A new chapter just began in the ongoing battle against unfair intern labor practices in the fashion industry and beyond. Organizers at Intern Labor Rights, a division of the Occupy Wall Street movement, have announced their plan to descend on the hordes of well-dressed, constantly photographed models, celebs, and industry folk during the height of New York Fashion Week.
The issue came into the limelight when former Hearst intern Diana Wang began a class-action lawsuit based on her time as an unpaid intern at Harper's Bazaar. Though Wang herself isn't involved in this new initiative, she certainly paved the way for addressing an issue the industry generally likes to keep quiet. One of the protest organizers told Buzzfeed that interest is spiking higher and higher each day, and though he doesn't expect to see hundreds, he does think there will be "a significant presence" outside shows this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
Former Fox Searchlight intern Eric Glatt, who's also in the midst of a lawsuit, explained the theory behind the outrage: "Whenever it's at a for-profit institution the worker legally needs to be compensated. The fashion industry is a for-profit industry — it's not like they're working not-for-profit arts organizations. They're making billions of dollars and the fact that they're asking their students to donate their labor to these businesses is really outrageous."
All of that said, we understand the argument that some internships truly are an educational opportunity filled with organized mentorship and training. But we've also heard far too many horror stories about interns functioning as messengers and clocking all kinds of crazy hours packing trunks and making tea. And with that in mind, we're particularly interested to see how this pans out on the streets of NYC this weekend. In a world where small talk and schmoozing abound and the preservation of brand integrity is king, direct confrontation with the some of the uglier facts of the industry doesn't always go over well. We'll keep our eyes peeled — and keep you posted as the situation unfolds.
Photographed by Erin Yamagata