In the the dog-eat-dog ecosystem of serial internships, survival is key. Whether surviving means you’re tired of the little to no pay that typically piggybacks an intern posting, or maybe you’re simply (How do I put this) ret’ to go — leaving behind understated office tension. Whatever the reason may be, you’ll want to hear how 4 interns turned professionals survived and succeeded as fashion hopefuls!
Dineen Coffee shop was ambushed by a fraction of the tweeting, snapchatting, and insta lovin’ population of the world (Us Of Course!). We kicked off the afternoon with an industry meetup where we exchanged intern tales from personal experience. With lip color stamped mugs of almond milk lattes in hand (Sorry dish-pitters!), one consistent theme of conversation was the > 1 internship each girl had under their belt.
Considering major publications like FASHION Magazine, The Coveteur – ELLE Canada and Salon Magazine on their resumes; Anita, Monika, Laura and Emily are what I’d call experts in ‘The Climb’. By reading their advice on surviving a fashion internship, you’ll see how deciding to start from the bottom doesn’t mean you’ll always be there.
Past Internships: Wishes Alliance GH, MTV, House of Cramer, Elle Canada
Current Position: Holt Renfrew
“I knew that I wanted to pursue fashion professionally when I came back from Ghana last year in May, and I knew that I had to do an internship based on research I did online. Anyone who’s made it talks about their internships — about getting their foot in the door. I didn’t have an academic background in fashion, so I thought an internship would be my way”. Anita’s ambition has taken her to Accra, Ghana and back, all in the name of creativity; and fashion had been apart of her adolescence far before the big move. “When I was 18 years old I got a grant to start my own business. I started an ecommerce business – a small fashion boutique online. I did a fashion show and included all my friends, It was fun and was a taste of what could be.”
With the decision to enroll in the magazine and web publishing program at Ryerson U, also came the opportunity to intern in Toronto (The land of
opportunity internships). Elle Canada was where she landed, building on her experience with ELLE as an editorial assistant following the internship. “It was tricky because not only was it a new internship, but I was new to the city as well, so it was an overall adjustment. I didn’t know if it was ELLE or the other things considered. I felt a little isolated. There was this hierarchy – the editors then assistants and then came the interns. Everyone was trying to find their place, and it was difficult for me to figure out where I belonged” .
Reflecting on the experience, Anita says she is happy she made it. “I was amazed at the things I pushed myself to do. It was easy to be mediocre, but it takes courage and boldness to ask for things to do. The friends I’ve made in the other interns have impacted my life. Looking back I’m inspired and motivated to continue.”
To survive, Anita says:
1. You should always ask yourself why you are doing this and why you are qualified: “Be real with yourself about this path – everyone likes fashion, but is everyone good at it depending on the route you plan to take. Answer this question for yourself, do you want to be an expert or an influencer? Find out where you fit in. If you’re doing it because you think you’ll be famous, popular or get free stuff — you’re not going to get a lot of money initially and you may never be famous.”
2. Stay ambitious: “There are a lot of people that are talented, but they don’t have the right amount of hard work, goals setting and vision. You have to tell yourself there is no single goal – as soon as you hit one goal, there has to be another one to hit –until yes, you’ve hit success, but even then there’s always a bigger dream.”
3. You can never allow your success to be in the hands of someone else: “Kissing up to editors and befriending someone for an opportunity is going to give you something temporal. People change everyday and change is constant, so for someone to place something like your career in someone else’s hands is not smart. At the end of the day, no matter how friendly you are if your work speaks for itself, people will hire you. It’s always a good idea to be a nice mix of friendly and hardworking, but never place that in relationships because that won’t last.”
Past Internships: Fashion Magazine, Rock-it-Promotions, Lotus Leaf
Current Position: APEX PR Account Coordinatort Coordinator
This PR girl says she began high school with a new found concern far more important than her 9th grade work load — Her style! “As my interest in fashion grew, I researched the web for anything related to the career, and internships seemed like the necessary step to get your foot into the door, anywhere really! I knew then that I had to do one or two (or three) to get where I wanted to be.” Before landing her first internship at FASHION Magazine, Laura touches on how her lot of retail experience, volunteering and academia were leverage for her to submit her application. “I thought my chances were pretty decent aside from my experiences, because I do pride myself in knowing a lot about the fashion and magazine world. Also, polite persistence doesn’t hurt either!”
Laura says she reached out to FASHION before deciding to pursue graduate studies and was informed that they wanted her to come in for an interview — the next day! When she finally decided to tackle a Masters, she says her contact at FASHION told her to keep in touch if ever she wanted to do the internship in the future. And that’s exactly what she did, moving to Toronto a year and a half later.
A day in her shoes as an intern consisted of morning meeting sit-ins, printing related documents for the staff, researching topics, copy-editing, transcribing interviews, and hanging-out in the fashion/beauty closet helping wherever needed, Laura mentions. “I was still super excited to be there even after one month! Interns were treated well and were included in major staff meetings. I made friends with the other interns and the staff pretty quickly because of close proximity. Overall, I thought I had gained a good grasp of what working at a magazine was and a small part of me wished the internship had been longer (despite the tough financial time I was in, of course).”
To survive, Laura says it’s important to:
- Figure out and narrow down which part of the fashion world you’d want to work in: “There are SO many different avenues a person can take towards different careers. For me, I did my first internship at a fashion magazine but ended pursuing internships in PR. Researching the different publications or companies you are interested in is a good way to see if they are a right fit for you, or to see if they even have an internship program. Some companies won’t have that information posted online and so it’s up to you to reach out via email or phone- don’t hesitate to find out what you need to know!”
