Fashion internships

There was an interesting article from the NY Times about internships which you should read if you plan to be one or hire one. Don’t miss the link to the six federal legal criteria (pdf) to meet the standard. It’s a dicey situation for both parties with internships becoming the norm. Here are some concerns I have.

Employers are bombarded with internship requests and job applicants -thank Project Runway for the bubble. Since applicants can’t see what crosses our desks, let me tell you that most applicants are not reasonable. They aren’t like you. Most of the applicants are outright delusional. It is common if not typical to get requests from teenage girls who haven’t finished high school. Most of those are deleted without a second thought. Perhaps this is not fair but there is just too much competition now.

Of those who aren’t deleted, employers are wary because we know that most people want to sign on so they can network and riffle the rolodex with the goal of their future enterprise in mind. Employers want loyalty. Employers are also worried about social media.

It will be difficult for employers to consider getting an intern if they follow the federal criteria to the letter. Consider:

Among those criteria are that the internship should be similar to the training given in a vocational school or academic institution, that the intern does not displace regular paid workers and that the employer “derives no immediate advantage” from the intern’s activities — in other words, it’s largely a benevolent contribution to the intern.

Because it is so costly to train anyone, few employers are going to take one out of the goodness of their hearts. Especially now;  times are tough and who can afford to do it benevolently with no return on investment?

For interns, the job situation is extremely competitive. You have to have a degree these days just to get an interview and not because you really need one but because there are so many applicants that one has to thin the herd by any means possible. In some ways, having a degree is useful to the employer because most people with degrees never go on to start their own companies because they (we) learn how hard it is. In this respect, a new graduate is less of a threat to sensitive internal discourse. The point is, all of the employers out there are aware of the bubble and while it can represent their opportunity to get the best and brightest staffing, expectations among applicants are -again- often ridiculous. Be mindful of your expectations.

I think the most troubling aspect of internships is that these opportunities favor students who have more resources; those who can afford to work for nothing. It is troubling because education isn’t leveling, education is not acting as a means to level the playing field. Entry into competitive industries will favor those with work experience over equally (or even better) candidates who couldn’t afford to take a non-paying job. For both, the situation is sobering.

Again, read the federal criteria if you find yourself in the position of hiring or becoming an intern.

Previous entries:
Interning with Christian Lacroix
Fashion internships and mentoring

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  1. Lisa Bloodgood says:

    So if we manufacturers want an intern, we need to teach him/her how to sew or how to source fabric or how to do tech packs or whatever, but not make them do it as a regular part of their activities as an intern?

  2. ClaireOKC says:

    I worked as an intern/apprentice under my teacher as my first job. I’m not sure I would have gotten that job today. I did go on to start my own company, but I was not in competition with my teacher’s company. I did not want to do that. The funny thing is that if you are truly creative, there is usually room for both intern-or and intern-ee. I found my own nitch in the market place, and have held it ever since. My teacher/mentor has since died and her company is no longer in existence, so I have picked up some of her business.

    I guess it’s almost too much to ask in today’s competitive world to expect that method of doing business, as reflects in the guidelines issued by the government, which makes me wonder if a whole passel of lawsuits isn’t soon to follow re employers not following these guidelines.

  3. Becky says:

    Lisa, what I think the article was saying was that when you take on an intern, your role is as teacher or mentor. If you want them to be part of your working team, helping your business succeed, then the government wants you to pay them at least minimum wage.
    I have many times thought about interning in different areas of business, just to learn something new and to see if that area was something I would be interested in. Sadly, I have never had the time to just give.
    I worked with a gal who was going to college to be a teacher. At the end of their time they have to do student teaching. They of course are not paid for this and were advised not to have a job. They wanted them to focus completely on the student teaching. My question was, how are they suppose to support themselves and pay their bills. Not sure if this would be considered an internship, but this is the same dilema.
    As Kathleen mentioned, it does not level the playing field. Because only those who can afford not to work can afford to do internships.

  4. Mary Lombard says:

    My company puts a great deal of value in our youth and I spend about 10 to 25 percent of my time developing our intern program. The student must be enrolled in a for credit class in an accredited college to participate. I’ve also developed an application process and an agreement which lists the 6 federal legal criteria. Now I’m working on structuring a program where the student can practice different skills (e.g. creating a dummy tech pack and working in Illustrator). Managing interns is a risky business but there’s no better way to test the skill set of a potential hire. Most of the entry level positions here were eventually filled by interns.
    Most of the students are working in part-time jobs elsewhere to support themselves.
    In the end I hope the student will take away valuable skills and experience which will help them in their career. We need to invest in our youth.

