The room was buzzing at the Friday night kick-off of the second annual Fashion Campus NYC. The program, which over 200 interns attended, featured a series of discussions and meet-and-greets allowing interns access to tons of experts in different fields of the fashion industry. Held at Parsons The New School for Design in conjunction with the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), it's one of the programs Mayor Bloomberg launched as part of his FashionNYC2020 plan to sustain and grow the fashion industry in New York. As an intern (I just started a summer internship here at Fashionista!), I was excited to pick the brains of designer Chris Benz and executives from Moda Operandi, Fendi, Armani Exchange, Saks Fifth Avenue and more.
I certainly wasn't disappointed. The combination of free food and fast friendships made it fun, but it was the advice I got that made it truly memorable. Fashion internships are a necessary part of breaking into the fashion industry, so once you land one, how do you make sure it goes well? Luckily we had a roomful of experts who wanted to share their secrets. Read on for the five lessons I learned about how to get the most out of your internship.
1. Connections Are Crucial
Putting yourself out there is one of the first things we were told to do. Interns at the event were openly encouraged to give their business cards (provided by Fashion Campus NYC upon check-in) out to anyone and everyone they met. Executives from companies like Free Fashion Internships, Moda Operandi, and American Eagle all mentioned they got their current jobs by making an impression on somebody who knew somebody; networking can be one of the best ways to land your dream job in the fashion business. Never be afraid to talk to anyone, and always keep your eyes open for people willing to help.
Be careful about how you do it, though. Simon Collins, the Dean of the School of Fashion at Parsons, offered up some words of wisdom. "I hate being 'networked.' I feel slightly violated when people 'network' me on LinkedIn," he said. "They say, 'Oh I'm just networking you.' No one wants to be networked."
Moral of the story: When attempting to get to know someone who you're interested in working with, genuinely pay attention to what they have to say. Form a connection, not a contact.
2. Don't Burn Bridges
"Make sure you play well, because you will continually cross paths with the same people in this industry," said West Elm representative Nancy Tsuei. The panelists were from a variety of different companies, but mentioned that their paths often cross. And I could easily see how this is true--at the event, for instance, I ran into three interns I had met only just last week.
"There have been plenty of people who I would love to bad-mouth all over the internet, but ultimately I think it's [in my best interest] to keep my mouth shut and not let them get to me," a fellow intern told me. Moral of the story: Give respect and you'll most likely get it back. That fellow intern you trashed on Twitter? She could be your boss someday. It happens.
3. Bloom Where You Are Planted
Collins acknowledged that internships can be tedious, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try to excel. "If you are asked to make coffee by your supervisor, make it good coffee. The [students] that are really successful are the ones who make the most of whatever situation they are in," he said. "If your internship involves standing in the corner at Marc Jacobs and making photocopies, make the most of that. You're not always going to be in an internship where you get to try everything."
Moral of the story: Come in with a smile, and leave with a smile. Whether you are vacuuming or speaking with the CEO, attitude really matters.
4. Get Tech Savvy
Depending on your internship, certain computer programs will be crucial to your experience, (at Fashionista it's WordPress!) so get to know them before you apply. It will ultimately add to your appeal when looking at potential hires. Tom Handley, Parsons' Twitter-savvy PR and marketing professor, shared his list: Photoshop, Illustrator, Quickbooks, iMovie or Final Cut, and Excel. He considers Excel the top priority.
In addition to those, have a good working knowledge of all the social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Foursquare and Tumblr.
Moral of the story: Go ahead and play on Pinterest, but you better be able to make a mean infographic, too.
5. Enjoy Being a Fashion Intern...And Know That It's Ok To Make Mistakes
Fashion designer Chris Benz told the crowd he misses the days of fashion intern-dom (he was at Marc Jacobs) when he didn't have to make all the big decisions.
Interning is your time to learn from your supervisors and make those inevitable mistakes--just be sure you actually learn, and grow from the experience. "When you screw up, which you will, come back with a solution," said Collins.
Handley advised that being constant and consistent is also crucial to your reputation as an intern and the question "What else can I do?" is extremely powerful.
Moral of the story: Take advantage of this learning experience because your time to spend in such a fashion-centric environment is limited. The things you learn as an intern could become the skills you need as a professional, and making the most of that is important.