Child stars turned fashion designers, Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen, have found themselves on the wrong side of an employment lawsuit. A class-action lawsuit filed in Manhattan Supreme Court accuses the duo of failing to pay almost 40 past interns who worked for their Dualstar Entertainment Company.
Shahista Lalani, the lead plaintiff, is a former design intern at the Row, the Olsens’ fashion label. She worked there for nearly half a year in 2012 and claims to have worked 50-hour weeks “inputting data into spreadsheets, making tech sheets, running personal errands for paid employees, organizing materials, photocopying, sewing, pattern cutting, among other related duties”. She was not paid for her work during this period. Lalani also claims that she was hospitalised for dehydration due to the heavy demands of the job. The lawsuit states that Lalani, and other interns in similar positions at Dualstar, should have been paid the minimum wage plus overtime because they were doing the same type of jobs as the paid colleagues without receiving academic or vocational credit.
The last few years has seen a slew of lawsuits being filed in the US by unpaid interns in the fashion world. In 2013 two suits were filed against Conde Nast in the US, one by Lauren Ballinger who worked at W magazine and another by Matthew Leib who worked at the New Yorker. Both claimed that they were paid less than one pound an hour. This is suspected to be the reason that Condé Nast subsequently cancelled its US internship programme back in 2014.
The fashion world is rife with unpaid internships. In fact, it’s not an exaggeration to state that fashion week simply could not happen without their work and dedication. In most other industries, interns would be paid, yet the fashion industry languishes far behind when it comes to worker’s rights. Lured by a glamorous image portrayed in the media, many young hopefuls are so desperate to break into the industry that they’ll do whatever it takes to get there. And why would the fashion industry pay when they can so easily get work for free? The level of demand was highlighted in October 2012 when a number of fashion houses including, Oscar de la Renta, Balenciaga, and Valentino, auctioned off month long internships, with all proceeds going to charity. Each position reportedly took in bids of more than $10,000 each.
Unpaid internships are exploitative, exclusive and unfair – by asking people to work without pay, employers exclude those with talent, ambition and drive who cannot afford to work for free. Regardless of a profession, surely a fair wage isn’t too much to ask for a job well done?