2. Don’t be afraid to move to a different city (or country!) for an internship: “I’d recommend staying at home for any internship, especially an unpaid one, but if that isn’t possible, save up and move- it’s worth it! Even better when the internship is part of a school program, if you are taking something related to fashion. Schools and their staff will already have connections in the fashion world so that makes it way easier to get your foot in! Remember that this is an investment in your career and will look great on your resume.”
3. Talk to friends and family about it: “That way they’ll think of you if they’ve heard about any opportunities or will keep their eyes open and ears peeled for you. If you notice a friend, acquaintance or friend of a friend who is pursuing a career in a direction you’d like to take, don’t hesitate to reach out to them and get pointers on the city they live in, the company they intern(ed) for and how they got to where they are now. Hearing about someone else making it will give you the added confidence you need to get there yourself.”
Past Internships: Sophia Models, College Fashionista, Stylehunter.com, The Coveteur, ELLE Canada
Current Position: Associate Style Editor, Huffington Post Canada
Some of Monika’s experience come from The Coveteur – to the Sheppard-Yonge crossing of the ELLE Canada offices. This woman swears by networking, and isn’t afraid to approach you at an event to strike up a chat! It all began when Monika says she picked up that a lot of her friends were doing placements and internships in the U.S. “I thought to myself, if I want a career in fashion media and journalism I’ll need experience. So, I went out and looked for internships. I knew that I’d have to start from the bottom, that was my plan. I just knew internships had to be a part of my development.”
In the summer of 2013 Monika notes that she wondered what she could do in her home town of Calgary to up her chances in the industry. She approached a modeling agency at a career fair and asked “Hey, do you need an intern?” After being hired on as their first intern EVER, Monika says she was officially on her way to gaining the experience she longed for. Fast forward a couple of years, and Monika moves to Toronto to continue her intern streak at ELLE Canada. – “After my first week I thought to myself, this is different coming from the Coveteur. I felt lost; no one was talking to me and no one was giving me the feedback I wanted”. I feel like at ELLE you have to seek out opportunities. You have to step forward and ask.”
Following the internship, Monika remained on the ELLE team as an editorial assistant. “After reflecting on my final week, I’d say I was a better writer. I’d write something and the editors would say you’re growing and that felt good. It was great to know and realize that my team had faith in me; knowing that all the little mundane tasks helped me to build relationships.”
Monika thinks it’s essential to:
- Develop a good relationship with your team: “Make the time to ask them to sit down. Ask them how they started out. People love sharing their experiences. When you do this, they will know you are serious about pursuing a career.”
- Put yourself out there and don’t be afraid: “Between internships, I always randomly reached out to people. The way I looked at it was, I didn’t move to Toronto to say I tried. I started asking people for contacts. I started talking to people and making connections. I went to an event and approached a girl and introduced myself, and now I work with her everyday.”
- Work hard and hustle: “When you are given a task, put 100 percent into it to show your dedication and passion. I used to spend so long on my slideshows at ELLE and having it fully prepared for when an editor would look at it. You have to show people that you can work hard. In an internship there are moments of discouragement and you start to think, why am I doing this. An editor once said to me – ‘It might not look like I’m not paying attention, but I totally am.’ Even when it seems like no one notices you, they do.”
Past Internships: Charged.fm, Volta Magazine, ReNew Canada, Water Canada, Salon Magazine
Current Position: Editorial Assistant, Beautezine.com
“I’ve always wanted to work for a magazine after watching the movie 13 going on 30. I made a plan in the 10th grade and I’ve followed through with it. I’d always been a strong writer in school and wanted to write; it’s always been a part of me.”
Doing an internship was important for Emily to see how things worked from the bottom up, she says. “You can’t jump into an industry expecting to be ahead of someone else. An internship is where you pay your dues and get your feet wet. I’ve applied for 10 internships over the past four years and have gotten four of them.” Her first taste of the industry was at Volta Magazine while still in university where she says she got to learn all aspects of editorial and production. “I got experience writing my first header and description and started writing altogether.” Emily has interned in NY, and most recently wrapped up an internship at Salon Magazine (clap, clap, bravo!).” If you apply to any given internship and don’t get in, I don’t think it’s anything to be discouraged about, it’s a character building experience and no matter what you apply for, the worst thing is you won’t hear back.”
Emily tells me that her first impression as a Salon Magazine intern was that it would be a lot of fun, but nevertheless hard work. “I got the impression early on that the team was on my side. They gave me tasks that would challenge me and I think it’s important to be with people who stretch you. I got to be a part of a lot of different aspects of production, whether it was proofing or whatever else; my input was valued and accepted”.
Emily thinks it’s important to:
- Don’t be afraid to go into the lunchroom and talk to someone you don’t know: “That’s how you find those networking avenues and you never know what’ll come out of just one conversation.”
- Do everything humbly and happily: “Every and all opportunities are blessings. At the end of the day these are all experiences we are blessed to have and they shouldn’t be taken for granted.”
- Enjoy it, although cliché: “People focus on thinking ahead of the opportunity and forget to be thankful for it currently. What you should focus on is improving your own skills and expanding your horizons. For instance, I liked beauty, but I didn’t know I’d be as interested in it until my last internship. It changes your perspective on an industry.”
Thanks for reading. I hope the advice has motivated you to begin or continue on the road to your professional career in fashion. Check below to tweet any of these professionals, and follow them on instagram to follow them day to day!