One of the main reasons why I decided to study abroad in Italy is to gain international exposure in fashion. So, when I learned that there was an opportunity to do a credit-bearing fashion internship during my time in Italy, I went for it. There were three different local businesses in Florence, Italy, looking for interns from the Fashion Business Management Program at Polimoda. Prior to applying for the internships, I visited each place to do research about their businesses. I went on interviews for all, but felt the strongest connection with FLO Concept Store after interviewing with the store’s Vice President, Serena Asso, who explained to me the values of the organization. I sent a thank-you email following up the interview, hoping it was culturally appropriate, and was offered an internship at the store.
FLO Concept Store is unlike any place at which I have ever worked or interned before. It is the first example of a non-profit, social-commercial retail business in Florence that nurtures young Italian designers while providing work opportunities for people with mental or physical disabilities. The products the store carries are made with the very finest or recycled materials and are produced in a small-scale, ethical production by young designers in Italy; 90% of them being sourced from local artisans in Tuscany. This ensures that the pieces are creative, unique and 100% Made In Italy. Currently, the store carries women’s ready-to-wear, women’s accessories, childrenswear and small lifestyle products such as Libri Muti, ash-trays and decorations. Its target customers are fashion-conscious women looking to add a special piece to their wardrobe, mothers looking for safe, organic and cozy clothing for their babies, and tourists looking for one-of-a-kind gift/clothing made by Italian artisans. The store’s interior is small but colorful and fun. From the hanging racks to the wallpaper, everything in the store has a character and coziness to them.
While I am absolutely in love with FLO’s products and the interior design, my favorite thing about the store is its staff. As mentioned, FLO hires people with disabilities and develops them to enter today’s workforce by training them to work in high-level customer service and store management. This creates a work environment that is gentle, supportive and patient. While each of us has our own personality, everyone has mutual respect for each other and is all working towards the same goal which is to advocate FLO’s mission of connecting fashion with social responsibility without compromising tasteful style. I am constantly inspired by working alongside the FLO team!
And since FLO is a small business, everyone’s hands are on deck with all the tasks and there are many opportunities to learn and to initiate projects/ideas. As the store’s intern, I am challenged every day by my supervisor, Elisabetta Renzoni, who assigns me a great variety of tasks and provides constructive feedback on the results. One day I would be taking pictures of the new inventory and populating spreadsheets with them, the next I would be working on the visual merchandising of the store or assisting Elisabetta during buying trips. No day is ever the same – something exciting and challenging is always going on! Since Elisabetta speaks English very well (on top of Italian and French!) I have been spoiled and have not had any issue communicating. However, I am encouraged to learn and speak Italian by observing/assisting on the sales floor and exchanging new words with my Italian co-workers who are always willing to help! FLO is also cooperative with scheduling which really helps me manage my time between school, the internship and extracurricular activities.
I am grateful for this internship opportunity at FLO Concept Store. It has shown me a different way of running a fashion business and the importance of putting people before profits. I am inspired by the products and the people I work with, and I plan to consider everything I am learning at the store when I start my own social-commercial business one day. I highly encourage students to apply for an internship during their time abroad. Not only will you gain a different perspective of the industry from interning in a foreign country, but also learn the work environment and customs of the country and build international contacts.
I hope this post has given you some insight about doing an internship abroad. Feel free to ask if you have any question! And, if you haven’t been to FLO Concept Store already, be sure to stop by! It is an absolute gem sitting on the banks of the Arno River, a few doors down the Rivalta Cafe. Here’s the address: Lungarno Corsini 30/3/R
50123 Florence, Italy.