I’m a recent fashion design graduate currently interning for two small to medium sized brand in NY.
I was wondering, how many internships (most often unpaid) does it take take to finally be hired as assistant designer doing design? How normal is it to continue doing unpaid fashion internship even after graduating? I know that Covid times must be different.
I’m also thinking of transitioning to Production Design / Fashion Merchandising as it seems so hard to get your foot in the door for design assistant jobs, especially now.
I feel like I’m in this endless loop doing unpaid internship without design assistant jobs in sight.
First of all, it’s GREAT that you are doing internships during school (and even after). I have met so many people who graduate with a fashion degree with NO work experience. It’s not only good to learn about fashion- but also about how different companies are structured, their work methods, the culture, etc. Internships definitely give you that extra experience, teach you about the work world, and show that you have ambition and drive.
That being said- in normal times, you should be able to get an assistant designer job right after graduating. Yes, they’ll probably pay you a low rate, and you won’t be designing, but with a little luck you’ll get to sit in on meetings, fittings, etc while you organize fabric swatches, sort buttons, and all the other grunt work. We all did that work, and paid our dues.
Obviously, these aren’t normal times, and everyone is struggling for a job, and in-office work is weird at the moment. (There are limits to how many people can be in the room at my fittings, for example). But there are jobs out there, and there will be more again, and assistant jobs open up much more quickly because assistants leave (for a new job, or a promotion, etc) and so there is higher turnover.
Think about the career path you want to take, and what type of companies you’d like to be designing at in, say, 5 years. Then target companies that a design assistant job can help get you there. You didn’t mention what type of fashion you want to work on- and while this is just a first job, it is also your first big stepping stone, so it matters. If you want to be in Designer or Couture, it’s a very different path than bridal; or denim; or swim; or casual ready to wear. And while it is possible to switch, it is very hard, to get mass market experience at say, a t shirt brand, and then decide to want to be at a DKNY, etc.
That being said, a job is a job, and I think right now, getting anything that pays is important, I get it. But it also is important to consider that most likely you’ll be at that job at least a year, and if its not helping you towards your goal, then you kind of have to reset. So, if you decide to go into production, and then a year from now realize you want to be in design, you’ll have to take a step and start off being entry level design asst.
It sounds like you are driven though, so something should work out! And- since you’re young- be open to moving. Getting design asst jobs at a place like Abercrombie or Target can be such incredibly valuable experience.
As someone who graduated into the dawn of the Great Recession, I had to do a few more internships after I graduated (I had 2 under my belt in college + a job as a stitcher) to finally land a job.
This from @twirlgirl is A-1 important:
I took whatever I could get thinking I could move on to something else. While that was partially true, I did end up doing something that has been fine, I’m not where I wanted to be. I found I was pretty locked in after about 4 years. Getting out of it and into something else is difficult, especially, now that I’m 10 + years in.
TL;DR totally fine to do an internship after graduating, choose that internship with care!
Reach out to fellow alumnus.FIT?
Thank you for your detailed and thoughtful advice!
It definitely isn’t normal times it seems - the brands I’m working for no assistant designer seems to want to leave anytime soon, or at least not that I am aware of.
I do want to pursue Designer, though so far paid opportunities that opened to me were mass market / production. I don’t mind to do the grunt work at all, but not getting paid while doing it is hard.
I was also told that maybe I could take these mass market/ production jobs for money only and not put it on my resume - though staying for a year is a great opportunity cost as well.
Thank you for sharing your experience!
When I graduated months back I definitely thought it was a recession of some sort. I was thankful to even get companies who would have me as intern. Then, it seems like the rest of the economy has been recovering and most people I know who worked white collar jobs never lost their jobs (just WFH instead). Then, I saw job openings from fashion companies beginning to appear. I’ve applied to many, reached out to ppl, but haven’t heard back. It’s such and strange and confusing time!
Do you think it makes sense to just leave out work experiences in your resume that are just not related? So when applying for a position, only leave in ones that are related? I don’t know how much one can tailor a resume / spin off your own story and hoping recruiters can understand that at some point, we must get whatever we could get given the lack of opportunities.
Oh, you are defo graduating into some turbulent economic times. It sucks. (As if you needed me to tell you.)
Instead of a chronological resume, I think that you can structure your resume with your “relevant work experience” or “professional experience” on the top and “other” experience in the bottom so that people can see that you’ve done the fashion work but that you haven’t been unemployed / underemployed the whole time (if you haven’t.)
I don’t know what part of the industry you’re looking to enter. If you want to get into something like contemporary womenswear or designer womenswear I would be selective about the internships I list, picking the ones that are most relevant. If you’re applying to a job in wholesale/ private label, for your first position, it’s more important that you just have experience, any experience. Sure, a brand name would help, but they are just looking for someone who has an inkling of what they’re doing, from my experience.
Companies are going to be very aware that a lot of people are going to have weird gaps around this time, and they are also going to be aware that you, as a recent graduate, are going to have kind of a piece-meal collection of jobs (at least I am when I’ve hired assistants /interns.)