We spoke to Lara Spiller, who is currently interning at Parfums Christian Dior. Lara was keen to tell us about her experiences as a Fashion intern, from not just her current internship but the many other internships she has also undertaken. A firm believer in the benefits of interning, Lara told us what graduates and students can expect doing an internship in fashion.
Tell us a little about your internships, what were the main tasks you were trusted with?
LS: My internships have mainly been involved with Fashion and PR, so the tasks tended to include looking for coverage in the media, creating presentations and reports but it did vary from internship to internship.
Fashion PR is very similar generally, but if you go to different places they will operate in a different way. Some brands will have a really big focus on events, a lot of your role with help with the preparation for that, for example ordering products, making sure samples are ready, setting up a show room. Other places with smaller budgets could have you working a lot more office based for example creating reports.
What was the most beneficial thing you took away with you?
LS: Definitely contacts. I think interning gives you the opportunity to come into contact with so many people, especially in PR because you're always communicating about connections or products. You're talking to people constantly on a daily basis, so you do build relationships over email and over the phone. Sometimes you get to meet them at an event which is lovely because you can put a face to the name.
Making contacts in the office and making friends in the office was also very beneficial during my Fashion Internships. I made friends that are still my friends now after I've finished my internship, I think it is so important to keep in contact with people you meet because you never know if they have a job for you or hear of something that is going on in their company which they can point you towards.
I think in the Fashion industry there are a lot of jobs, but a lot of it is networking. You will always be working across departments so you should always try and introduce yourself to as many people as possible.
What was the biggest difficulty you faced during your internships?
LS: Financial uncertainty was a big problem for me. I thought it was really hard when you were interning and you were unsure what you were going to do next. For me I started interning straight after I graduated, so to do an internship in London straight away I did not have the security I would have wanted, which I found challenging at times.
Did you feel like a valued member of the team?
LS: Throughout all my internships I haven't had any bad experiences and I have felt valued. I did think I had to prove myself while I was there. I understood that many companies employ interns on a rolling basis, so for people who work there and see interns coming and going all the time, you have to do something different to stand out.
Some of the things I've done were redesigning magazine covers, having one on ones with journalists at press days and introducing myself to everyone. I once did some analytical work because I found I had some spare time and thought it would help my team and help them with their strategy. I even ended up writing a report for the CEO. Just because you are there doesn't mean you have to do the basic jobs, you can do more and that will help you get noticed and be valued. It also shows your colleagues that you want to be there and you're not just doing it to pass the time.
Do you feel like you gained career long skills from your internships?
LS: Yes definitely, while this might not apply to every Fashion internship, I had a lot of computer time which developed my skills in Word, PowerPoin and Excel, and if I decided that I didn't want to pursue a career in the fashion industry I still have those skills which are useful to a lot of jobs.
Because you're at University, you think you are going to be prepared for the industry, but when you join you learn so much more. Sometimes you could be working with challenging people or getting solutions to problems and my internships taught me to use my initiative which is also applicable elsewhere.
Another thing that I am going to carry on into the next stage of my career is to push myself and be thick skinned. It's really important to be confident and introduce yourself and not be afraid to talk to new people.
What advice would you give a student/graduate looking for a Fashion internship?
LS: I would say create some financial security, especially if some of the internships you are looking at are unpaid. It is quite frustrating, but the reality is that many of the fashion brands don't pay their interns. I would advise that students got as much experience as they can while studying, during the holidays or part time, alternatively save up while you're still at university. At one point last year I was working evenings and weekends while interning full time which was so hard.
I heard something once that was "Interning isn't unpaid work, it is free learning" and if you think how much you are paying on tuition fees then the cost doesn't seem too bad. The fashion industry teaches you some much that university just can't teach you.
It is also important to make the most of the resources at university too. Whether it is creating innovative business cards, having a studio portrait taken for LinkedIn, all the resources you can take advantage of when you're will benefit you in the long run.
Similarly, if you're at university and the year above needs help setting up a fashion show, they might not advertise they need help but go and ask them. The experience you need doesn't necessarily need to be at a brand. It is all about finding different ways to gain experience: help out at a local fashion show, look to help stylists in your area and just anything you get.
What advice would you give a student/graduate currently undertaking a Fashion internship?
LS: I would say be confident and be polite. Those are two things that always go a long way. If you're shy it is easy not to get noticed, but if you're confident enough to introduce yourself or offer to make tea, it's sometimes the simplest things that people really appreciate. It shows that you're willing to do anything to be helpful to the team.
I would also advise that Fashion interns do not lose sight of their goals. It's OK to do an internship and realise that it's not right for you; you would never have known that if you hadn't done it. If you don't enjoy it question why, is it the brand, your colleagues, the role and if you're not enjoying then you know what direction to turn to next. So make sure to keep your career plan in mind and know what you need to do to get there.
Another thing to remember is just because they've given you some simple tasks doesn't mean that you shouldn't do anything else. Do some research or suggest some ideas, when I've done it my mangers have always appreciated it and been able to leave a new system and my mark on the company.
In your view, how important are Internships?
LS: I think specifically in fashion, internships are almost essential. I don't think I know anyone in fashion who has never interned. It is easy to see internships in a bad light because they get a lot of bad press and it can seem like companies are taking advantage, but it is more than likely that your manager has been through the same thing. It is fine to talk to your managers about it too, ask them what they had to do to get where they are and it will help you keep sight of your goals.
Internships are really important because they can help you network so much. Even if you're there for a short amount of time, even two weeks, the amount of people that you can meet and you will never know where they might end up. So it's good to stay in contact for future job opportunities.
With other industries and internships in general, I think they are amazing in giving your time to a brand, you're not tied into a brand but you've got a real responsibility and you get to see how that company works and you get to absorb as much experience as possible.