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SU president writes to Alexander McQueen's office over 'disgraceful' 11-month unpaid internship

2nd August 2013

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The University of the Arts London (UAL) students’ union president has written an angry letter to the East London offices of Alexander McQueen, after an advert for an unpaid 11-month internship was sent to a number of fashion and design institutions.

The full time internship, which was advertised as lasting between six and 11 months, offered students expenses, as well as £3 per day in ‘lunch vouchers’.

In her letter, students’ union president Shelly Asquith said that the label “should be ashamed” of seeking to treat interns in this way, and that the advert was “disgraceful.”

The office was seeking out a “talented knitwear student”, whose role would include “knitting on a domestic machine and making knitted samples, as well as research, CAD, presentation and organising of the collection.”

Asquith wrote: “Students gaining work experience is one thing, but where any person is carrying out work integral to the running of an organisation, they must be paid at least the National Minimum Wage - anything less is a breach of the law... This clearly meets the definition of ‘work’.”

2011’s sales for the luxury fashion brand, whose founder died in 2010, were £40.67 million.

Alexander McQueen spent the early part of his life in a council flat in Lewisham before later attending UAL, and it is these humble beginnings that spurred Asquith into writing her letter: "The connection made me feel more impassioned to write something," she said, before adding: "He was from a similar background to me and many of our students, who simply cannot afford to do unpaid internships."

The letter ended: “Considering his background it is unlikely McQueen would ever have been able to pay his way without a wage - his father was a cab driver and unlikely to have provided him with a trust fund. In fact, in his will the designer asked for part of his fortune to be granted to some of our most hard-up students at CSM (Central Saint Martin’s). McQueen recognised the financial barriers that exist to make it in the industry: it is a great shame his legacy label is exacerbating them.”

Gus Baker, co-director of campaign group Intern Aware, which campaigns for fair internship opportunities for all and last year helped pressure Stella McCartney into paying their interns, told HuffPost UK: "Unpaid internships are unfair and exclude those who can't afford to work for free. Fashion should be about creativity and expression, and those qualities aren't confined to those whose parents can support them during long periods of unpaid work in places like McQueen.”

There are various internship opportunities listed on the Alexander McQueen website, for roles including Communications, Marketing and Digital, Couture, Embroidery Design, Footwear and Accessories, Retail and Buying and Womenswear. None of these internships specify whether or not they will be paid.

Alexander McQueen’s office has now apologised, saying the advert was "issued in error and was not in accordance with our HR policy".

They have so far not responded to TNS’s requests for further comment.

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