“Choose a job you love,” assert thousands of self-help books, fridge magnets, and school guidance counsellors, “and you will never have to work a day in your life.” If only it were that easy.
For many who love the worlds of fashion and footwear, a life spent working at the brands that define those industries would amount to a dream come true. Unfortunately, unless your last name is Knight or Bowerman, securing a job at Nike is notoriously difficult. Here’s where the college internship comes in.
A relatively recent phenomenon, the notion of a summer internship has exploded from mid-1980s résumé builder to a nearly-ubiquitous “critical pipeline” of the hiring process. For companies and interns alike, this time spent working (and playing) is a live-action try-out, a chance to evaluate each other before, in many cases at least, an end-of-term job interview. Score the right internship, and your chances of “choosing a job you love” go through the roof.
Plus, if you’re interning at a place like Nike or Adidas, there’s a fair chance your intern duties include getting paid to play with sneakers. There are worse ways to spend a summer job.
With Summer 2018 fast approaching, we’ve gathered a roundtable of interns (both past and present) to walk us through how they got the experiences they did. Want to work at a place like Nike, Adidas, KITH, or Highsnobiety?
So, where did you work and what did you do there?
Jenn Smith (Nike): Last summer, I worked at Nike HQ for the Ekin Experience Team. “Ekin” is Nike spelled backwards, and they’re basically the eyes and ears of Nike in the marketplace. They’re the people going into retail stores and teaching the company history, teaching the heritage stories, training employees, and working at the brand events that you see.
Brandon Smithwrick (KITH, formerly Atrium): I was a buying intern for Atrium in New York City in 2015. This was when the [old Bleecker St] store was still split between part KITH and part Atrium.
Regan Wilcox (adidas): I worked for adidas in Portland last summer on its Global Women’s Team.
Noah Thomas (Highsnobiety): I’m currently at Highsnobiety in New York as a part of the video team. I also assist with styling, editorials, and other things of that nature.
How’d you even get on the radar?
JS: I worked summers at NikeTown Chicago as a part-time retail athlete, which is kind of where my love for Nike began. Then I just kind of tried really hard to reach out to people at Nike corporate. I actually snuck into my school’s engineering career fair to meet some recruiters there, even though I wanted to work in marketing.
BS: I won a KITH Instagram contest for a free piece of clothing from a brand it was carrying at the time. When someone reached out to me to get my size, I just hit them back like, “Hey, I’m really looking for an internship, are there any availabilities?”
RW: I applied on the adidas website for the internship and later received an email requesting an interview. I did a video interview first, then another interview with my manager for the summer. I was actually abroad at time so we ended up talking over Skype. It’s funny, ‘cause she had just gotten back to Portland from [adidas HQ in] Germany.
NT: I was finished with school and trying to figure out my next move, so I was online all the time looking for internships. One day I just thought to myself, it wouldn’t hurt just to check to see if Highsnob has any careers or internships. It needed a fashion intern ASAP, so I sent my résumé over and got a response.
What was the recruiting process like?
JS: It was all independent, and took a lot of cold calls on LinkedIn. If you’re just applying through the Nike jobs page, it’s very unlikely that you will get selected.
Also, the previous summer, I actually took a family trip out to Portland and took time to meet people I had reached out to on campus. Being able to say like, “Hey, I’m actually going to be in town,” really increases the willingness of people to meet with you.
I would also say what’s really important is just telling your story. For example I’m a runner. I’m really interested in running culture and running shoes. Then, I talked about what I’m involved in at my school, what I’ve done with Nike, what I like about Nike, and finally how I can add value to their team.
I made a Powerpoint that told that Nike story and would print colour copies before meeting with anyone. Telling my story visually really helped and made me stand out versus just giving them my resume. Having that personal connection to the brand and kind of being able to tell your story, especially for a marketing position, really helped.
BS: Just getting your foot in the door any way possible is really what you have to do. Find the opportunity, and try and seize it and make that connection immediately. After the Instagram contest, I interviewed, then I got the position of being a buying intern and it was, to this day, one of the best internships I’ve ever had.
RW: It was kind of just applying on a whim. I like Adidas and the company and thought the internship sounded like a unique experience, so I worked a little bit on my resume to try to make it fit. And, yeah, I just ended up somehow landing the interview.
NT: I was contacted and they were like, “we’re interested in sitting down with you. Let me know when you can.” It was just one interview. It went really well. They were like, “Hey, we want you, when can you start.” And then from there I just did everything they asked. It sounds like it’s missing something, but it really was just like that.
What’s it like to actually work there?
JS: There were so many awesome experiences. They would have athletes on campus. I was training for a marathon at the time, and I would just go running and see Mo Farah and Jordan Hasay run past me.
Just being immersed in that culture was amazing. It’s a place where you could go play soccer during work, and come back to the office, and keep grinding stuff out. There were a bunch of intern events, and we definitely built a culture. I made life-long friends from the internship.
Top executives are very willing to reach out to interns, too. There’s no hierarchy, no “I’m too good for you” mentality. I ran into Larry Miller [President of Jordan Brand] at the cafeteria one day and ran up to him just to say, “Hey, I met you at Michigan. It’s great to see you again. Now I’m an intern.” He was like, “Oh, just schedule some time with my secretary and we can chat.” I got to meet him and just kind of like hang out in his office and chat with him, and bring up some ideas that I had for the brand. That was one of the coolest moments of my summer.