  5. dora morris says:

    I am really looking for a mentor. Just someone who has been in this business for many years, who can guide me in the right direction. I have been looking for specific fabric in NY, CA, NC, China for over 2 years now. Everytime I say ok lets place the order, the factories in China say, ” Oh so sorry the price is double now” we did not understand. I am getting sick of wasting time. If I had someone who sourced fabric and worked with factories either overseas or even in CA, it would hopefully save me the heartache of another :”so sorry” remark!!

  6. cdb says:

    I have had interns from time to time, and generally do not pay them outside or transportation and food. I also spend a great deal of time I could spend otherwise working to show them how things are done. I have taught (or re-taught in some cases) everything from photoshop & illustrator techniques to pattern making and sewing techniques- whatever. There are a ton of practical skills they do not learn at school and can be improved by real life experience. I also only ask for 2-3 half days a week. 40 hours a week? That’s ungodly, and highly abusive.

    I was once sent an intern by a group that presented itself as affiliated with a bunch of schools. They sent me the most useless, entitled and spoiled intern I’d ever experienced- of course she didn’t last a week. Then I found out what the group actually was. A “placement” group that gets paid a very large fee $1500-3000.00 (from students parents) to secure a “good” non-paying summer internship for a student. What a scam.

    This type of bottom feeding and abusive practices mentioned in the article are what need to be looked into, but the main premise of internships, I think is a good one. To teach practical skills and experience real life situations in the field as it were. Especially for anyone who aspires to have their oven business.

  7. Kaaren Hoback says:

    Purely anecdotal: In 1964 I was given an allowance of $125.00 to purchase my first year of college wardrobe. I got my everyday clothing, Sunday outfits, ‘date outfits’, little black dress, shoes, coat, rain gear, underwear, hosiery and nightgown and robe and a new watch. I always thought I was “well dressed”.

    The inflation rate is reported as ~ 4.35% per annum and a 1964 dollar’s 2009 equivalent is $6.80 per the ‘dollartimes’ site –

    In todays dollars that 125.00 x 6.80 = 850.00.

    In 2009 My 2nd granddaughter headed off to college after spending a budget of $2800.00 for a similar sized and quality “wardrobe”.

  8. Dana says:

    One of the things that crossed my mind as I read the article in The Times, was how does a college required internship fit into these regulations? Here in Chicago we have 4 design schools. There are far more students than opportunities, paid or otherwise. I placed an on Craigslist for a design intern and got 75 responses for 1 slot in my little “micro biz”. The part of the employer deriving “no immediate advantage” is the ridiculous part. If it isn’t advantageous to both parties, no one would do it. Clearly there are employers who are taking advantage of the “free labor” when they should be hiring, but interns are far from free as I see it. It takes a lot of time and effort to teach, to train, students are slow, they make mistakes, they turn over fast. That is an expense. I’d rather get to reliable paid help as soon as I can.

  9. Jay Arbetman says:

    To Dora Morris,

    Why would you be talking to a mill in China? Do you know the duty rate, freight costs, local cartage costs, broker fees that you would incur?? Buying piece goods in China is for a savvy and very experienced buyer with good contacts. Did you have an agent? Also, buying domestically leaves a smaller carbon foot print.

    I don’t want to talk down to you or be mean spirited because I understand how difficult it is to get started. The fashion manufacturing business has many of the finest minds of the 1930’s. That said, I would imagine that you are thinking about this in kind of an upside down manner. When you have a specific fabric in your head and in two years you cannot find it, you might want to take that as a sign. First of all, like a lot of things in life, the sewn products field is about relationships. If there are not a group of jobbers, textile sales people and other industry people that you know, and have a business relationship with, then you should review your tactics. It doesn’t sound like you need a mentor. Maybe you need an employee. If you are looking for a singular fabric and it takes you two years and you haven’t found it I would stop wasting my time and move on to a suitable substitute.

    Maybe you should be finding the right people to sell you appropriate fabrics and trims and then do your thing from that point on. Unless your bags are really expensive, you cannot afford a worldly search for fabric. This kind of expensive search leaves you with a massive competitive disadvantage.

