The fashion industry constantly centers itself around debates over money, from unpaid internships, to the incredibly low wages of entry-level and assistant roles, and costly expenses in order to work in the industry, be it fabric and studio space for designers or maintaining a showroom or archive space and courier costs.
Fashion design students face, not only £9000 a year course fees, but more often than not a huge amount of other costs surround the study and production of fashion. Similarly, as part of the majority of fashion undergraduate degrees, students are expected to undergo a placement year, which is usually unfunded, in terms of a student loan, and also is largely in the form of an unpaid, or expenses only paid internship.
Fashion is a huge financial business, accounting for 66 billion pounds of the British domestic market. (source) How, then, is it justifiable to expect those aspiring to enter the multi billion pound fashion industry to invest so much into their career?
Unpaid internships are always a topic of debate within the industry. While there are elements of 'rights of passage' and learning involved in climbing the career ladder, where should we draw the line?
After I finished my A-Levels, when I was 18, I decided not to go to university. Instead, I undertook several (expenses only) internships in fashion and beauty events, public relations and editorial roles. I am fortunate because my parents live in North West London, meaning I have somewhere to live that is conveniently close to the fashionable capital. For a few months, while interning full time, for about 36 hours a week, at Vivienne Westwood, I was also working 16 hours a week at Topman, so give myself some form of income. I was exhausted.
In some ways, interning did pay off. I ended up as a Press Assistant, a paid position, at Vivienne Westwood. This was my first proper role in the fashion industry, and I have no doubt all my voluntary work the years previous aided in being awarded this job, showing my commitment, passion and determination to succeed.
6 months after, I decided to leave and go to university, to expand my knowledge and potentially further my career opportunities. I had in mind that a good mixture of internships and industry experience, combined with a degree in Fashion and Dress History would make an incredibly strong CV. I ensured that, alongside my university assignments and a part-time job, I still gained some experience in the form of an internship at H&M, freelance writing for Stylenoir, Topman's blog and other online platforms, whilst regularly updating Nouvelle Noire.
Whilst in my current, and final, academic year, I began, once again, to look to the future. I have always been career driven, knowing that I want to develop my skills and love the job I do. I strongly disapprove of people complaining about their jobs, or getting stuck in jobs they hate. Obviously, I understand that bills and rent need to be paid, and not everyone has the luxury to 'love' their jobs. I do, however, believe that nobody has the right to complain unless they are actively trying to change their situation, by applying to other jobs, or opening up a dialogue with their employers to make their work lives less 'awful'. However, this is a different tangent.
Ultimately, I am so focused on the future, sometimes at the cost of my present happiness. I was naively under the impression that, as previously mentioned, my internships and experience combined with my pending degree would open up a plethora of positions post-graduation. I began to apply for graduate jobs and entry-level positions, in the fashion journalism, public relations, marketing and art gallery and museum fields. Only to be faced with rejection after rejection. By February, I was too disheartened to apply for any more jobs. My final deadlines were fast approaching, and my focus had to be on these, especially my dissertation. Despite this, I couldn't help over-thinking about why I was being rejected for these jobs, and what the fuck would I do next year. This resulted in my being unable to focus on the present, unable to acknowledge all the things I should be thankful for, excited for and appreciative of.
My impatience and hatred for time wasting meant that this sole focus on university soon wore off. I applied to an fashion archive placement in Hackney and signed up to volunteer at a gallery in Brighton. Both of these, evidently, are unpaid. This means that these will fit alongside my part-time fashion retail job. It appears I am in the same position I was in almost 4 years ago. Apparently I love multi-tasking! That being said, I was still longing for more.
I have toyed with the idea of doing a Master's ever since beginning my undergraduate degree, torn between two very different courses. This however presents another form of investment. A £10,000 investment to be specific. On top of my around £36,000 student loan debt from my education so far, how willing am I to add a further ten thousand pounds on top of this, accumulating in a nearly fifty thousand pound debt by the end? We have all been told not to be put off by these figures, as they are wiped after 30 years, and each month you only pay off a proportion reflected by your income. I know this. Yet it doesn't make that figure any less daunting.
Regardless, in February, I went to the open evenings of both of these courses. My mind was made up. I am going to apply for a Masters. Originally, I wanted to do this part-time in order to, as always, focus on my career. However, it is becoming more and more apparent that in order to invest in my future, I need to focus.
I am coming to terms with the fact that for the next year or so, I may need adjust my expectations and aspirations. Despite the two MA courses being vastly different, both would take up two days of my week. I am also loving my fashion archive placement, where I currently go once a week, which I will hopefully continue throughout my Masters studies. Ultimately, I need to find some way to support myself financially that will work around these commitments, but also satisfy my thirst for success.
I am still searching. I have ideas, projects in the pipeline and proposals in mind. Yet, for the first time in my life, I am planning some down time. By the second week of May, the majority of my undergrad final work will have been handed in. My graduation will be in July. The Masters course will commence in September. I'm planning at least a month of nothing during this period. A time I can organize my life, my ideas and my plans. While in this period I may have to withdraw some investment, both financially and emotionally, perhaps even not working for this period - and thus using some savings to support myself to pay rent etc - it will in the long-run serve as a form of investment for my future, as I hope to have a clearer head before beginning the next chapter of my life.