BS: Working as a buying intern really exposed me to the business side of fashion. You don’t really see too much of the real side of the fashion from the outside. It’s glamorized and people think you’re just wearing cool clothes all day. It is fun, but literally, for the first couple of weeks, I was just out in back working Excel like crazy.
As a buying intern, you don’t just go into stores, and you don’t go into offices like, “I want this, this, this, this, this.” It’s literally a numbers game. I got to see the senior buyer at Atrium, who is phenomenal, just negotiate deal after deal during market week and trade shows. I was tasked with running selling reports, every Monday. I did orders for brands like John Elliott, R13 Denim, PRPS, Helmut Lang, all those high-end brands, and I got to see what they were offering next season. I thought that was really cool, but it was a lot of math figuring out discounts and buying and how to stay within budget.
RW: Working at adidas was awesome. It’s a really cool campus a little bit outside of Portland. The campus and the buildings are an old hospital, so it’s kind of a joke, but the IT department is in the old morgue.
I worked for the Global Women’s Team, and that team is relatively new and runs horizontal across the company. We worked with a lot of the vertical teams like Soccer or Training that are some of the bigger sports for female athletes. My team’s task was essentially to figure out how adidas is communicating with female consumers, first in North America but then also across the world.
NT: It started with a bit of everything: running errands, doing mood boards, transcribing things. Then, transcribing turned into writing posts. For a minute I was writing posts, and felt like, “cool, I’ll be a staff writer,” but then we hired a Fashion Editor-at-:arge. The editors knew how much I loved fashion, so they were like, “Hey, would you like to help out?” I just started to style things.
From styling, I was asked to go on camera and see how I felt in front of all the equipment. If there is a drop or a pop-up shop, I might get told: “We need you to go cover this view in the camera. Go do that right now or do that after you finish this.” And I’d run and do that. It’s a little bit of everything.
Favorite moment from the internship?
JS: I would say the Intern Combine. All 200 Portland interns were split into teams of around 12 to work on a project where each group had to present a strategy for Nike’s global community impact work. You had to figure out team dynamics with all these people who are super smart and super talented, then figure out what everyone’s strengths are to kind of break up that team. We ended up getting to present to top executives, which was really cool.
It was challenging, but our team became so close from it. Our team actually won the challenge, too. Seeing our Intern Combine project become a success, and something that Nike can use going forward was probably the most rewarding part of the internship.
BS: Going to trade shows. When you’re a buyer, trade shows are probably the busiest week of your job. Even though people see fashion week shows, shows don’t explain designs, they just show off what a designer’s gonna do.
In doing the trade shows, you would just be walking this convention hall, talking to brands constantly, filling out orders, grabbing packets of what they’re gonna carry, all of it. It’s non-stop conversations but at the same time, let’s not forget we’re all here to do business. Assisting the Atrium buyers and being in charge of a couple brands, they would ask me, “Would you wear this?” And I got to directly see those pieces in those colors in store a couple of times.
RW: We got to go do a couple different workshops in the adidas MakerLab idea. So, that was a lot of fun and obviously unrelated to my day-to-day work.
The amount of creativity there is insane. I’m not really design-oriented, but I got to put together some things and just play around in there. We put together little baby shoes, and I made Michigan colors even though there’s a little bit of bad blood.
NT: “The Drop” with Barneys. I posted at that event all day for a live stream on Facebook. That was insane — just to have all those people come out. Virgil, Greg Lauren — everybody was there. All the designers and musicians and celebrities came through, as well as kids that just love Highsnob and Barneys. I got recognized a few times, too. That was a crazy moment.
Any advice for people seeking a dream internship like yours?
JS: If it’s your dream internship, 100% just go for it. So many people told me there was no way I could get it. But it wasn’t just my Nike experience that helped me get it, you know? Nobody in the stores helped me meet people in Portland. No matter what your experience is, you can go out and you can make those connections.
If you really want it, fly out there. Send them ideas that you have. Send them photos and things that you made. Just kind of stay with it. I really think if you want something bad enough, you can get it.
BS: If you want that internship at that large company, you might have to get a little bit more experience first. You might need to start at a smaller company where you can wear multiple hats and get lots of experience. That way when it’s time for you to get that dream internship you’re not gonna blow it. You’re gonna be ready and prepared, and they’re gonna see your work ethic and be like, “Oh, we need to hire you.” All you have to do is start.
RW: Just be patient. The application process for every company is different. Understand that from the beginning and know where your top companies are, then apply to those and talk to as many people as you can. And even if you can’t talk to them directly, it doesn’t mean that you can’t get it. Just be patient and wait for something you’re really excited about.
NT: First of all, I swear by internships. It’s real-world experience. A lot of people wait until last semester to intern, or intern only until they’re finished after college. Those are two things I really do not recommend. If you can, try to intern as soon as possible because that’s where you make your connections and get experience. Classrooms can only take you so far.
As for getting the dream, I would suggest to just stay in motion. If you don’t have a day off and you have to work every single day, then you have to work every single day. That’s just what it is. It’s what it takes. If they need you on a Sunday, do it. Make what you want to do a reality.