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14th October 2014

Profile: The Model Alliance

Gráinne Morrison on the the fight for better working conditions in the modelling industry

If I were to ask you to describe the life of a fashion model, you’d probably focus on glamorous parties, free champagne and designer clothes. I doubt you would consider sexual harassment, unpaid work, encouraged eating disorders and bullying.

As hard as it is to pity people who are paid to look good, the working conditions for most of these beautiful people are poor to non-existent. Most models aren’t earning millions. In fact, a lot of models will accept unpaid work just for the exposure. Yet in doing so they put themselves in a vulnerable position.

Take, for example, the scandal surrounding Terry Richardson. Countless models have courageously come forward to share their stories of sexual assault and harassment only to be met with derision from some of the most influential names in fashion. Many decide against coming forward for fear of losing future jobs.

Likewise, it’s been almost a decade since Ana Carolina Reston tragically died from the anorexia she developed after comments that she was ‘too fat’. At the time, the fashion industry reacted strongly with claims of massive change to follow. Yet, years later models are still pressured, even forced, to lose weight to get ahead.

In such a cutthroat industry, how does one avoid exploitation? In 2012, the not-for-profit organisation The Model Alliance was set up by Sara Ziff, a former model, who decided to take matters into her own hand. The Model Alliance works to establish a place of protection for female, male and child models of all backgrounds and ethnicities.

Although not a union, they aim to give a voice to the many models who feel helpless. They have a Bill of Rights which covers issues such as the need for a code of professionalism throughout all modelling jobs. Ziff states that “by giving models a platform to organize to improve their industry, The Model Alliance aims to enhance the vitality and moral standing of the fashion business as a whole.”

So why did it take so long for an organisation of this kind to come about? There was a Model’s Guild in 1995, but it failed so miserably that no one worth knowing ever registered its existence. Even the Model Alliance admits that this is merely the beginning and so much more needs to be done in order to improve working conditions for models.

Will it work? Hopefully; as unlike The Model’s Guild, this organisation has the backing of the CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America) which ultimately means they have the driving force of Anna Wintour behind them. However, until many others follow the example set by the CFDA, The Model Alliance has their work cut out for them.

One thing is for sure, things can’t get any worse.

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