As New York Fashion Week marks its final day on Wednesday, activists are pushing for labor protections for the fashion and modeling industry.
Models, influencers, stylists, makeup artists and other creative professionals are pushing lawyers to pass the Fashion Workers Act to create rules for talent and management companies.
“Working in the fashion industry should not be a luxury,” said bill sponsor Sen. Brad Holman. This is hard work that deserves to be compensated fairly and responsibly.
If signed into law, the law would require companies to take legal responsibility for acting in the best interests of their hired talent, provide accurate notices of contract renewals, copies of contracts, and require agencies to pay commissions of up to 20% of a model’s fee.
Many companies are looking for models to put money in advance before going to work in the city.
Models and other creative talent typically have special multi-year contracts or work visas with management companies that don’t require them to work or pay them on time.
“It’s common to wait six months to get paid for a job or even wait to apply for a job and not know how much you’re getting paid or how much,” said Sarah Ziff, founder and executive director of Model Alliance. .
Current state labor laws allow management companies to evade licensing or regulation, allowing them to control bookings and talent pay rates. The gap often puts fashion industry workers in debt and makes young people in the industry prime targets for financial and other abuses.
If the bill becomes law, models, photographers and other talent should be paid no later than 45 days after they finish work.
The bill is close to passing both chambers of the legislature this session, but lawmakers are running out of time to cast a final vote.
The law would prevent management companies from retaliating against a model or employee who makes a complaint, and prohibit companies from discrimination and harassment.
“People are afraid to stick their necks out and talk about these issues because they’re afraid their agencies will cut them off and they won’t get paid,” says Tony Kim, a fashion photographer of more than 20 years. “There is a strong connection between the agency and the clients and the money that goes through.”
Kim says there is no other industry that allows such treatment of its talent, and fashion workers want the same labor protections that benefit workers in other industries.
If the Fashion Workers Act becomes law, the state Department of Labor and the state attorney general’s office will force companies to comply with the new laws, imposing fines or other consequences.
Ziff, a former model who has worked as the face of brands such as Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger and Stella McCartney, says her peers share similar stories about a glamorously unregulated industry.
“There’s something really empowering about realizing that we can change this. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can. We love our industry. We just want it to be better and for people to be treated fairly.
Kaja Sokola, a former supermodel who has worked in the industry for almost two decades, was first hired when she was 14 years old. She says the law will help change the fashion industry and prevent financial and other abuses against young women in the industry. .
“It’s supposed to be business, but I’ve never felt like a business partner [with agencies]”They don’t look at you as equals,” she said Wednesday.
Socola spoke of how she blamed herself for the abuse she suffered from convicted sex offender Harvey Weinstein. She has publicly accused a former American film producer of sexually assaulting her in a Soho apartment when she was 16, making her the youngest victim. Originally from Poland, Sokola is now 35 years old.
“When you meet a teenager who doesn’t know anything about life, when you meet these big, rich people who are predators, they’re basically preying on young girls,” she said.
New York has been a leader in the global fashion industry, and models and other talent hope the state will lead the way in creating outdated protections for workers. Fashion experts say it could have transformative effects for reform across the country and beyond.
“Families can feel more secure about sending their young daughters and sons into this industry,” Sokola said. “The industry doesn’t leave a shell of a person at 25 because that’s what happens to a lot of young women. . . . It’s really like sucking a person’s soul and leaving an empty shell.”