Intern Advocacy Groups Target Fashion Week 2013

[New York/London] March 4, 2013 - In a series of back-to-back actions at the New York and London Fashion Weeks (February 7-19, 2013), activists from Intern Labor Rights (New York), SUARTS (the Student Union of the University of Arts London) and Intern Aware (London) collaborated to campaign for fair, paid internships within the fashion industry.

The actions were met by extensive press coverage and commentary (see below for links).

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“Devil Pays Nada” campaign activists bring their “Pay Your Interns” tote bags to Somerset House in Aldwych, London during London Fashion Week, February 15, 2013.

In New York, Intern Labor Rights modeled its action on the common fashion industry practice of handing out promotional “swag bags.” The group prepared hundreds of such bags containing robin-blue boxes inside of which were “Pay Your Interns” buttons, paper slips with campaign-relevant Twitter hashtags and “What’s Wrong with Unpaid Internships?” flyers. The bags were distributed outside shows at both the main Fashion Week tent at Lincoln Center and in the Chelsea arts district. “Frankly, I was expecting lame pantyhose or maybe chapstick or something when I opened the box,” wrote Fashionista.com blogger Tyler McCall, “Instead, there was a pin that read “Pay Your Interns” and some folded up literature about why unpaid internships are wrong and how you can get involved in the movement.”

InstagramNYFW2013KennethCole

Activists from Intern Labor Rights performing a “‘Pay Your Interns’ Swag Bag Drop” at the Kenneth Cole show in Manhattan’s Chelsea Arts District, February 8, 2013.

According to Chloe Wyma at Blouin artinfo.com, “The most common criticism of Occupy Wall Street is that it lacked a coherent ideological program and tangible objectives. But the goals of Action Against Unpaid Internships are straightforward. Coupling high-level litigation with grass-roots advocacy, they aim to end the epidemic of unpaid internships once and for all.” (Intern Labor Rights is a subgroup of Arts & Labor, a working group that formed during Occupy Wall Street.)

In London, the “Devil Pays Nada” campaign orchestrated by SUARTS, working alongside Intern Aware created hundreds of “Pay Your Intern” tote bags that they filled with a variety of materials advocating for fair, paid internships and information for interns on their working rights and the National Minimum Wage legislation. The bags were distributed at Somerset House in Aldwych, London, to guests of the events. “We underestimated the popularity of the totes,” says organizer Fairooz Aniqa, “We ran out incredibly fast, and the bags were extremely popular not just with the interns working (for free) at the event, but also with people who owned their own businesses and worked in senior positions in various fashion houses. We have built up a great momentum and this is now a topic on everybodys lips, and it is essential that we keep pressuring employers to reconsider their use of unpaid interns.”

Activists at London Fashion Week, 2013

SUARTS and Intern Aware activists making their point at London Fashion Week, February 15, 2013

“The campaign has collated information from students and fashion websites to gain evidence of free work schemes at leading design houses,” wrote Vanessa Thorpe in the Guardian’s Observer webpage. “One design student told Intern Aware of an unpaid placement with a famous label, partly based in London, where the interns slept under the workshop table.”

In the midst of these outreach actions in New York and London, former unpaid intern Dajia Davenport filed suit for back wages from a major fashion world player, Elite Model Management, a modeling agency that has represented figures such as Cindy Crawford and Gisele Bundchen. The potential class action suit was filed in a Manhattan federal court on February 15, 2013 and if successful could reach $50 million in damages.

Declaring the Fashion Week actions a clear success in the campaign for fair, paid internships, Intern Labor Rights, SUARTS and Intern Aware will be working together to coordinate future campaigns in culture-producing industries.

*****

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“Pay Your Interns” Swag Bags prepared for New York Fashion Week 2013.

The following groups have committed to supporting each other in the global fight to end unpaid internships:

Canadian Intern Association
Génération Précaire (Paris)
Geneva Interns Association
Hague Interns Association
Intern Aware (London)
Intern Labor Rights (New York City & Washington, DC)
Precarious Workers Brigade (London)
Students’ Union of University of the Arts London

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Selected Press:

“Occupy Movement To Protest Unpaid Internships At Fashion Week”
Buzzfeed.com, Amy Odell, January 31, 2013

“Occupy Wall Street Takes on Unpaid Internships, Will Protest at NYFW”
Fashionista.com, Dhani Mau, February 1, 2013

“‘The Devil Pays Nada’: Occupy Wall Street Protests Intern Abuse in Fashion”
Blouin artinfo.com, Chloe Wyma, February 7, 2013

“Occupy Wall Street Protesters Giving Out ‘Free Samples’ At Fashion Week”
Fashionista.com, Tyler McCall, February 8, 2013

“#devilpaysnada : les stagiaires piratent la Fashion Week”
L’Express, Le Boulevardiers, lilzeon, February 8, 2013

“#devilspaynada : interns vs fashion ancient elites”
hit-bag.com, February 8, 2013

“London fashion week demonstration will highlight plight of industry’s unpaid interns”
The Guardian (The Observer), Vanessa Thorpe, February 9, 2013

“Swag bag message to NY Fashion Week attendees: ‘Pay Your Interns’”
Minding the Workplace, David Yamada, February 13, 2013

“Unpaid Internships Are a Rich-Girl Problem—and Also a Real Problem”
The Atlantic, Phoebe Maltz Bovy, February 13, 2013

http://www.nrc.nl/carriere/2013/02/20/vandaag-in-het-katern-carriere-the-devil-pays-nada/
NRC Next magazine, Netherlands, Alex van der Hulst, February 20, 2013

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