When I look back on my twenties they will be typified by conversations about money. My friends, colleagues and strangers at parties. We’re all preoccupied with the fact that we don’t have any money. I am desperately hoping that things will be different in my thirties. Until then, I’m resigned to talking about my limited cash-flow. This resignation to being cash-poor is something I seem to share with so many fashion-industry employees. More so than any other group, the fashion set seems to have accepted a low income as an inevitable consequence of their lifestyle choice. At PYT student and graduate events, we always touch on the subject of salary expectations to ensure that the young people we speak to are informed. Indeed, concerns about low pay in fashion seem to be a global issue.
Across the channel, a woman called Giulia Mensitieri is making waves in the French fashion scene. Mensitieri is not a designer or up-and-coming street style icon. She’s an anthropologist whose PhD was published earlier this year under the title, The Most Beautiful Job in the World. Her findings that fashion’s senior creatives and stylists are being paid in vouchers rather than money, created a storm of newspaper headlines. Within the fashion industry, however, the reaction was far less dramatic. Karl Lagerfeld’s response, for example, was simply: “Fashion is a total injustice. It’s like that. And that’s it.”
Like many others, I have sold my labour in exchange for otherwise unaffordable luxury items and would do so again. So I perfectly understand the mismatch between the face of fashion and the reality of the lives lived that Mensitieri describes. I am also a great defender of the internship culture. Yes, there’s often little to no pay. Yes, some internships are exploitative. But yet they also offer plenty of genuine opportunities to gain experience, build contacts and make an impression. I love my hard-earned luxury goods and understand the value of opportunities to get the proverbial foot in the door. But scarily, Mensiteri’s interviewees are highly successful stylists with careers we’d all envy. Even at this esteemed level, she found that people were struggling to eat and pay their bills. It’s time we all challenge industry stoic acceptance. ‘Total injustice’ is not acceptable.
Words by Akilah Cohen