A former fashion intern at Alexander McQueen has filed a lawsuit against the design house over unpaid wages. Rachel Watson (not her real name) claims to have worked for four months in 2009 for no pay. Watson is claiming £6,415 in “lost wages” and claims that the fashion house broke the law by not paying her the national minimum wage.
Watson, like many other young hopefuls, saw no other way into the fashion industry than to take an unpaid internship. Lured by a glamorous image portrayed in the media, many young fashion graduates 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.
According to the Guardian, Watson’s internship in 2009-10 included drawing artwork for embroidery, repairing embellished clothing, and dyeing large quantities of fabric. So, is this illegal?
Well, yes, most unpaid internships ARE illegal. If you are simply shadowing an employee, watching, observing and learning, this is considered work experience and you probably will not be entitled to pay. However, under employment law, people who work set hours, do set tasks and contribute value to an organisation are “workers” and are entitled to the minimum wage. This means that even if your internship just requires you to turn up at a certain time and do some menial tasks, you are entitled to payment. Many interns in the fashion industry that we’ve spoken to regularly work 12 hour days, five days a week, even managing other members of staff and still do not get paid. In 2011, HMRC (the body responsible for enforcing minimum wage) sent letters to 102 fashion houses, warning them that they are under scrutiny and urging them to pay their interns the minimum wage or face penalties. The Stella McCartney fashion house subsequently changed its internship policy and now only offers paid placements. Unfortunately, many other fashion houses do not have similar policies.
It’s not the first time Alexander McQueen has been in trouble over its internship programme. Just last year the fashion house was forced to apologise about an unpaid internship was that was advertised for a “talented knitwear student” to work five days a week for up to 11 months, without a wage. At the time the company claimed that it was an administrative error and that it was not in line with its hiring policy.
Watson approached Intern Aware, the national campaign for fair, paid internships, about her situation. The Group claim that unpaid internships are exploitative, exclusive and unfair. They state that by asking people to work without pay, employers exclude those with talent, ambition and drive who cannot afford to work for free.
If you are concerned that you are being exploited this fashion week, reach out to Intern Aware who will provide more guidance and information on how you can address the issue. They also provide guidance on recovering money for previously completed internships. www.internaware.org. Wigs And Gowns are also on hand to help with any fashion related internship queries. Please drop us a line at email@example.com – we’re happy to help!