  10. Lisa Bloodgood says:

    When I was in school, I had an internship at a small boutique. The owner designed her own stuff and had me cut out the stuff. An employee did most of the sewing. I did some sewing and pressing. I also helped her with some of the patterns and designs and pricing and stuff. She also sold some other lines and some jewelry. I felt I didn’t learn much and should have taken an internship at Columbia Sportswear or Nike or Adidas, even though I’m so not into outerwear and activewear. I feel I would have learned more at one of those places. I got the credit for it, though.

  11. Natasha says:

    I did an internship for a medium sized DE in LA while I was a student at FIDM. My internship consisted almost entirely of unloading boxes from the dock. The most important thing I learnt from the internship that being a DE was not the life for me. Hence the switch to nursing…..

  12. Jay Arbetman says:

    I’m pretty old so internships were not the course du jour at the time. No doubt, unloading boxes and the like are a significant part of the job. It is a business of more perspiration than inspiration.
    Only the doggedly determined need apply.

    I’m thinking of taking on an intern for a while this summer.

  13. Kennedy Kullmann says:

    Hey, my name’s Kennedy and I’m 15. I definitely appriciate this article because it has helped me see through the eyes of people that deal with girls like me that are wanting their foot in the door. Now what I am curious about, is how to get your foot in the door at such a young age? I’m very serious about pursuing a career in the industry, but where do you get started when you are in high school still? I want to start applying for things, meeting people, I just want to get in there but I feel like the only way is if you live in NYC and know all the right people, and that’s so unrealistic for many girls. I would really appriciate any answers. Thanks :)

  14. Jay Arbetman says:


    Living in New York is not the only way to begin to move down a path towards a career in the fashion industry. It is however, the most expensive way to do it.

    Here is my laundry list of things you should learn before you get out of high school.

    1) Learn to sew. Learn to sew as well as possible. Make some clothing which is what this is all about anyway.
    2) Learn the basics. has a great glossary. If you do not know a poplin from a twill and a ligne from FDY yarn, you are ill prepared to move anywhere and get on anyone’s payroll.
    3) There is a tremendous book offered on this website. It is essential reading. It’s by Kathleen something or another…..can’t remember her name!!! Go to the home page and figure out how you can get a nice new copy of this from this website.
    4) In many areas of the apparel business, writing skills are significantly important. Since this is a business about relationships, it is also a business that values communicative skills.

    OK, now the truth is, I cannot sew, I didn’t know a lining from a kick pleat when I was your age. I was also horrible in school and could barely write my name when I was your age. So I can tell you with great certainty that this is not the path I would advise you to travel.

    Most of all (and I am sure everyone on the site would agree with me here) try and inherit a tremendous amount of money or win the lottery. There are lots of beautiful but expensive fabric and trims to be bought!

    One more thing….it is about perspiration not inspiration. Be prepared to work you rear end off.

  15. Lisa Shoemaker says:

    I’m about to graduate with a BS in fashion design, so I’m a little closer to your age. My advice is buy the book, read it, and register for the forum. There are tons of industry pro’s in there as well as small business people, they may not be posting much, but they lurk and watch you. I learned how to sew when I was young and worked at a fabric shop when I was in high school. You really become familiar with different fabrics and how to work with them. Now I work for a department store which carries many of their own lines.

    It kind of depends where you want to go as far as where you should get experiences. If you are a math/science/engineering person, go towards pattern making and technical design. Otherwise, you might want to learn illustrator. I recently talked to someone at the home office of said department store and they have a co-op program with University of Cincinnati, I have no other knowledge of that school though. It just shows that you don’t have to go to FIT or FIDM to learn about fashion.

    On internships: I don’t really see the point of hiring an intern instead of an employee, but it is hard to get hired without internship experience and many interview questions are answered by talking about said internship experience. My internship didn’t follow those guidelines, but I was paid an hourly rate in addition to getting school credit. I know it is very difficult to find a paid internship in NY because FIT requires a non-paid internship and the companies up there cater to that. The girls I go to school with can’t afford to live in NY working unpaid.

  16. Marie-Christine says:

    Oooh. Kathleen I think you’ve totally nailed it with your last paragraph. I was wondering how come France had moved from a great level-playing-field educational system to one that clearly puts bozos in most of the good jobs in less than 20 years. You’re right, it’s probably the now almost-universal internship requirement. That ensures that only the bourgeoisie can ever get a job. Especially since 99% of internships are secured by Daddy’s work connections.

    On the other hand you’ll always have the Stella McCartneys and Sofia Coppolas impressing everyone with their precocious creativity :-). But it’d be good if they remained exceptions.

