On the Dignity of Labour in the Fashion Industry: the Case of Internships

Given more visibility than ever with its growing presence in the media landscape, the field of fashion is often reliant on practices that cast a dark shadow over its veneer of glamorous images and seductive commodities. While it demonstrates dazzling creativity and inventiveness its workers can also be subject to a shocking lack of dignity. Labour practices, in particular, are rife with abuse that is often kept out of sight through various local, national and institutional mechanisms allowing for the production and reproduction of dysfunction.

The talk will focus on the issue of internships in the fashion industry, a topic fashion studies scholars have so far neglected. Often akin to free labour, and generally premised on the exploitation of young people — whether still in training or newly graduated — internships have become legitimated as a normal pathway towards paid employment. The talk will look at this process of legitimation in the context of a precarious, unsecure and rapidly changing labour market. Drawing on the writing of Michel Foucault and on the sociology of work, it will discuss the values and assumptions that, in the United Kingdom, underpin discourses on fashion internships and the concurrent creation of the subject position ‘fashion intern’.