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Work in fashion: Ethical brand Komodo's 'real-life' experience internship programme

By Isabella Griffiths


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British sustainable fashion brand Komodo offers an internship scheme that regularly attracts high calibre international students for six-month placements at its London head office. Rather than doing the cliché coffee rounds or handling the photocopying, Komodo’s emphasis is on giving students an insight into the workings of the business and equipping them with real-life skills and experience – an approach that in turn helps the company get the most out of its interns and is a win-win situation for both parties, as Brand Manager Tony Mountford tells FashionUnited. Below he explains how Komodo successfully implements and navigates internships, and we get the perspectives of two Komodo interns on how valuable the placement has been to their future career.

How long have you been running an internship scheme?

Tony Mountford: We’ve been running the internship scheme for about eight years now. It started when students increasingly contacted us to ask whether they could intern at our company, and then it got to a point where we found it very useful and felt that it could be very beneficial as a more permanent role within the company. We then started to advertise the position, actually on FashionUnited, and actively recruit for interns on a regular basis. It’s now a permanent fixture and has created a role where interns are with us for an average of five or six months at a time. I have two positions open at any one time, and it’s really good for us, as we can rely on having this extra job role in the office, and the students also get a real hands-on insight into the running of a business.

What does an internship at Komodo entail?

TM: The roles themselves are relatively loose – they are mainly concentrated around marketing and e-commerce, but we are a very small company, so the actual duties always depend on what time of year the interns are here and the cycle of the collection. They could be here during the time when we’re focusing on in-season or when we’re doing marketing with our b2b business, so duties could be mainly web or marketing based, or the emphasis could be on helping with trade shows, photo shoots etc. I advertise the role quite broadly, because the placement is quite varied - definitely more than making tea or coffee. I interview interns, because I do expect from them to take on a certain amount of responsibility. They are doing a lot of the day to day running of e-commerce, b2c business and communications with the public, whether that’s social media or email or over the phone, answering questions etc.

Obviously, most students come with different skillsets, so we can also tailor to some degree what they do here to their interests. For instance, they might be interested in web development, or in b2b marketing, or sustainability, so we can modify it a bit to them, so they get something out of this according to what they are studying. We only take students as part of a university course, we don’t take on post-graduates, so we want them to benefit from this with experience that is relevant to their studies. We’ve had people from all over Europe, some UK students, and some from as far as Japan. For instance, we’ve had a girl here from Germany who studied Political Science and was interested in sustainability, and she managed to utilise her time with us and integrate it into her dissertation. Our students are from all sorts of backgrounds, not just fashion.

You recruit via Fashion United, so you have a lot of international students. Is there a particular reason for this?

TM: Recruiting via FashionUnited helps us to attract an international calibre of students. For now, international students are eligible to apply for Erasmus funding, and obviously, it’s expensive to live in London. Our internships are paid, but modestly, so you need to have the two together to make it work. So it’s mainly a geographical consideration; we’re in London, it’s expensive to live and work here, and I don’t want to take on students where they will be in a position of hardship or where it’s going to cost them loads of money. I think there has to be an understanding that they will have to be subsidising it somehow, whether that’s through Erasmus or other funds. But we don’t want anyone to be destitute. So for this to work out, we tend to get a lot of international students. However, leaving the European Union, I don’t know how that’s going to pan out in the future. It might be that we won’t have access to those students anymore due to Brexit, or it may be that Brexit gets pushed back by another two years and we will be able to continue. It’s impossible to say at this stage, so we will have to wait and see. It would be a massive shame to lose it though, as it wouldn’t bring the diversity through that we current get through the Erasmus scheme.

Has offering internships been valuable for your business?

TM: Definitely. Every intern we’ve had is an individual in their own right and different, with diverse skills and experiences, and it enriches our business, too. They all bring something different to the table, new perspectives. I feel and hope that they learn and take on quite a lot while being with us. The good thing is that we are a very small company, so they get to see the mechanics of how a fashion brand works, whereas, if you were doing an internship at, say, Arcadia for instance, you might most likely be doing the photo copying or doing the coffee rounds, or if you are given some work, you’d be such a tiny cog in a massive machine. In contrast, people get a lot out of being here with us. I don’t think it’s what they expect when they come, but by the end they are pretty happy with it.

Do you have any tips for fashion employers on how to successfully use and implement internships for their businesses?

TM: I think having an actual role that has been created and is a rolling programme so that there is always someone filling that role works best, rather than just someone shadowing another job. I don’t see much point in this, and I don’t think anyone benefits from that greatly. By creating a role and creating a certain amount of responsibility within that role, the person doing that position will get much more out of it, and it’s a lot more useful for the company, too.

And any tips for interns / students?

TM: It’s never going to be what you think it will be, so stay open minded, do your research on the companies and apply to the companies that you would like to work with over what the actual job function is. As I said, I have different students from different backgrounds studying different things, so it’s not always about ‘I want to be a fashion designer, so I will go and do a fashion designer internship’. Maybe it will help you to understand how another aspect of the industry works and you discover another facet to it. And when you’re at a company, make the aspects that you are interested in known and try to get involved as much as possible in those areas that you’re interested in, as otherwise you will just be told what to do, because the employer might not know for sure what you want to get out of it. We would certainly always try to facilitate that as much as possible. Put yourself forward, be proactive and use the time as best as you can.

As an employer, do you look more favourably at prospective job applicants if they have done a number of relevant internships?

