According to reports the HMRC has recognised the exploitation of interns in UK fashion houses and will in the New Year be issuing out penalties to those that exploit their interns for free labour.
Vogue online states that 102 British fashion houses that showed at London fashion week were notified by letter on the enforcements put in place, any fashion house found not complying will be fined and forced to back date interns pay.
As much as this is a triumph for struggling fashion students that currently work long hours and receive no pay while doing placements at some of the UKs biggest fashion houses, I have no doubt this will have a damaging effect on the industry as well as cause these fashion houses to limit the already very competitive internships they offer.
Reminiscing back to my days as a fashion student, I remember what a struggle it was to complete an unpaid fashion work placement, travelling to and fro in and around London wasn't cheap!
This was why taking placements at high street brands had more appeal, in my day most of the high street names would pay for students travel and sometimes even lunch, though now a days they simply pay a working wage.
For my classmates from more privileged backgrounds, they could afford to take unpaid placements from high end/independent designers.
For this reason alone I welcome the government’s enforcement for paid fashion internships, since it gives those from a working class background the ability to access the opportunities that come with working in high fashion.
I've heard some horror stories in my time of how big fashion houses exploit their interns, with many interns subjected to working 10 hours days with few breaks, take on unofficially official job roles, pay for their own travel & accommodation when travelling in and outside of the UK.
As hard as it may all sound, the career benefits are huge, intern who work for an established label gain vital industry contacts, experience, build a relationship with a potential employer, not to mention that having an established label on their CV makes them a coveted commodity in both high and low fashion.
For many fashion students this is a defining moment in their future careers, it is also the reality of working in high end fashion. Any designer worth their salt will admit it took alot of hard work, dedication and personal sacrifices to get to where they are.
And despite popular belief many established independent designer houses are not making much money, it also isn't uncommon to hear that a designer label is going through financial hardship or bankruptcy; take British design duo Clements Ribeiro, who were forced to take a hiatus when the brand went through financial difficultly.
I'm not agreeing with the way fashion houses treat their interns, though unlike workers in Bangladeshi clothing factories many of these interns are being exposed to future opportunities and will go on to take high paying fashion roles. Take Sarah Burton as an example, the wedding dress designer for Kate Middleton; Burton started as an intern for Alexander McQueen, after graduating she went back to work for the designer as his right hand woman, she has been with the company for over 10 years and last year was made creative director after McQueen sadly committed suicide.
Though we are unclear which fashion designers were among the 102 fashion houses receiving a letter from the HMRC the fact is that not many of the Britain’s fashion houses are in positions to offer their interns paid placements, particularly the independent ones not yet bought out by the big fashion groups such as PPR and LVMH, though the opportunity itself can come with much advantages.
The problem I have is that it’s only now the government feels the need to crack down on an age old industry practice!
Considering the current economical climate it seems blatantly obvious that this is just a government strategy to drum up revenue since I’m sure they stand to see a boost in tax and NI from these students earnings not to mention how much they stand to make from the fines issued.
This flippant attitude the government seems to have regarding the British fashion industry concerns me, since generally the industry is struggling. Many of our high street brands are going into administration; just this week shoe brand Barratts admitted financial problems for the second time in 3 years!
And high fashion isn’t doing any better with British heritage brands Burberry and Mulberry both admitting that overseas sales are keeping the business in profit.
Personally I would like to see the government being a little more supportive to the industry in its time of need. Despite bringing in billions of pounds of revenue the industry also provides millions of jobs across the country, so I don’t see how the government can afford to jeopardise the productivity of this industry right now!
Though, historically the Conservative government have never been particularly kind to the industry. During the Thatcher era government policies practically cleansed Britain of it fabric and clothing manufacturing industry forcing British design labels to source in Far East regions.
On the surface the government publicising the clamp down of the exploitation of fashion interns may sound constructive but in actuality it is not only a damaging blow to a fragile industry it’s also a misguided use of energy.
If raising capital was the aim if this campaign then maybe the government should look into dealing with tax envision since figures say £70 billion* is lost every year through the rich avoiding paying taxes!
*Figure taken from Chav The Demonization of the Working Class by Owen Jones, 2011, published by Verso
HMRC warns against intern exploitation, Vogue.co.uk
Barratts administration jobs threat?, The Guardian
Mulberry bags bigger profits thanks to Asia and Brazil, The Independent