• Kali Hough

The Unpaid New York City Internship

How Fashion’s Culture of Exclusivity Begins in its Most Entry Level Position


In a quick skim of any fashion centered career page or LinkedIn job-posting, the following requirements are often included:


  • Based in New York City

  • For Academic Credit Only


The job posting then goes on to “balance” the cards of an unpaid opportunity with a generous employee discount or 'incredible exposure.' My freshman year of college, I took an opportunity of this nature, prestigious and while once in a while I would get rewarded with store credit or a paid lunch, I spent my Saturdays working part time at the farmer’s market for transportation and lunch money. Being from New York, I naturally evaded the notoriously high rent, but an unpaid internship quickly became a burden for a resume bullet, rather than an experience of growth and learning.


As I now co-run an organization attempting to get more young people into the industry, particularly those of color, all who wish to dismantle norms and come forward with their own creative ideas, it is indescribably frustrating to refer opportunities with these requirements upon our members. Paired with the challenge of “need experience to get experience,” I contemplate the struggles of my members to live in the places they are hired in and to support themselves in the cities they want to begin their careers.


As the industry and the world reels with the countless attacks on people of color in the last decade, the question of diversity and exclusivity has become a hot topic. In the CFDA’s report on the “State of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion,” only about half of black employees felt as if their companies were making changes in their approach to diverse hiring, compared to 75% of white employees. As companies reckon with the homogeneity of their boardrooms, they should assess the mechanisms keeping their companies exclusive. Unpaid internships, and the requirement to live in one of the most expensive cities in the world has become a classist cycle keeping the industry confined to those with the benefits of money and nepotism.


As FashionX continues its goal of producing young people ready to tackle fashion’s largest questions around sustainability, ethical consumption, diversity, and how technology is redefining our world, their dreams should not be inhibited by a lack of supplemental income or the need to work three jobs in order to seize a defining professional experience. As the global fashion industry continues to preach the rhetoric of “young people as the future,” it's about time it starts investing in them.