Is the fashion industry's long union with unpaid interns coming to an end?
There have been a string of recent lawsuits that suggest that the culture of the long sought after (unpaid) fashion internship is changing. Zac Posen is the latest brand to be hit with an unpaid intern lawsuit, joining a long list of other well-known fashion brands including; Lacoste, Burberry, IMG, Gucci, Calvin Klein, Marc Jacobs, Oscar de la Renta, Coach Inc., Donna Karan, Alexander McQueen among others that have been accused of inadequately remunerating their interns.
In the lawsuit brought against the New York fashion retailer in the New York Supreme Court this past week, former intern Kevin Shahroozi claims that the fashion brand Zac Posen (The House of Z LLC) was in violation of New York Labor Laws, failing to pay minimum wage for work he and others performed. In particular, according to the complaint Shahroozi maintains that from March 2013 through to July 2013 he worked three days a week for around 21 hours, performing tasks involving “sketching, cutting patterns, organizing fabric, sewing, testing fabrics, researching in books and magazines, photocopying and running errands...without receiving compensation or education and/or training.”
In the recent onslaught of cases brought by interns against these well-known fashion houses, each lawsuit follows a common theme; namely that during the internship period, the former unpaid intern was an “employee” of the business providing services that significantly benefited the company. For which they were not adequately compensated for. Plus the company, along with failing to provide education or training, which is a common prerequisite for internship programs, did not pay the intern a minimum wage. In the latest unpaid intern case against the designer Zac Posen, Shahroozi is seeking minimum wage compensation, as well as damages for him and his fellow employees.
But here’s the thing, in the highly competitive industry of fashion, the infamous internships have become comme il faut, the de rigueur for those without experience wanting to break into the world of fashion. And we wonder if this is the beginning of the end of such a tradition. Yet, is the obscure internship reality a place where young talented designers have their ideas copied, designs pinched, and work not inadequately credited.
While this surge of recent unpaid internship cases show the campaign against unpaid work is gaining ground, the fashion industry is left to wonder with this surge of legal cases what it to be said for the future culture of the customary unpaid internship in fashion? Conde Nast – whose titles include Vogue and GQ, announced in October 2013 that the company would stop taking on interns after they were sued by two former interns.
The rise and fall of the fashion unpaid internships is stirring mixed feelings, for some it has been hugely beneficial, for others it has been received with feelings of exploitation. Whatever the case, the culture of the fashion internship seems to be changing, whether it be through interns taking a stand, or fashion houses refusing to take on interns, whilst these pending litigated cases unfold, it will be interesting to see what kind of precedent these lawsuits set for fashion houses and interns in the future.