WORK: T-shirts to make unpaid interns more visible

Photography by Magnus Pettersson

Designer Luke Prowse has come up with an idea to make unpaid interns more visible: by wearing t-shirts with their employment status printed on both sides.

Prowse is selling t-shirts via the website Shirts cost €19.99 and 15% of all sales go to Save the Children. The website also includes a spoof recruitment ad for creatives who can cut video, write compelling copy “and euthanise sick pets”. Product reviews from staff at ‘Interbland’, ‘Leather Pony’ and ‘Creative Solutions Development Partners Limited’ praise t-shirts for improving productivity and helping paid staff work out who is worth talking to in the office.

In addition to t-shirts, there is an ad for an activity tracker “to track time spent away from the desk and overly long lunch breaks” (the product is ‘out of stock’ but you can add it to a wishlist).

Prowse says the project aims to highlight the absurdities of unpaid work experience – not just the idea of asking skilled creatives to work for free but also asking that unpaid interns have previous interning experience.

He also hopes to highlight the scale of unpaid work experience in the creative industries. The website encourages interns to share their stories on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #unpaidintern.

Speaking to CR about the project, he said: “10+ years ago, I was walking around a part of town popular with the creative industry. I just had this image of interns wandering about labelled for all the world to see – because of course otherwise, how would you know? It’s something that’s prevalent, quietly accepted and often totally absurd. Lately I remembered this [when] chatting to a friend who recently graduated. I dusted off the domain name and it quickly came together.”

“I’d love for [the project] to start conversations that turn to action, perhaps even inside the very places where it needs to take place. But it’s more than simply internships being unpaid – it’s a broader question of respect. Speaking from personal as well as anecdotal experience, it’s not easy out there. If we can’t even pay people who have funded themselves and worked through education what place [is there] for patience, kindness, trust?”

The site features photography by Magnus Pettersson and t-shirts were hand-printed by Bera at La Raclet. Prowse has only sold a handful of t-shirts so far but adds: “It’s striking the reaction people had from what is, let’s face it, a slogan t-shirt. It goes to show how covered up and withdrawn the whole topic is.” His plan now, he says, is “to fight absurdity with absurdity, to lift the veil and put a t-shirt on it.”