How to Land a Fashion Internship Part 3: Free People

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This is the third of an ongoing series offering tips from young professionals on how to land a fashion internship. These 20-somethings are interning at renowned fashion houses from Marc Jacobs to Oscar de la Renta. They’re bravely walking up to industry leaders and giving elevator speeches and handing out resumes and business cards. They’re sticking their foot in the door of one of the most competitive industries. And they’re getting hired.

Name: Britt Ernst
Company: Free People
Position: Current, Social Media Strategist; previous, Photography Intern
School: University of Missouri
Degree: Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies

Britt Ernst could barely hold onto her portfolio as she waited for Jess, a photographer for Free People, to call her name. Her palms were sweaty—both from nerves and because she’d been sick for her interview with the photo team. It wasn’t jet lag from the three-hour flight from Missouri to Pennsylvania. She had the flu the week before. “I tried to muster it up, eat a lot of ice cubes, put on a lot of makeup and look alive,” she said. A 100-plus-degree fever and 1,000-plus miles couldn’t keep Ernst from her dream interview with her dream company. “I wasn’t going to miss it for anything.”

In 2013 Ernst made the transition from Free People sales associate to Free People Photo Intern, and now she is the social media specialist at the Santa Monica location. She takes all their photos. Styles all their shoots. And runs all their accounts. Here’s how she transitioned from college student in retail to calling, and snapping, the shots.

Tell me a little bit about what you were doing at your internship with Free People back in the day?
My internship was in the web studio at the Free People office in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I was the lead photographer’s shadow for the summer. I learned how to shoot the lookbooks. I also had the opportunity to work with the girl who photographs the vintage line. The guy who photographs the purses. Every image on their website—I got to learn how to do that.

How did you create this opportunity?
I worked for Free People in my hometown, Kansas City, and I heard they hired interns for the summer. I was like, I think I could get that. I should apply. So I submitted a portfolio. I put together an inspiration board—I went out and photographed all of my friends wearing Free People. I styled five or six shoots. We also shot a short style video. I wrote this passionate letter about why I felt this was perfect for me. They called me in for an interview.

Which was in Philadelphia, right?
I found out a month after I applied, so September, that I was invited to Interview Day—which is a 24-hour whirlwind they have after New Years. It’s for the internal community. I flew out and I got to Philadelphia in the early evening. I got to the hotel room where I was staying with another interviewee—she was interviewing for a styling internship with Urban Outfitters. We all met in the lobby to go out to dinner on Urban Outfitters Incorporated (the company that owns Free People). They made a reservation at this restaurant—I don’t remember the name. But there were these big buffet-style tables. It forced friendship and networking on everyone. You’re all competing for the same job—everyone is there for the same reason; everyone wants the same thing. But everyone is so inspired by the style and the minds around them. We all checked out really early the next day and had our assigned interviews. I have friends to this day from that night.

When you’re competing against all these creative minds, what about you stood out?
I’ve asked. They said I had a really good vibe, a really good spirit, and they thought I’d be a good addition to their team. My advice to anyone in the interview process is have the best attitude possible and really show them you’re a hard worker. It’ll pay off.

Do you suggest students fly for interview opportunities?
If you can’t imagine missing that opportunity, get on that plane and give them all you’ve got.

Now you are a Social Media Specialist for Free People. How did your internship help you grow with the company?
When I came back from my internship I came back as a stylist—which is what their sale associates are. They were like, “Hey you’ve done this internship. You should help us with social media.” Slowly, it developed into, “Why don’t you just do all of it?” So we did weekly photo shoots and I would style and choose locations. It really worked for us. We saw a huge growth in our Instagram following. I thought to myself, I’ve been in Kansas City my whole life—this is where I’m from—and Free People is really growing on the West Coast. Actually, one of the girls I met on Interview Day was a store manager in Santa Monica. I reached out. She was like, “Yes, come to Santa Monica. Do social media for my store. It’s going to be awesome.” And that’s where I am right now. It’s amazing.

And how did it affect your aesthetic?
Before I interned I didn’t really have a hard and fast direction for where I wanted to go with my photography or what I wanted my portfolio to look like. Seeing how those amazing photographers work and their vision gave me a push to choose a direction. My aesthetic is very bohemian, clean and free.

What does your day-to-day look like?
I’m also a senior stylist at Free People. So on a typical day I’ll wake up around 7:30 or 8 a.m. and pack my photography equipment and props for the shoot. Then I’ll head from my apartment in Hollywood to Santa Monica. Once I get to the store I’ll start pulling looks for the shoot that day. I shoot once a week for Instagram. Since I’m a Senior Stylist I’ll be on the floor until 1 or 2 p.m. Around 2 my model comes in and we will try on all the looks and we’ll head on location. Sometimes I’ll bring a dog with us—just depends how I’m feeling that day. We’ll do the shoot, take all the clothes back to the store and I head home to edit.

What program do you use to edit?
I use Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop.

And your favorite filter?
I use VSCO cam. I buy all the packs they offer, and I play around with all of them. But I never use a filter over 50 percent.

What camera do you use?
Canon 6D and 7D

Finally, what advice do you have for aspiring fashion photographers or social media strategists?
Find what makes you different. With iPhones and Instagram and VSCO cam, everyone’s a photographer. Find what makes you stand out and hone that.