    As to Kennedy, you can make pants or bags or whatever for your classmates and learn to both sew and run a business. If you’re still at it by the end of high school, come back here for more advice.

  17. Jess H. says:

    I’ve been thinking long and hard about offering an intern position to a local design student. I happen to live in the same city as my Alma Mater, and a design internship is required for graduation from the program (along with a retail internship as well). Can I just tell you, design internships are hard to come by in the middle of semi-rural Indiana! I had to get creative, as I didn’t have the money to intern in NYC for the summer as most of my fellow students did (after I had spent a year at FIT getting my AAS in design) – so I started my company as my internship, which my professors heartily approved of. I took an intern from the program the year after I graduated, as a favor to the “intern” – I say that with a grin, we’re best friends and we did a lot of sketching, stitching and dreaming during her “internship” with me.

    Now I’m in a position to take on an intern and actually teach them some good stuff about running a small company – everything from legal issues to bookkeeping to patternmaking! I’m excited at the prospect of helping out one of the deserving students in the design program here. I have not however decided if I’m going to actually make a go of it, summer break is coming up so now’s the time to act!

  18. Kennedy Kullmann says:

    Thanks to everyone! I’m pumped! Haha, but really, I’m going to take all your advice. Fashion is truly my passion, I just have a lot of other things I’m involved in, and I need to balance. I play 3 sports a year, student council, AP classes…exactly. So tell me more about this book please? I guess I’ll just search it online. If any of you have any more advice, PLEASE email me! Especially you guys that are in/graduating/ed at a fashion college. I know it’s so generic, but I want to get somewhere like where Lauren Conrad is. Working at People’s Revolution then going on to be a co-designer or something in that area is just my dream. Really, truly, honestly, this isn’t just a pipe dream for me, I’m serious about it.

    (I made it years ago haha ;))

  19. Kennedy Kullmann says:

    Alright, that website is really confusing. Does anyone know the last name of that author or name of the book? I can’t find her on the site. Also, what is that site about? Man I’m crazing so much knowledge right now! I just want to know it all! Thanks everyone, by the way :)

  20. Kennedy,
    If you look at the top right corner of the page you will see an image of sewing shears. Look down… down… below the sewing shears and you will see an ad for The Enrtrepreneur’s Guide to Sewn Product Manufacturing. There’s a picture of the book, and a blurb below the picture ending in “learn more” which you can click. You can also just click the “buy” button below the blurb.

  21. Does anyone know the last name of that author or name of the book? I can’t find her on the site.

    My name appears directly under the title of every post. In this case, “Posted by Kathleen Fasanella on Apr 8, 2010 at 3:34 pm”

    Also, what is that site about?

    The New Here? page may be helpful as a site orientation. If you go to the Home page (far left in the top blue bar) you’ll see the site description on the right (“starting a clothing line?”). The various categories will also give you an idea. The book description, which appears off to the right on every page is a clue. There’s an About page, again in the top blue bar which describes the authors, their experience and the focus. In short, this site helps people who want to start a clothing line with lessons from the factory floor -which is very different from what you see on Project Runway or read in Vogue Magazine.

  22. Diane says:

    I am looking at two schools for Fashion Design: University of Delaware (who cooperates with FIT) and Kent State University (who has their own studio in NYC). My parents don’t want me starting out in NYC as a recent HS grad. Does anyone know which school would be the better choice? How do I know what is a good design school? I am interested in high fashion (couture). What should take priority in my college search, the name of the school or the cost? It is going to be nearly implossilbe to make it in NYC with huge school debt and it has been said that it is the person that makes it not the school that makes it for the person. Any thoughts?

  23. Kathleen says:

    I hope your parents aren’t worried about safety or anything like that in NYC, it’s safer than ever. I’m guessing it is expense?

    You don’t mention what you hope to do, select schools on the basis of curriculum strength in your topic of interest. FIT is great for certain things, making relationships and connectivity. It’s not so good on the making of “couture”. They don’t even teach patterns anymore, just classes on tech packs. Figure out what you want to be able to do, what skills you need. There’s a lot of good schools out there besides FIT. Consider Toronto, they have a great school. So is Parsons and Otis.

  24. Diane says:

    Thanks for responding, Kathleen. I want to be a fashion designer, preferably high-end. My parents were concerned about safety and cost. You mention FIT only has classes on tech packs. What are they? I’m on the East Coast so I want to stay somewhat close.

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