June 11, 2012 • In web :: Features
Modelling Workers’ Rights
Model and community organizer Sara Ziff speaks up for models’ rights in the fashion industry.
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Greig de Peuter: I’d like to begin by asking you to describe a model’s typical employment status.
Sara Ziff: Models’ employment classification has been debated. Typically, models are deemed to be independent contractors, and occasionally they work as employees. Models have exclusive contracts with their agencies, and the agencies book jobs for their models with clients. The work ranges from advertising and catalogue jobs to runway and editorial shoots for fashion magazines.
Essentially the client dictates the job duties, while the agency handles recruitment, bookings, payroll and, in some cases, management. After the model has completed a shoot, the client pays the agency and eventually the agency distributes payment, less a 20 percent commission and expenses, to the model.
Generally models do runway and editorial work for free or for “trade,” meaning just clothes, in order to gain prestige and exposure. And they supplement their income with “money jobs,” meaning catalogue and, if they’re lucky, advertising. Often models work internationally and their bookings are very last minute. Normally models don’t know their schedules more than a day, or even an hour, in advance, so they have very little control over their work schedules.
Modelling agencies in New York used to be licenced “agencies,” but Ford Models decided that this was limiting and decided to stop paying the licensing fee and declared themselves to be a “management agency.” All the other agencies followed suit and called themselves managers, and so they escaped regulation and caps on commissions. Agencies now charge models a standard 20 percent commission of their earnings, as well as many bookkeeping expenses that can add up to thousands of dollars per month.
They also charge their clients — meaning the magazines, catalogues, and designers — a 20 percent “service” fee. Clients are steady, whereas most models come and go, and sometimes it feels like the agencies put the clients’ interests before their models’ interests. Agencies take a cut of their models’ successes, but technically they are not liable for their models’ failures.