A day in the life: Students complete apparel internships in Des Moines

Aletheir Hanson;

Many ISU students in the major of apparel, merchandising and design are encouraged to complete an internship before graduation. Students spend semesters and summers in different places around the nation but many stay in Iowa and complete their internships close to home.

Alumna Annie Probst, who majored in apparel, merchandising and design, completed her internship at Dornink, a fashion house in Des Moines. After hearing about the internship from a friend, she sought out the opportunity. With no previous internship experience, Probst said she was still wanted by Dornink and worked there four days a week during spring 2014.

At the job, Probst was immersed into new experiences and projects every day, all while learning about the industry and herself. At Dornink, Probst said she was taught that the customer is always first, which she said was a new standard and extremely different from the retail environment of a large company.

She also learned how to successfully run a boutique and couturier after working with and observing founder Faythe Dornink and her daughter Sarah, the head designer.

“I was very impressed by how well Faythe, Sarah, Alissa [Clapper, ISU alumna] and their sewer Mercedes worked together to create such beautiful custom pieces of clothing and alter almost any garment,” Probst said.

Probst said there were a few times when she was working with fabrics and did not know their specific names, so she wished she had reviewed her Apparel, Merchandising and Design 204 book before beginning her professional internship.

“Look at every situation as a learning experience and put your best effort into even the smallest of tasks,” Probst said about what she might have done differently.

Previously commuting from Ames to Des Moines while she attended school, Probst now lives in Des Moines and continues to help out at the boutique when needed.

Kristina Ward, senior in apparel, merchandising and design, was an intern at Dornink during the summer.

Ward worked for 10 weeks as the merchandising intern for Dornink, delegating tasks from Faythe, Sarah and Clapper.

“Having these three women guide me really allowed me to gain the most experience out of my internship. I learned so many things from each of them,” Ward said.

Ward’s average day consisted of opening and closing the store and keeping Dornink’s social media up-to-date with new merchandise and styled outfits.

“Really take initiative, do you daily tasks without being told and anticipate what needs to be done next,” Ward said about the advice she would give to future interns.

These duties combined did not equate to the most important part of Ward’s job which was being the face of Dornink. She was the first person a customer would see and was responsible for their overall experience in the store.

In the first couple of weeks, Ward did not always know how to properly answer some of the customers’ questions.

“It was one of those things you just have to be thrown into and learn as you go,” Ward said.

Overtime, interacting with regular clients became a beneficial experience for her, especially when she started picking up on a regular customer’s style and assisting them.

Because the internship, which she found through her academic, was so close, Ward was able to commute from Ames. She also said that traveling home on the weekends was easy because she worked every other Saturday.

Ward was granted a lot of freedom at the boutique. She was commonly the only worker in the store while everyone else focused on designs and alterations. Because Dornink offers these services, Ward had the ability to see the design and merchandising side of the apparel industry. This opportunity also helped her appreciate small business owners, especially independent women.

“Des Moines is such a growing city with unique opportunities. I would just encourage everyone to get out and explore all the great things the city has to offer,” Ward said.

Tonya Cross, senior in apparel, merchandising and design, was able to make the most out of her internship this summer at Hill Vintage and Knits by taking initiative and learning about all the aspects of owning a small business. Besides the two owners, Cross and two other interns learned how Hill Vintage and Knits does their bookkeeping and pricing, as well as learning how the story buys vintage clothing from customers and how they manage their marketing and social media. This prepared Cross for someday owning her own small business.

Hill Vintage and Knits, a vintage shop that offers knitting classes and walls of yarn and knitting tools, is also known for their alterations, so Cross would complete a few of those in the mornings. After lunch the team would put out new merchandise, which usually required steaming, checking for flaws and pricing the items. Throughout the day, Cross also assisted any customers that came into the store.

Even though Cross was independent and busy, she was still able to go home a few times throughout her 10-week internship as a “kittern,” the name for interns at Hill Vintage and Knits. Cross eventually progressed to lead intern before she left.

Starting at Iowa State as a design major but later switching to merchandising, Cross had not sewed for over a year. Handling the alterations forced her to step outside her comfort zone. Besides the sewing skills, Cross felt she was fully prepared for the internship.

“Buying was a little intimidating because I had to sort through what people brought in and decide what would sell in the store and what wouldn’t,” Cross said.

Cross was also granted freedom about what thought a garment would look better with specific alterations.

“I was granted a lot of freedom, but I had to make sure not to take advantage of that,” Cross said.

As for future interns, Cross recommends that students do research and not turn down any opportunities because they are all learning experiences. Cross said that if they already know what they want to do after graduation then they should find internships that cater to that. This will reassure the student that it is really what they want to do.

“New York internships are so coveted among [apparel, merchandising and design] students, but not everyone wants to move to the big city after graduation,” Cross said about locations students often go for internships. “If you’re that person who doesn’t want to live in [New York City] and doesn’t want to spend a lot of money, look into Des Moines.”

Addy Miller, junior in apparel, merchandising and design, was a merchandising intern alongside Cross this summer at Hill Vintage and Knits. After hearing about the internship through her academic adviser Ann Thye, Miller sought out the opportunity via email. The internship was even more appealing to Miller because of its location in her hometown.

Miller’s duties included helping customers with clothing, deciding what pieces to put on display and having a photographer’s role in displaying the clothes on the store’s Etsy page. Miller had a lot of responsibilities from the beginning. She had to run the shop most days by herself while the two owners, Jessica Miller and Erica Carnes, were out of the shop performing other duties.  

Specifically with the photography aspect, Miller was allowed free range on the Etsy page, which is an uncommon duty for an intern. This hands-on involvement was a preparation step for Miller’s next internship, which she hopes will have a focus on photography.

“I took a smaller internship to get more experience and put it on my resume, so I can have a better chance of getting a bigger internship,” Miller said.