What to look for in an ethical fashion internship and how to get one

An internship is supposed to be one of the most valuable ways to kickstart your career and enhance your resume, but there are a whole lot of horror stories doing the rounds punctuated with details such as colour swatches for coffee orders. This is especially typical of the fashion industry.

For students or up-and-coming designers, it can be really difficult to get a foot in the door unless you know someone who knows someone. Once you’re in, navigating egos, self-appointed VIPs and competitive employees are assumed to be par for the course. Working “for free”, or very little pay, is another issue that many interns have to accept.

Design houses and labels are just as cautious, with opportunistic ‘interns’ taking notes and stealing strategies to use later on their own brand, and making the most of training opportunities with no intention of contributing to the goals of the organisation that’s granted them the opportunity.

Here at The New Garde, we’re ready to shake it up. Throwing caution to the wind, we offer our internships with an ethical approach. It’s designed with mutual benefits, so the intern has an authentic and enriching experience, and as a business, we contribute to shaping the future stars of the industry.

We’ve put our heads together and mapped out how we can expose our interns to real-life lessons in the design industry. We’ll make time to involve them in tasks that will challenge and inspire, and give them the opportunity to make contacts and build their network.

And to make it clear, internships at The New Garde don’t involve being assigned the morning coffee run. We’ll get our own, and one for our interns while we’re at it.

Read on to get a bit more of an idea about what we’re looking for in an intern, and what you should be looking for as an intern.

The Intern Checklist – a few things to remember

Having a really clear idea about why you want to intern at this particular organisation shows you’ve done your research, and you have a clear idea about your career path. Ambition and determination are two key characteristics that will appeal to most organisations. Take the time to think about what you want to gain from the experience as well, so they know immediately what you’re after and where you might fit in.

Ask questions about what the internship will offer you. Expect a mix of real-life operations of the facilities, as well as opportunities to apply concepts you’ve studied

1- The internship experience should be designed to benefit an intern. Answering phones and making photocopies doesn’t quite cut it

2 – Don’t expect a corner office on the first day. Interns should work under close supervision of existing staff and take the opportunity to watch and learn

3 – Remember, employers providing internship opportunities are unlikely to derive any immediate advantage from the activities. On occasion, operations might actually be impeded

4 – While you may score a job offer at the end of the internship, remember it’s not a given. Completing an internship will make you more valuable to a range of employers

5 – The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship

How you’ll know your internship was worth it

You’ll probably undertake more than one internship, and each one will be different. As with any workplace, there are pros and cons. It’s worth keeping a record of what enhanced your experience, and where you struggled. A couple of ways to assess this are:

1 – Mental wellbeing is intact. In fact, your confidence is boosted as you’re mastering new skills and being included in projects

2 – You’re invited to join as an entry level employee, or to stay in touch for opportunities down the line

3 – You’ve gained real-life experience that will enhance your resume and clarify the direction you want to take in your career

4 – You have built a great rapport with co-workers and supervisors, and were able to extend your network

Tell-tale signs of a terrible internship

There’s some truth to every story, and unfortunately, The Devil Wears Prada is one of them. Take the time to evaluate your internship, and assess the contribution you’re making to the organisation as well as whether you’re having an enriching experience.Here are some red flags to watch out for:

1 – You have had the opportunity to memorise everyone’s coffee order and preferred dry cleaner

2 – Your mental health is affected because you’re not made to feel welcome, valued or appreciated

3 – You become aware you’re taking on a co-worker or supervisor’s workload with no recognition

4 – You haven’t had the opportunity to flex your creative muscles, make any meaningful contribution or industry connections

Are you ready to intern?

As we outlined, internships should involve a bit of give and a lot of take. Organisations know you won’t have all the skills just yet, but that you want to improve on what you do have. Skill up as much as you can on your own or through your studies, and your internship will bring you up to the next level.

You’re not quite ready for an internship if you:

Have no baseline skills in the area you’re looking to enter into. For example, you have a graphic design diploma but haven’t used InDesign before

You’re at the beginning of your degree and haven’t covered off internship relative skills

You have completed your studies and are looking to gain experience (aka work for free or volunteer) until you get a real job in your desired industry

You’re looking to reskill or upskill through an internship where you seek free tuition or want to know how a company operates. Be careful: this is an intellectual property issue.

What we look for in a potential intern

To give you a really solid idea of what we look for in an intern here at The New Garde, we’ve narrowed it down to six criteria. You can use these to apply with us or to guide your application for another organisation. Even if the criteria is not identical, it’s a good framework to start with.

  1. Put together a well-written engagement letter with a balance between professionalism and personality
  2. Be really clear about what you want to achieve as an intern, and why you think this company is a good fit
  3. Skill yourself up as much as you can via studies or industry experience. Basic skills that we can build on will help us to help you
  4. Basic reliability, a can-do attitude and ability to execute tasks, as well as having the confidence to ask questions if you get stuck are invaluable
  5. Position yourself as someone we can see as a future employee
  6. Show us your educational chops! Adherence to course credit with an educational institution shows discipline, commitment, and dedication.

And just to be clear, here are the things we definitely don’t care about:

  1. Which educational institution you attend (they all have great qualities)
  2. How many social media followers you have
  3. The Kardashians

If you’re keen to see what our interns have been up to lately – Check out the Interns Highlight on our Insta Stories

Good luck!


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