Starvation, child labor, sexual abuse and grueling hours for almost no pay. Working conditions no one should experience are too often the hallmarks of a runway model's career.
With Paris Fashion Week in full swing, images of beauty, glamour and jet-setting lifestyles are dominating the fashion landscape. But for the average working model, the fashion industry can mean a much darker reality. Beyond the low pay — the average annual wage for a runway model is $26,600 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics — the industry is littered with stories of abuse and degradation.
In 2012 Sara Ziff, a model and former face of Tommy Hilfiger, founded The Model Alliance, an organization dedicated to improving working conditions for models in what is essentially an unregulated industry. The philosophy, as outlined in its Models’ Bill of Rights, is to empower models and demand fair treatment from both agencies and clients.
But while Ziff has attracted big name support from models such as Coco Rocha and Milla Jovovich, who serves on MA’s advisory board, the overall response throughout the industry has been mixed. “It’s a difficult group to organize,” Ziff tells Mashable. “Models tend to be young and foreign, living here only sporadically. There’s a high turnover rate and some agencies seem to try to keep their models in the dark.”
Ziff ultimately hopes the Model Alliance can be a collective voice, a way for models to fight the abusive practices of powerful agencies and clients without fear of reprisal.
“As a model, you’re meant to have a face and not an opinion,” says Yomi Abiola, a model and the founder of Stand Up for Fashion (STUFF). “Models who want to stand up and voice their opinion jeopardize their ability to work.”
So far The Model Alliance’s biggest victory has been to convince New York lawmakers to include models under its child labor law. According to a survey of working models performed by The Model Alliance, 54.7% begin working between the ages of 13 and 16, and until New York’s legislation passed the bill in November 2013, those models had no legal workplace protection.
Sponsored by New York state senators Jeffrey Klein and Diane Savino, the law restricts working hours for underage models, requires them to have a valid Child Performer Permit, and requires agencies to provide a chaperone for any model under 16. But despite The Model Alliance’s efforts, ending the use of child labor completely isn’t unanimously supported within the fashion industry.
In 2012, after the CFDA made a request for designers not to use underage models during New York Fashion Week, designer Marc Jacobs hired two models believed to be 14 or 15 for his Fall 2013 show. “I do the show the way I think it should be,” Jacobs told New York Times, “If their parents are willing to let them do a show, I don’t see any reason that it should be me who tells them that they can’t.”
Andrew Weir, owner of ACW Worldwide, a casting agency that includes Ralph Lauren and Hugo Boss as clients, is supportive of Ziff and The Model Alliance but agrees it should be up to the underage models and their parents whether they work or not. “If a kid is with her mom and she is 15 or 16 years old, I have no problem with that...whereas some in industry say no to kids,” he says.
Beyond child labor, The Model Alliance tackles eating disorders and sexual abuse. In that same survey conducted by The Model Alliance, 64% reported being asked to lose weight by their agency.
“We still hear from models who say that their agencies encourage or even require them to be dangerously thin," says Ziff.
As for sexual harassment, 30% of models in that survey reported inappropriate touching on the job, with 28% reporting being pressured to have sex with someone at work.
Part of the problem, according to Ziff, is that models in the U.S. are generally hired as independent contractors, which means under federal law, they can’t sue for sexual harassment.
Though unionization has helped to improve working conditions for models in the UK — in 2009 British trade union Equity agreed to take models as members — it appears to be a much touchier subject Stateside. When asked about the possibility of unionization, Ziff seems to hedge: “We are a small, committed, volunteer-run organization and we do our best to empower models despite entrenched interests against models organizing collectively.”
With approximately 400 members, The Model Alliance is gaining traction, but it still has a long way to go in terms of industry-wide support. “Some individual agents and designers have been supportive,” says Ziff, “But our success [with the child labor law] seems to have caused some industry leaders to take notice and to try to marginalize our efforts.”
In the end it’s about convincing people to view models as humans and not simply as objects of fantasy. “Not as dehumanized images,” Ziff states on The Model Alliance website, “but as workers who deserve the same rights and protections as anyone else.”
Source : http://mashable.com/2015/03/04/fashion-model-rights/