“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