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Sep 12

How Equity Is Helping Models At Work {Careers}

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Equity has opened its doors to Models and a new catwalk contract has been introduced in time for London Fashion Week (starting later this week on the 17th)

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It seems impossible that in 2010 in the UK there could be areas of work uncovered by contracts, established breaks or health and safety procedures. It seems more unlikely still that it happens in one of the most glamorous, expensive and envied industries: fashion. Although the fashion industry is subject to the same standards and employment laws as any other area of business it has long operated as if under separate rules, working to its own high artistic standards but with little thought for issues such as the minimum wage or employee’s rights. In the fight to get to the top, standards of employment law fall by the wayside.

“there is an expectation of working for long hours to earn little money, putting up with nudity being demanded in photo-shoots, sexual harassment from photographers. In the early part of a model’s career, often in their teens, this work will be for free.”

Slowly and surely this is beginning to change. At the end of 2007 Equity, the Union for performers in the entertainment industry, agreed, at the request of two pioneering models, Victoria Keon-Cohen and Dunja Knezevic, that models working in the fashion industry should be eligible to join the Union. In 2008 Equity formed a Models Committee to take forward the concerns of the founding members: the lack of protection models have at work, and the lack of recourse when anything should go wrong. In such a competitive profession there is an expectation of working for long hours to earn little money, putting up with nudity being demanded in photo-shoots, sexual harassment from photographers and few, if any, breaks or refreshments. In the early part of a model’s career, often in their teens, this work will be for free as they build up their portfolio.

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The Equity Models Committee now consists of 7 models and Hilary Hadley, the Union Officer. Their current campaign is focused on addressing the lack of professional credits for models work in editorial shoots and websites. The Committee has also been involved in the work to establish the first ever catwalk contract, which will be in use for this coming London Fashion Week (17th to the 21st September). Created through Equity with the British Fashion Council, and other members of the Model Programme, a body set up to ensure the well-being of models during London Fashion week, the contract sets out the minimum terms and conditions a model should expect when employed to walk at a catwalk show.

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This new contract sets out minimum rates of pay including holiday pay, fitting fees, breaks, refreshments, health and safety requirements, changing areas that provide privacy (models are usually expected to change in full view of the catwalk show’s staff) and agreements on nudity/semi-nudity that must be made before the model is booked to work. As well as providing what should legally be there, the new contract also provides models with respect, acknowledging their work as a profession rather than expecting individual, often very young girls, to accept whatever working conditions are offered.

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This new contract marks the beginning of the end for a self-regulated industry. In an environment where models are the lowest in the pecking order and are expected to work without complaint in the hope of becoming one of the lucky ones and making good money, the new Equity Committee provides support, legal assistance and new regulations to make what should be an enjoyable and profitable career safer and more in line with modern employment practices.

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For more information on Equity and if you are a model seeking union representation, please click here.
by Alexa Brown

Alexa Brown is an actress and model, and a member of the Equity Models Committee.