TM: Yes, it’s really important to have gained at least some experience in a workplace setting, especially in the fashion industry. Even if you’ve just worked in retail while being at uni, had a Saturday job, at least you’ve got some concept of the working world in fashion. As an interesting point on the side, I find that with the university system in the UK, a lot of courses don’t require work placements or encourage them enough, and I find that weird. In France, Germany and so on, there is a much stronger emphasis on integrated work experience, and that’s so valuable. We have so many international students coming to us studying all sorts of different subjects, and it seems like work placements are way more normal in other countries than they are over here. But I think internships and work placements are one of the best ways to gain an insight into the working world – regardless of whether you’ll end up working in that industry or not. It’s invaluable experience and expansion of your skills and can set you up for life.

Shola Forbes, third year Fashion Marketing student at The University of Leeds, interned at Komodo between August 2018 and January 2019. Here is her take on her work placement:

What is your career aim?

My future career goal is to work in sustainability, working particularly in sustainable fashion innovation, therefore I have structured my internship year around working in two sustainable fashion companies.

How did you obtain the internship at Komodo?

I contacted Komodo via their email address on the website, where I was put into contact with Tony the Marketing Manager, who then invited me in for an informal interview/chat for the Ecommerce/Marketing Assistant Role. After this conversation, I then received an email offering me the internship role.

What did you hope to get out of the internship?

My main aim during my internship year is to gain industry experience, in particular I hope to gain skills using industry standard software which we do not get to learn during my degree programme. I am also hoping to broaden my network of contacts within the fashion and sustainability community, which could prove useful in the future.

What areas have you been involved in / been able to get work experience in?

I gained a strong understanding of using and confidently navigating E-commerce software such as Shopify and TradeGecko, as well as marketing software such as Hootsuite, Wordpress and MailChimp. Whilst at Komodo, I was lucky enough to experience the organisation and execution of the a/w 19 photoshoot. During the shoot preparation period, I experienced model castings, I was chosen as the fit model for the shoot and got to attend the shoot day, where I was delegated the runner role.

What did your day to day as an intern at Komodo look like?

As a Komodo Intern, my main daily roles consisted of responding to customer emails and queries, picking customer orders from the warehouse and shipping them, updating social media channels and supporting the marketing manager with any marketing projects. However, there was always something new to learn/experience every day, no two days were same!

What have been the biggest lessons you have learned?

Due to being my first office type role, one of the biggest lessons I learnt was how to work efficiently and plan my time, in order to make sure tasks were completed before the end of the working day. Another big lesson I learnt was the importance of establishing a great relationship with your managers and colleagues so that you have the confidence to ask for help when you may be unsure of something or stuck on a task.

How valuable do you feel has this internship been for your future career ambitions and getting a job in fashion?

My internship at Komodo was extremely valuable. I am so grateful that I was given the opportunity to complete my first industry role at Komodo. I have walked away from the internship with friends for life; because it was a very small team it felt more like a family. Both my internship at Komodo and my current sustainable fashion internship in Amsterdam have given me the opportunity to learn fundamental skills and experiences that I will be able to transfer into future graduate employment. After completing my internship year, I will be able to present a strong CV to employers and speak confidently about my career goals and ambitions.

Rebecca Fox is from Dublin, Ireland, and is studying for a BA in Entrepreneurship and Business Management. She is currently doing an internship at Komodo.

What is your career aim?

I want to gain work experience across every department of multiple successful companies in order to set up my own enterprise further down the line, drawing on the knowledge I have gained and insight into all aspects of what makes these companies successful. Hopefully this will set me up with solid foundations.

How did you obtain the internship at Komodo?

Searching online for internships abroad lead me to FashionUnited as the site has a specific internship search option. I applied via email with a CV and covering letter, which resulted in a Skype interview, after which I was offered the role of Marketing and E-Commerce Intern.

What are you hoping to get out of the internship?

To gain an insight into the fashion industry, in particular from a sustainable perspective, avoiding the fast fashion culture of today. I have a keen interest in marketing and e-commerce as it’s a crucial element of a business, and I’m hoping to gain new skills at a company which is already successful but also is open to my own personal input and ideas on how their approach can be additionally improved. Studying entrepreneurship, Komodo’s company size appealed to me as I can have my voice heard rather than just grabbing coffees and printing files.

What areas have you been involved in / been able to get work experience in?

So far it I have been exposed to a wide range of areas and facets, including:

  • Management of Komodo’s emails with customers and business enquiries
  • Updating website features, online merchandising, writing convincing / sellable product descriptions, using Photoshop
  • SEO and Affiliate Marketing management
  • Working directly with suppliers to carry their image and voice through Komodos website
  • Inventory control and processing orders
  • Preparation & attending B2B trade shows and photo shoots and meeting successful industry personnel, attending industry marketing presentations
  • Processing B2B orders
  • Sales reporting and analysis
  • Support to Sales Agents
  • Assisting charity events on behalf of Komodo
  • Attending London Fashion Week presentation
  • Training of new intern in the same role
  • Most importantly, every day is different, which is great.

    What have been the biggest lessons you have learned?

    I can leave Komodo knowing how to run a business online, and have a really broad understanding of every small detail that ensures the best customer experience. Working in a small company has given me experience in every aspect of a fashion company, and it has also taught me what my biggest skills are and areas I can work to improve. With the company’s ethics being sustainable and eco-friendly, I have a deeper appreciation for my day to day actions.

    How valuable do you feel will this internship be for your future career ambitions and getting a job in fashion?

    Internships are the stepping stone into every industry, but most importantly the fashion industry. A placement like this ensures students gain valuable insight and knowledge into the work environment and mechanics of a business that you can’t learn from a book or presentation. My time at Komodo is giving me an understanding into multiple aspects of the business as well as the wider fashion industry, and this will allow me to leave here with much broader skills and mindset that I could have hoped for when I started. I feel that gaining work experience is invaluable and once my studies are completed I will be a lot more employable and able to build and progress my fashion career.

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    Photo credit: Komodo

Work in Fashion