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People are sharing their fashion industry horror stories on Instagram

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Moya Lothian-McLean
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An Instagram account is collecting testimonies of the fashion industry’s dark side and our eyes are well and truly opened.

The trope of fashion figures behaving badly has been around long before Miranda Priestly ever uttered the words “That’s all,” on the big screen. There’s a reason, too: the structure of the fashion industry, with its ‘love of demanding behaviour and giant characters, almost encourages tyrannical conduct from those at the top. And the sheer volume of young, hungry people trying to break into the glamorous world means that over time, bosses have been able to get away with treating junior employees poorly, safe in the knowledge there’s always someone else willing to take their place. Think 12 hour workdays, verbal abuse and unpaid internships that can last months. 

Now, an Instagram account is encouraging those at the bottom of the industry pile to share their stories of mistreatment and lay bare some of the darker realities behind the feathers and fur. 

Anonymous account @fashionassistants – originally created as a meme account in December 2017 –  is now exposing the experiences of assistants and interns who’ve endured bullying and abuse whilst working in fashion. Posting DMs with identifying details blurred out, @fashion assistants states the aim of the account is not to “name and shame” but instead to incite real change in an industry long overdue a shake-up. 

“We’re hoping to compile a list to really show the dark side of this industry,” reads the post from 13 February 2018 that kick-started the movement. “The demoralising, patronising and soul destroying stories almost everyone who has/is assisting has to share.”

The accounts collected thus far range from the ridiculous (an editor who wouldn’t let staff eat in front of her) to the extremely worrying (not being allowed time off after a family death, sexual harassment, outright racism and extensive verbal abuse – including one individual who was constantly deemed “fat and ugly”). Most of them identify their bad bosses as women, too, revealing that within the industry, the problems with power dynamics are not limited to men exploiting female models.

The stories are a sobering read and spreading fast. In one day, @fashionassistants has gained over 2,000 new followers, many of them individuals working in either fashion or beauty industries. And now, people are calling for new support structures for junior fashion employees to be put into place to prevent these abuses of power continuing. 

“We started out through creating solidarity through memes,” said the group behind @fashionassistants in an Instagram DM statement to stylist.co.uk. “[After a] while we were approached by fellow assistants, past and present, about creating a movement similar to that by Cameron Russell [the model and activist who shared stories of sexual harassment undergone by her peers]. @fashionassistants is a platform that can help shine a light on the bullying in the industry but also highlight the good relationships as well.”

As for next steps, the collective – who wish to retain complete anonymity – hope to pursue unionism. 

“We are going to open up to one of two companies and see if we could start a venture […] like Equity for theatre industry,” they told stylist.co.uk. 

Here’s to making the behind-the-scenes of fashion less ugly.

Images: Rex Features

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Moya Lothian-McLean

Moya Lothian-McLean is Stylist’s editorial assistant where she spends her time inventing ways to shoehorn Robbie Williams into pieces. A reoffending dancefloor menace, a weekend finds her taking up too much space at disco nights around the city and subsequently recovering with dark sunglasses and late brunch the next day. 

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