The biggest challenge we have encountered with our Pay Your Interns campaign is getting big brand’s press offices to respond to our questions about their policy on internships. Thankfully, we have had no such problems with Topshop, who have now provided three separate explanations.

The trouble is, all three have all been different — and the inconsistency is starting to make us a teensy bit suspicious. Could the brand have something to hide?


Initially, a Topshop spokesperson told us their interns worked “9-5pm, zone 1-6 travel paid for and £3.50 worth of food a day for lunch, what they are involved in varies on which departments they are in.” She then provided a list of tasks a Topshop intern would typically be given, including “trend research,” “creating trend packs” and “small creative projects… using Photoshop” and “annotation and specking up of designs.”


But, when the Observer contacted Topshop about our story, a different spokesperson declared that Topshop’s interns had no set hours of responsibilities, and were simply “shadowing” paid members of staff. She said:

“At Topshop we have a clearly defined work experience policy and it’s something we are very passionate about as a brand. We offer unpaid work experience placements here, not internships, where the individual spends their time shadowing a member or members of the team and learning about what they do. They do not have a set role to perform, or set hours in which to do it. As a benefit we offer those undertaking work experience £3.50 towards lunch and we cover their travel costs. Placements tend to run for around four weeks and are solely for those aged 16 and over.”


And now — when we questioned Topshop about this inconsistency, a third spokesperson has told us something different again. Apparently, these placements are mainly “work shadowing”, but “getting to try a bit of what you are learning makes the placement more fun!”

This is what they said:

To: Graduate Fog
From: Topshop HR


I hope you’re well. Apologies for the delay in responding to you. We’ve not liaised before but I’m the HR Manager for Topshop Head office and [name removed by Graduate Fog] forwarded your email onto me. I understand from your email on Monday that you felt there was a discrepancy between the description of our work experience that appeared in the Observer article on Sunday 9th October and the description provided by [name] back in September.

I know [name] has already conveyed this but I wanted to reiterate that work experience is something we feel very passionately about at Topshop. These placements provide a great opportunity for learning about an extremely competitive industry, and support many young people in developing towards a career in fashion retail. We are proud to offer this experience and hope that many more individuals will continue to benefit from this opportunity in the future.

I’d also add that our work experience placements are enthusiastically supported by the brand teams with a significant investment of their time and experience, and this is a testament to the value the brand believes this experience adds to supporting individuals into employment.

I hope that the details below can help to clarify any discrepancies and, as I know [name removed] has already offered, we are very happy to meet with you to discuss this in the future.

Kind regards

[name removed by Graduate Fog]

Work shadowing

We are strong believers in Arcadia that, to learn best, the majority of people need to observe and practice [sic] what they are learning; a crucial part of every work experience placement is therefore getting to put into practice some of the skills you are learning within a safe and supported environment. We also believe that getting to try a bit of what you are learning makes the placement more fun!

Alongside our regular work experience placements we also have a strong relationship with the Fashion Retail Academy and offer many structured placements for their students throughout the year. These placements are organised with the academy to provide an opportunity for students to put into practice the skills that they have learned from a theoretical perspective on their course, highlighting the importance placed on actively experiencing a business environment alongside college education.

Working hours

To clarify, we don’t specify set hours for our work experience placements, and can offer a range of hours and working patterns to suit the applicant, however as our office hours are 9am – 5pm each day the majority of work experience students are keen to participate in a complete day in the office. In contrast our placements with the Fashion Retail Academy tend to run from 10am – 4pm each day, but are flexible according to each student’s wishes and other commitments.

We thought we understood — but we just wanted to check. So we wrote back:

From: Graduate Fog
To: Topshop

So the only interns / work experience people you have at Topshop are either work shadowing (ie just observing, and not doing any real work) OR they are doing a placement as part of their course – is that correct? And all these people are free to come and go as they please throughout the duration of their time with you?

The next day, this arrived:

From: Topshop
To: Graduate Fog


Not quite, as per my email all of our work experience placements offer a chance to practice what the individuals are learning, so rarely would a placement be 100% observation (that’s not to say they would never be just observation). Individuals are open to agree their hours with the team they’re spending their time with.

Sophie, I hope that this has answered the original questions and I trust that this has brought your enquiries to a close.

Best wishes

[name removed]

It’s clear Topshop are keen to end our discussion there – but what do you make of their three different explanations? We think our questions were pretty clear – so why won’t Topshop give us a straight answer?

*Why won’t Topshop give us a straight answer?
From what they have said, can you understand their policy on internships? Can you explain the inconsistency in their responses? Have you interned at Topshop — or do you know anybody who has? Was your experience just work shadowing?

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