What attracted you to this internship?
I have always been interested in pursuing a career in the fashion industry, but thought that a more realistic path would be through the sciences. However, I had a big revelation last December when I realized I wasn't happy in the sciences. So I stopped my track toward Biochemistry and immediately began following my dreams. Naturally, I began looking for internships and found that one of my favorite brands, TOM FORD, had a position for the summer. The position was for their PR department, and I was drawn to that aspect of the business. After learning about the position, I quickly applied and hoped for the best.
How did you learn about it?
I was in New York City in February, and my uncle set me up to meet with a famous stylist to discuss how I should go about entering the field. He gave me great advice, including a website called freefashioninternships.com, where anyone can find internship positions. I began to scroll through the listings and found several brands I really liked, TOM FORD being one of them.
What gave you the edge in landing this internship?
I quietly admit that my uncle is friends with the head of North American Communications at TOM FORD, so I was actually able to submit my application directly to her. Though I had a connection, it didn't mean I was guaranteed anything. I worked very hard to prepare for my interview because there were many people that were way more qualified for the position than I, being a freshman. Honestly, I just watch how the industry works. I follow designers and brands, read about how the business functions, and keep up with the daily news. When I was being interviewed, I didn't feel like any question caught me off guard, and I felt very confident with my responses. At the end of the day, it was my knowledge of the field that helped me stand out in the crowd.
Describe your daily duties.
Every day I arrived about 15-20 minutes early to begin the routine work. That included checking the internet and print publications for TOM FORD mentions, scanning WWD (an online fashion new source) for important news, and preparing the showroom for the day. Once my supervisor arrived, she sent us interns the looks that were being requested by anyone from magazines to celebrities. I made sure to book out the sample pieces and pack them for delivery. The bulk of the work was unpacking and packing the clothing, so I got to handle the clothing directly. I was also asked to cover for the person who ran customer service. I was the only person answering the phones! I answered all of the customers' emails, which usually inquired about products and product concerns. The emails and phone calls persisted all day, but once I answered the emails from the night before I started creating manual returns for people. I had to create a return label and enter information into the e-commerce system to ensure the person was refunded. The job required a very close relationship with the e-commerce department.
What are some tasks/projects you worked on?
There was always some project to work on. The PR department was very volatile — there are no guarantees a piece would come back by the day it was due, customs might pull a piece shipped internationally, and there was always the possibility that Mr. Ford might want to stop by. I personally took on any responsibility I could. I once reorganized the filing system for publications, and though it wasn't the most exciting job, it was really necessary. I picked up clothing at Times Square to deliver it to an apartment in the East Village; I went to the TOM FORD store to pick up deliveries; I created a press link for Mr. Ford to view; and I did Starbucks runs as well! Stylists for Gwyneth Paltrow, Beyonce and Jay-Z stopped in during the summer, so I always had to keep the showroom neat. I also really loved to screen for fraud in customer service. Basically, I looked at the IP address of the order, the shipping address and the billing address to see if any matched. I looked up the person and each address online to check for validity as well. It really was a real-life investigation! It was hard because I didn't want to deny people orders, but sometimes there were fake emails and addresses, and there were always red flags to watch for.
Did any courses and/or professors help you prepare for this internship? Which ones?
It's difficult to choose a single class or professor because W&L doesn't offer fashion classes. Therefore, my preparation was independent. The Career Development office greatly assisted me in revising my resume and setting up a professional LinkedIn page. Those two services were very important for my networking purposes.
What did you learn by the end of your experience?
At the end of the day, I wanted to be more educated on the business model of the company. TOM FORD is less than ten years old, but is valued at one billion dollars. That's a huge deal, considering how cutthroat the fashion industry is. Mr. Ford is a branding genius, so I would love to find out how the company continues to compete with the established brands of today. Hopefully, that will assist me in the future.
What was your favorite part or perk of the internship?
Every once in a blue moon, TOM FORD would take the sample pieces that were retired and allow the staff to take home whatever they wanted. I just so happened to be in the right place at the right time because I got some free items! But in reality, the best part of the internship was forming great connections with people. This industry almost requires connections, and I have already gotten to know some incredible people that I want to keep in touch with. Also, the skills that I have learned are invaluable, and they only add value to my resume for the future.
What did you learn from city where the internship was located?
I had never really been in NYC before, so living there was a culture shock for somebody who grew up in a very small town and goes to a very small school. But I realized that the city is actually very relaxed. I loved being able to experience new things, such as riding the subway, using Uber, eating at different restaurants every night, and taking advantage of what the city has to offer. I would walk to random parts of where I lived in the East Village, and grew to love Soho. There was so much to find and explore that I was never bored.
What key takeaways/skills are you bringing back to W&L?
The key takeaway from this experience was definitely learning how to manage time and work in a fast-paced atmosphere. I was constantly allotting time during the day to different tasks. W&L is an extremely rigorous school, so learning how to juggle the coursework is definitely necessary, and I feel as if I have a better understanding of how to do so.
What advice would you give to students interested in a position like this?
Fashion internships are really tricky because most of them are set in the big cities, particularly New York. It's very competitive, since students from schools like Parsons, Julliard and FIT are also hunting for the same internships. The single most important thing a student interested in a similar position can do is network. Connections really help to get one foot in the door, making the internship search much more manageable. Passion and knowledge are also crucial. If you have the drive and the determination, you can get a stellar internship, even if it doesn't happen right away.
Has this experience influenced your career aspirations? How so?
The internship has helped to show me what I want to pursue as a career. I was exposed to several different sectors of the company, including the PR department, ecommerce and customer service. Each was different and unique, so naturally I was able to see what suited myself best. Going forward, this internship has solidified my intent of pursuing the business of fashion as a career.
Describe your experience in a single word.