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Something’s Not Right: Runway Models Plea for Cash

model alliance

Amy Lemons, Sara Ziff, Linda Vojtova & Jeisa Chiminazzo

A reader posted a comment on Style by Fire today, and so I moseyed on over to her blog to check it out. I read an article she linked  from Buzzfeed which was real eye-opening but enraging. It was an article titled, “Fashion Models Finally Earn Money After Plea For Cash,” and it made my gut wrench.

Wannabe models sacrifice so much to become the next Giselle or Kate: they’re away from their families, live in model dorms, eat next to nothing (ok so some of it is self-imposed). And for what? The article talked about how even big names like Marc Jacobs had not paid their models until recently. Worse yet, fashion designers recognized even to those not in-the-know are holding back from compensating models: Anna Sui, Proenza Schouler, Narciso Rodriguez…

Some models get paid $100 for a high-end runway show… if they’re lucky. Most get clothes. And a lot of them are in debt with their agencies too, even the semi-successful ones.

I, too, have endured experiences where I was paid in clothes (not working as a model but in the industry). Although my co-workers and I were adamant we get paid in real wages, we ended up keeping quiet because we decided an extra weekend’s worth of work was not worth losing a job over. Thinking about it now, I don’t even know why we held on so tightly to those jobs, as there was much abuse similar to the ones models face, except for the image. I had often wished that in fashion and retail, there was some sort of union or collective voice to speak up for all our inequities. Lucky for models, as of February 2012 there is one.

Sara Ziff, a 30-year old model who has been the face of Stella McCartney, started The Model Alliance, an organization dedicated to improving the working conditions of the American fashion industry. This smart cookie also put herself through a Bachelor’s at Columbia and produced Picture Me, a documentary behind the scenes in fashion.

Initiatives for 2013 include…

  • Backstage Privacy Policy (to prevent invasive photography behind the scenes when models change)
  • Child Labour (Vogue has agreed to not hire models under 16)
  • Model Alliance Suport (to prevent sexual harassment)

On the other hand, some readers weren’t as supportive of this movement. One reader called Draconis wrote on November 29th, 2012 in response to Sara Ziff’s article on the BBC, “If you join a superficial industry where looks and body shape count for everything, you can’t really complain once you’re in it. that’s a bit like a soldier complaining he has to shoot at the enemy.” Although I understand where s/he’s coming from, it’s also like saying that because you willingly sign up to be a waiter, you should take all the customer abuse in the world.

“There is something deeply unsettling about some of fashion’s wealthiest, most powerful brands hiring minors and not compensating them financially,” says Ziff. And I agree. In terms of what we’re learning in sustainability class, the social aspect is just as important as the environmental piece. You’ve got to be treating your workers fairly so that they may support themselves in a healthy manner. In turn, when they have a standard quality of life, you’ll also benefit from what they can bring to the world.

While child labour in overseas countries may get some companies in trouble, treating workers in North America does not get anyone to blink an eye. The trouble is that most people don’t know about this, myself included until I read Ziff’s article. So please, the next time you watch a Narciso or Proenza Schouler show, remember that these designers are forcing others to sacrifice while they profit.

I’m seeing a lot of models stand up for rights like Cameron Russell who spoke out about deconstructing images, Sara Ziff who formed The Model Alliance, Coco Rocha for not having her photos airbrushed, and Summer Rayne Oakes who stood up for plus size models. Kudos to you girls.

“I think that if we put more work into empowering the models themselves, we can change the kinds of imagery that we see.” – Sara Ziff

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