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.