By Grace Davis
When I graduate in May, I won’t be receiving a degree in journalism, communications, or even marketing. My diploma will say Bachelor of Arts in Chemistry.
You’re probably dumbfounded as to why I am writing this article and will be shocked to hear that in June I plan to move to New York City to work in the fashion industry. During junior year (a little late in my college career), I decided to put my pre-med plans on hold to pursue a more “fashionable” career.
And what was the first thing I did? Track down an internship.
I hadn’t taken one fashion class or even worked a retail job before, but I knew that to break into the fashion biz, I had to get an internship.
“The most important thing is to intern, intern, intern,” says Elizabeth White, SMU alum ’11, and current freelance fashion assistant at People StyleWatch.
“They didn’t ask me where I went to school or my GPA, just where I had interned,” White said about interviewing for fashion-related jobs in NYC. White interned at Seventeen and PaperCity during college.
While White admits her current job has more responsibilities, stress and hours, she says her internships gave her a better idea of the fast-paced environment of fashion magazines.
In fact on the afternoon of my decision, I emailed the closest friend I knew in the fashion industry to see if any of her contacts in Dallas were in need of an intern. Luckily, one was. My first day on the job as a styling intern involved walking behind my boss and her client, holding the client’s Diet Coke and making sure the client’s dog didn’t get into any of the pictures.
But I didn’t care at all. I loved every minute of it. I was in. I didn’t change my major to journalism or something more chic, but instead focused my energy on getting relative work experience.
That being said, an intern in the fashion industry is basically synonymous with the four-letter (or in this case, 5) word for a female dog. Fetch this. Walk there. Eat later (on one internship I didn’t eat lunch till 3 p.m.). Zero pay (don’t even ask). The list goes on.
But despite all the truth behind “The Devil Wears Prada“antics, those internships, especially at an “A-list” magazine like Vogue, are the most coveted positions in the world.
The fashion industry is “one of the most popular industries,” says Eric Normingtom, executive director of college programs for Dream Careers, a job/internship placement agency .
He says he has seen college students gain exponential interest in fashion internships over last five years and considers it a top five industry for Dream Careers.
The Dream Careers program though, “does provide much more than an internship,” says Normingtom. The program, which costs around $9,000 for an internship in New York, provides housing, meals, transportation, resume and interview coaching, guaranteed internship placement, seminars and weekend excursions.
Dream Careers sets up the interviews with the student’s preferred choice of job until the student has one secured. Since 2000, the program has placed more than 10,000 students.The internships are unpaid, but students receive academic credit — a phrase fashion-focused students should get used to, as credit is generally what they receive in lieu of a paycheck.
EUSA, a non-profit internship placement company, works with university study abroad programs, such as SMU-in-London, to secure student internships around the globe.
It is a “customized process” where “nine times out of 10 it is a great fit,” says Tony Wilbur, EUSA university relations manager.
Once a student is accepted into the program, the student’s academic interest, background, work history, hobbies and special skills all contribute to the placement. The student chooses three areas of interest and EUSA advocates to international companies on the student’s behalf. Interviews are set up once a student is in the country, and students choose accept whichever position they prefer.
Past interns have worked in visual merchandizing, web site administration, social media, production, sewing and public relations.
“I was doing real work and heavily contributing to the magazine,” Melser says of her time at Hair.
She was published several times, something unheard of as an intern in America, including a full-page article, a co-byline and a street-style spread in which she shot the photos.
Melser’s advice to students going abroad: “Not to get discouraged if they get placed in a smaller publication because they might get overlap with other larger publications, especially if they are in the same building.”
Melser worked in the same building as Marie Claire UK and worked with the publication on several occasions.
But what if students can’t pay to go across the pond for a byline? Or pay a company to “head-hunt” them down on a job?
Contacts, Contacts, Contacts
I soon realized that to land that dream internship, I needed to pack my bags and head to America’s fashion capital, New York City. And that I did.
“Finding and getting my internships was 100 percent-contact based,” SMU senior Ryley Tice says. Tice has interned at Dossier Journal, Frock NYC, La Force + Stevens and Teen Vogue.
Like Tice, I used email to directly contact assistants at magazines and designer labels about internships.
Two of the most popular sites students use are FreeFashionInternships.com and Ed2010. These websites post available fashion and journalism internships. The post includes the title, qualifications, and contact information for the internships.
To my surprise, the company actually wanted me and wanted my services! After my first day on the job, I knew why. The fashion industry would not survive without interns.
Exhibit A: I once had an argument with a courier about how much I was paid, which basically came down to $1 per hour. We were doing the same job. I was saving the company money.
Although you may not be getting paid a decent amount or working regular hours, you are right there in the thick of the fashion world. You are there. You are learning and getting first-hand experience that could help you get the job you dream about one day.
“I could never put a financial amount on the experience I have gained and the contacts I have made through my internships,” says Tice. Tice attended New York Fashion Week twice on behalf of Dossier.
“I have learned more in my internships than I could ever learn in a classroom and have met some very prominent people.” Another huge benefit is these are the editors, assistants and execs you may one day work alongside.
I have to admit, I still have no job secured.
However, that isn’t taking my Prada sunglassed-eyes off my goal of one day having my own desk inside the offices of some of fashion’s iconic reads.
The fashion industry, “organizes itself [so] that you start on the ground floor and work your way up,” says Normington.
He adds that on average, 70 percent of recent grad hires are from the company’s pool of interns.
“If you cannot secure a full time position in the industry, do not look down at an internship as a lesser alternative. In fact it might be your best bet to secure a full time position in that industry”
So to have interned “here” or “there” may get you into the golden gates of fashion divinity, or at least we all hope it will.
Trust me, I’m holding on to that belief post-graduation.