Published on February 26, 2014 | by Phoebe White

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Intern sues Alexander McQueen for ‘lost wages’

Front view of Alexander McQeen building

Many interns work for free to gain experience [Flickr: Damian Cugley]

An intern who worked for fashion house Alexander McQueen for four months without pay is suing the company for up to £6,415 in ‘lost wages’.

The case was filed on the first day of London Fashion Week as King’s College London students demonstrated at Somerset House about interns’ rights.

Rachel Watson, a pseudonym given by her lawyers, interned from 2009-2010 and worked full time drawing artwork for embroidery, repairing embellished clothing and dying large amounts of fabrics.

Watson says the brand did not pay her the minimum wage for her work: “I quickly realised I was being exploited. How could I confront my employer at the time when they held all the cards to my future in the industry?” she said in a statement through her lawyers.

Battle

The case follows SUARTS President Shelly Asquith’s own battle with the fashion house in 2013, in which she wrote a letter to Alexander McQueen accusing the company of “using and abusing” interns after they advertised for a “talented knitwear student”  to work five days a week for 11 months without a wage, with only meal tokens for lunch and travel subsidisation.

Alexander McQueen later dismissed this advert as a failing on their behalf, and said that it was “issued in error and was not in accordance with our HR policy.”

According to Vogue, a spokesperson for the company commented on the Rachel Watson case, stating: “We understand this relates to an intern who was with us four years ago. We had no idea until now that she had any concern about the time she spent at Alexander McQueen. We’ve paid close attention to the debate in this area and we now pay all our interns.”

Emerging fashion designer Sunny Williams, owner of label House of Sunny, believes that “smaller independent labels like mine offer much more skill-based placements, where interns are involved with the development of the brand and feel themselves gaining more than just a payment from their time with a company. However, its hard because many big labels take full advantage of interns; they don’t always get to learn as much. They should take away more than just the label name.”

Benefits

However, some creative students can see the benefits of unpaid internships. Fashion marketing student Milly Leyton says: “I work an unpaid internship and I am gaining a lot of experience, which is priceless. However, I am also being put out of pocket due to having to pay my own train fares to get the studio all week.”

“Fashion is a competitive industry with high profits, and the idea that one of the most profitable companies in the world could have people working for free is shameful.” Chris Hares

She continued: “I am fortunate enough to be able to do this but I know many students who work for nothing and then also have to work the weekends and nights just to be able to do the internship. Employers need to see it from a different perspective – it can be very hard work.”

Ana Silva, an intern at The New British, agrees, stating: “Unpaid internships are almost mandatory for careers, but its feels like you have to be part of elites to do it. You spend almost everyday of the week working as much as any other employee or even more. We need to be personal assistants not only to the offices but also the personal lives of our bosses, running from one side of London to the other, spending money on travel, food, clothes and materials.”

She added: “Having at least the minimum wage, or even having a rail card paid for as soon as you start the job, is enough. It shows that even though interns are learning and they are working to get to where their bosses are, they also are being taken into account and feel supported.”

Campaign groups like Intern Aware, the initiative that assisted Rachel Watson in her case and has previously helped interns to secure payments from the Arcadia group, X Factor and Sony, support students and graduates when they feel that they have been mistreated.

Chris Hares, Campaigns Manager at Intern Aware, says: “Fashion is a competitive industry with high profits, and the idea that one of the most profitable companies in the world could have people working for free is shameful.”

 

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