Paul Auersperg (center) with Fortune Footwear staff and the interns.

At Fortune Footwear, it’s not just executives in meetings with the president and footwear designers or traveling to China factories. Interns, too, get in on the action.

“There’s an atmosphere there of equality — we’re all equal,” said Dominic Doria, a junior at Cornell University who as part of his summer internship at Fortune Footwear, just returned from Dongguan, an industrial city in China, where he was involved in the making of shoes and quality controls for about two weeks.

This summer, 14 interns, in college, graduate school or entering the job market, have been working at Fortune Footwear, a New York-based, midsize footwear manufacturer supplying top shoe designers and major department and specialty stores.

Unlike most fashion interns, those at Fortune Footwear aren’t on coffee runs or running errands. They become immersed in the operations of the company, learn the ins and outs of the business, and get some practical business experience.

“The first thing I learned in China was how to communicate with factory workers who didn’t speak my language. I used a lot of gestures,” said Doria, who is studying industrial labor relations and is on the lacrosse team at Cornell. “It was a great experience being able to work in an environment where people don’t look or speak like me, but we were still able to talk business. I love to work with people.”

On Monday night, Paul Auersperg, the chief executive officer of Fortune Footwear and son of John Auersperg, the late founder of the firm, threw a party at Lure restaurant in SoHo, to celebrate his interns. “This is an annual event for all of them,” Auersperg told WWD.

Auersperg said he’s been running the internship program for 10 years. While it helps young people get the kind of experience that reads well on their résumés — they’re learning pricing, production, design and other functions — it serves him well, too. Over the years, Auersperg has hired approximately 33 percent of his interns, particularly those who intern for a couple of summers. “When they get out of school and join us, they really hit the ground running.”

Hiring interns, said Auersperg, “actually mitigates risks” and is a relatively inexpensive way to bring some fresh faces into the sphere of your business, on kind of a trial basis before possibly hiring them.

“You save yourself six months of training. New hires require that much training, and then if they aren’t working out, it can take another three months to end the relationship. That’s nine months wasted. Hiring and training the wrong people could be very costly.”

Emily Dolan, an Adelphi University student and Fortune Footwear intern, said, “I learned a lot, particularly on the financial side of design, the behind the scenes of what it takes to make a shoe profitably for Fortune, the factory, and the customers we sell the shoes to. I saw the big picture — taking an idea and making it into something financially profitable for the company.”

Another intern, Ivy Denham, a Canadian attending Bishop’s University in Quebec, described a bit of what she learned at Fortune. “If I’m walking on a street and I look down at a woman’s shoes, I can price it out and tell you exactly what it costs to make it.”

“I’ve been able to go to meetings with designers and see how we work together on all the details, like redesigning a heel or adding more rhinestones to the uppers. I could see how this was a true design collaboration,” said Veronica Reguero Cadilla, who attends Philadelphia University and aspires to be a fashion designer.

“I love fashion but I’m very into business,” said Maggie Casey, a student at Boston College. “When I’m in meetings with Paul, he places a huge emphasis on teaching us.”

“Plan ahead, work hard and learn from your mistakes. How do we recover from our setbacks? That’s what I teach these kids,” said the brawny Auersperg, a former high school football player. “It’s not how hard you hit. It’s how hard you get hit and keep moving forward.”

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