Monday, May 14, 2012
Why Fashion Was not for Me, aka So, You Want A Fashion Internship
Two years ago I left my stable, and very cushioned job of 3 years and headed up to New York City for an internship in fashion public relations with Big PR Agency (pseudonym). Why it took me three years of mind-numbing boredom to finally break free still boggles my mind. So I took the plunge and it was about time. My friends and family were very supportive, admiring my courage. Looking back, I have to say that it does take courage to drop every thing and go after what you want. People rarely do this. The idea is simple enough, but the first steps are very scary.
I blogged very little about the whole experience, but if you look around, I am sure you can find some recaps.
So what happened? The experience was amazing and my first few weeks were an absolute dream as I got to work backstage during New York Fashion Week, walk past velvet ropes and was privy to what happened 'behind the scene.' The hours were long, sometimes the people (with egos) were rude, but to live and breath what you always dreamed of...well that joy is incomparable. I met/saw so many celebrities & designers; Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher, Amanda Seyfried (she's really petite!), Thom Browne, Monique Lhuillier....the list goes on. Don't get me started on all the free perks and gifts.
Then reality set in. I quickly realized that there is no money in fashion pr, not unless you've made it to the top of the ladder (by shamelessly brown-nosing, or aggressively networking). Don't get me wrong, if you are doing what you love, money should not be an issue. But I am talking about enough money to just get by in Manhattan. Girls who were in entry to mid level positions were barely breaking 30K. I remember a mid-level girl once mentioning in passing about an opening in another design house, stating, "They are offering 35K. That's really high for this industry." Another girl in our office constantly gripped about needing to find a second job. She was in her early 30's and barely making it by. A few other girls had second jobs.
If you are at the bottom of the ladder, you are literally doing bitch work. Let's just call this position the bottom bitch. The bottom bitches hardly make enough to cover rent, but they have to put in long hours to prove their dedication. Overtime pay is unheard of and paid dinners do not exist here. The girl that hired me averaged over 10 hours a day. The good news is turnover is very high here so jobs open up fast, but a significant pay raise is not. The CEO or owners profit most of the company's earnings. The crumbs then drip down slowly.
You can easily see how the bottom bitches can grow to become resentful. But it is a rite of passage almost; to be slaving away until you get promoted to a higher position. The question then becomes, how long can you survive on such scant income and long hours in such a city?
The fashion industry runs on interns; wide-eyed naive little things who followed Fashion Toast and read Vogue as a child. There are hundreds of girls like them, all eager, some willing to do anything to land the job. There are surpluses of interns in New York, and the fashion world exploits their naive dreams. So the bottom bitches have these girls at their disposal.
I worked hard because I knew I wanted this, but then I realized that this thing that I wanted, it wasn't as rewarding as I thought it would be. The girls I was working with in the positions that I was vying for were so very bitter. They were not happy and you could see it on their faces just about every day, through every interaction. They were miserable and I refused to turn into that. I had left a miserable job that did pay well, so I wasn't going to trade it for another sad one that paid next to nothing. A position opened up and I was told that I would be interviewed for it. This never happened (fashion people are a bit flaky and socially awkward I think. You could just call them liars.) and the spot was filled up without my knowledge. Let's just say that the fashion world does not operate on the same professional level as the corporate world. Then I was offered a freelance position at the end of my internship that paid less than the job I had back in college ( Bonus: no overtime, just bitch work). I respectfully declined.
My love of fashion was still there. It never faded. My brief experience with fashion pr only made me love fashion even more. But I realized that there were different ways to be in the fashion industry than in pr. Since then, I took a hiatus to Paris, then lived in Shanghai for two months as a freelance contributing writer, traveling around Asia for one month. I returned home to attend my girl friend's wedding as her Maid of Honor.
For now I am working as a freelance consultant. Still traveling endlessly.
I have a new found respect for the girls in fashion pr. It is a job that requires blood, sweat and tears every day. It is a thankless job and if you can hold on to who you are, if you can promise yourself that it won't make you bitter or resentful or change you as a person, then I encourage you to pursue it and not to let any thing deter you.
What I want to say to you the most, is that it is perfectly alright to blindly pursue your dreams, dropping everything else until you get it. You may fail, or your dreams could likely turn out to be not exactly as you envisioned. It may not fit you in the end. But I hope that you will allow yourself to try again. If not at the same dreams, then a new endeavor. To realize that failing is a part of life is to be able to fearlessly pursue every goal you have ever had. In life, you will probably fail more than you will succeed, but there is no such thing as failing if you gained experience & strength from it.