week on Friday. I will probably be stressed and quite probably grumpy as a result of being stressed. But that’s real life. If you want to love me you have to love me stressed and grumpy and driven, not cute and tied up with ribbon like an Andrex puppy. A Libby is for life, not just for Valentine’s Day. 

Romance isn’t something you can buy from Hallmark. It’s letting me sniff down the phone when I’m just feeling like it’s all a bit much, or ironing my clothes in the morning so they’re warm when I put them on – not because I ask or because it’s the 14th of February, but just because.

To those of you who will be celebrating Valentine’s Day – enjoy. I feel the same way about Valentine’s Day as I do about New Year’s Eve: I hate the pressure and the prices, but I wish all the happiness to those who do choose to participate.

Just please, please don’t buy any of these…

 With lots of love (not because it's Valentine's Day but just because),