Over 5 years ago I started sharing my journey into the fashion industry with videos on youtube like ‘Making art portfolio for entry into fashion design’ and boy, have I experienced a lot since then! It actually blows my mind that I finished my degree in fashion design almost a year ago, so I think a re-cap is well overdue. Along with today’s personal style, I’ll be sharing some tips, what I experienced at some pretty cool internships as well as my plans for the future!
How to get an Internship
I did a post in February with my top tips on how to find & land your dream job, and I’ll be honest, a lot of the same rules apply for getting an internship. Definitely worth a read to get the basics covered! For fashion internships, if you want the really good ones, you gotta’ be smart about it. You need to dig for contacts where people might not think to dig, ask tutors do they have any connections, stalk people on Linked In Pro, or if your feeling really impatient just walk right in to the place you want that job and ask for who’s in charge of the department you would like experience in.
A lot of people really turn their nose up at the thought of internships especially if its unpaid, but whats important to realise in an internship is it’s a great way to get your foot in the door of a great company. Think about it, your already getting on with everyone and learning the ropes of whatever your doing so of course your going to be in a really good place to apply for a paid position after the internship or in the future. For this reason it’s fundamental you present yourself as professional and as useful as possible during your internship. It’s tempting to just sit on your phone all day because your not getting paid, but honestly it’s just a waste of everyone’s time if your not willing to put 110% into your internship and you’ll just be a burden more then a help. I’ve always been really pro-active at my internships and keen to help get things done in any way I can, by actively seeking ways to help my colleagues get the job done and NEVER sitting around with nothing to do, sweep the damn floors if your have to! You can also ask for work references from these internships to help you with other opportunities, so making a good impression is key. The more places & references you have on your CV, the better position you’ll be in after graduating!
Don’t waste the summer away, use a few weeks of it or even use a day off from university during the year to work somewhere. Three summers of university, thats three extra employers on your CV before you even graduate! Also open your eyes to local opportunities that may not be exactly what you want to do, I promise you you’ll always come away with new knowledge that will stand to you. Trust me, the biggest fashion brands may sound good but are almost always the most disappointing! Theres lots of internship reviews online, and they really help in researching internships. At the end of the day you want to go somewhere where you can actually learn something as opposed to doing a coffee run.
Most companies love to take on unpaid interns for obvious reasons, but know your rights when it comes to unpaid labour and if the internship is a cost to you, request that your travel & lunch expense be covered if possible and taxi’s home for any late nights. I’ve always done regular 9.30-5 days at my internships and generally having a regular schedule like that is most beneficial, but know that it is illegal for an internship to demand those hours or extra hours when you are working for free. You don’t have to do full days as an intern, you could work from 9-3pm or two full days a week for example. Aim to show colleagues that your capable of doing a good job and express your strengths. I personally found the internships I did during university were better because I had more technical skills in design!
My Experiences in the Fashion Industry
Oh god where to start, it’s safe to say I’ve been around the block & experienced a lot of different types of internships & jobs within the industry. I think this is the best way to learn what you enjoy most, I certainly found out about what I didn’t like!
Artisan Design @ Fashion Hothouse Dublin: So I think this was my first bit of work experience ever while I was still at school. I found fashion hothouse after a feature on Xposé (an irish fashion show on tv). I really liked what they were about (it was a studio that did a bit of everything, making garments for atelier designers, smaller scale batches of garments for clothing companies based in Ireland & also designing and making their own line) and as I didn’t really know of any Irish designers at the time I thought it would be a good place to start. I emailed them about a one week work experience opportunity. It felt like a big deal at the time, I think I was only 17 so to stay in Dublin city centre in a hostel (all I could afford) for a week on my own was quite the independent stride… I didn’t learn much here but it was fascinating to watch some of Dublin’s most experienced tailors & seamstresses work. I visited recently and feel its lost a lot of that original artisanal feel (more factory like now) with the retirement of the people I worked with. I swept the floors and did A LOT of tidying/organising but to be fair I wasn’t trained in anything particular at this point. Instead I observed other things like interactions with clients, how the business ran and I had my first go on an industrial sewing machine here (it was terrifying)!
Computer Aided Design @ University of Ulster: Proof that you don’t always have to go far for some experience! I did a semester helping out the Adobe Photoshop / Illustrator class tutor and learned loads myself from repeating lessons and also got some teaching experience! Computer aided design is really important for most design jobs, and even though companies like to think hand drawing is better and more artisan the fact of the matter is they will still need digital drawing for production & general clarity for the designs. I’ve to this day never been asked to hand draw a full on illustration so don’t worry if you aren’t the Karl Lagerfeld of fashion illustration!
Costume @ Game Of Thrones season four: One of my prouder experiences, this wasn’t so much an internship it was more of a job in a training position which was paid. My official role was a trainee fabricator in the leather & armoury department at the Game of Thrones set in Belfast. After becoming quickly obsessed with the show I took advantage of the fact it was an opportunity practically on my doorstep in Belfast that I simply had HAD to have. This is a pure example of my tenacious perseverance kicking in, when I want something I go all in! I hounded tutors who I knew had worked in the set before, and also applied once the general crew call on the Screen NI website had gone up. If you want to work in the film industry, keeping a close eye for crew calls on a country’s film board pages is the best place to get up to date contact information as soon as they start hiring (don’t bother emailing the board’s website itself as they don’t work directly with the production’s hiring staff!).
