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They strut their stuff on the runway… but models often get tripped up by a business that can be brutal behind the scenes.
Aiming to pull back the curtain and promote change, model Sara Ziff founded the Model Alliance – a non-profit aimed at improving conditions in an industry that takes advantage of young people enamored by the glitz of the fashion business.
“Sometimes they’re not even getting paid any money for their work. They’re working for trade, which basically just means clothes. And you know everyone loves a beautiful designer dress, but frankly you can’t pay your rent with trade.”
Models are considered independent contractors. That means many worker protection laws simply don’t apply.
Susan Scafidi is the Director of the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham University:
“There’s nothing illegal about paying an independent contractor in trade because there are no minimum wages for independent contractors in the way there are for employees. As an independent contractor, you agree to do a job for a certain amount.”
The alliance is working with the Council of Fashion Designers of America and others in the industry on changes – like a new backstage policy for New York Fashion Week. Scafidi says:
“Such a simple thing. A right in the era of cellphones… everybody who doesn’t need to be back there with a camera needs to get out so you don’t have models who are changing clothes… somebody snaps a photo, puts it on the internet it follows them around forever. So that’s one way in which the designers have really stepped forward to help out.”
The Model Alliance is also hoping to be a resource for workers put in precarious situations, says Ziff, like sexual harassment:
“Fashion is about what’s new, what’s next, and that makes the models highly replaceable and they know it. So it makes it very, very difficult to speak out if you’re dealing with any kind of difficult situation or abuse.”
Ziff hopes that by putting a spotlight on industry blemishes, the fashion world can live up to its image of beauty for the public and its workers.