So there I was, with an renowned Italian team and a few banterous Belfast folk getting my hands dirty making costumes for my favourite stars in the show. I got an A1 in construction studies in school and always liked being a bit of a boy and working with tools etc. I absolutely loved the aspect of being treated equally in terms of work, carefully stitching leather aprons for Jon Snow one day, hammering rivets into armour for armies the next! I really developed a passion for working with leather here, learning so many artisanal techniques and all in a short space of time. It was amazing to be a part of such a massive set and then to see it all on TV was just the proudest thing. Two seasons later our garments are still being worn and my name was even in the credits!
However our true blood sweat & tears went into those garments. For two months 8am-7pm, five-days a week I shared a space with my new family. They were family because we barely had any lives due to the hours and by god the weekends weren’t long enough! That’s showbiz I guess though, things just need to get done! Being in a costume department was a completely different experience to anything I’d done before. It was extremely physically & mentally demanding. You’d probably go mad doing that particular job forever! For example we cut, imprint stamped & perfectly dyed hundreds of leather squares for Brienne of Tarth’s costume (for those of you who are GOT fans hehe) which then needed the tiniest chainmail stitched between each row of squares, it took four of us three weeks staring at 2mm chain links to get her & her doubles costume finished, hands in shreds from all the needle pricks. At one point I had layers of masking tape around all my fingers to try & protect them while I hand-stitched leather with a needle and a pair of plyers! However for me it was not the work that was an issue. Unfortunately most of us were subject to bullying by a head member of the team and I took it particularly harsh when it was my ‘turn’ to be victimised (it seemed to change weekly). I really didn’t want to quit and was determined to finish, but the price I paid is not one I’ll pay again. By the end of it I was experiencing panic attacks (crying, hyperventilating & pacing in the bathrooms) from feeling like I was being constantly watched & picked apart on everything I did on a particular week. I’m a very strong, not easily offended person so for something to really affect me in that way and have no control made me feel quite helpless (I did lodge a formal complaint along with another member of the team but that shit always gets swept under the rug). Theres lots of other things that all contributed to the underlining negative experience I had in this particular department which is such a shame because I loved the people & the rest of the set environment, but I decided at this point costume was not an area I wanted to pursue mostly because of the organisational structure. Theres no room to work your way up in the ranks really, everyone has they’re job to do with little opportunity for promotion and the seasonal short-term nature of the work is a bit too unpredictable. It was both the best & worst experience of my life, and even though I hate the fact that it made me unnecessarily experience panic attacks & anxiety for the first time, I also learned that it is something I will never ever put myself through again in any job.
Commercial Design @ TOPSHOP HQ, London:
This is the first internship that really turned things around for me. I’ve been designing since I had a copybook and a pencil in primary school so I was starting to get a bit disheartened that the industry I had always wanted to be in wasn’t feeling as fun as I’d hoped at these internships. I was so excited for this one though, I think I got the contact for interning at Topshop from somebody that had done it a few years prior and their four week internship program was the perfect was to finish the summer before my final year at university. It meant staying in London for the month with my conveniently placed uncle and although it was unpaid they did cover my travel & lunch (it costs 137£ for the Oyster card a week!). I loved this internship, and my capabilities were quickly recognised & put to good use. I learned a ton about how to read trends, was able to do a bit of CAD here and there, get to know Soho’s fabric shops & work on some hand embellishment as well as useful information about how commercial design works & how things run in general. This one sweater I worked on ended up in the store a few months later and I was so chuffed with that! It reminded me why I wanted to get into design, because I want to see people in my clothes! I felt really useful here, I loved the team & and I got a great reference from it. They really appreciated that I worked hard and was not a useless intern and treated me like staff. They even threw me a leaving party out of their own pockets with loads of food and free clothes, I honestly was blown away any couldn’t help but cry a little I was so touched (the party thing is probably a London standard, but they really didn’t need to do that for an intern). I hated London though, it’s just not for me. The commute was horrendous and it’s safe to say I’m definitely more of a New Yorker!
High End Design @ Gabriela Hearst: Which brings me up to now. I am now exploring the last piece in my puzzle which is high-end design in New York. I work two days a week at Gabriela Hearst and although it is a young brand, its already quite established and I honestly couldn’t of asked for a better internship. I purposely did not go for the bigger brands in NYC as most of them treat they’re interns like crap and your just stuck with like ten other interns… I’m the only intern here so I’m being really submersed into everything from running around the garment district to picking up Met Ball dresses from the Atelier! Again, I feel useful here (lordy knows I hate being bored more then anything) and love being a part of the team! As a designer who loves really great fabric & luxe details, it’s nice to work in a more high-end environment where things are more carefully considered an only the best fabric is sourced.
At this point, I know I want to work for myself in the future. I’m hoping sooner rather then later now that I’ve spent the last year self-employed but it’s great to finally know what I want out of my career and I’m ready to soon get stuck into realising my dreams. I’m happiest working for myself & have always had an entrepreneurial spirit so watch this space my friends! 😉 This post is nearly a book at this stage, but I would really love to hear your feedback on it. Don’t forget you can share it to your fashion friends with the buttons below! T.x
Classic Turtleneck – Uniqlo, Jeans – Vintage Levi’s, Bag & Shoes (size down) – Choies