Model Alliance Fights For Models' Rights

Susan Scafidi on WNYC, February 10, 2012

Media Source

A new organization called the Model Alliance has formed to fight for the rights of a group that is young, largely female and non-unionized: models.

According to the group's founder Sarah Ziff, all too often models have to deal with issues like sexual harassment, eating disorders, and not getting paid.

"It's essentially an unregulated industry," said the 29-year-old a model who has worked for Stella McCartney and other top designers. "People disregard child labor law. There's a lack of financial transparency. I think that we can make it better."

To do that, the group has drafted a Models' Bill of Rights and is pushing modeling agencies, casting agents and other industry players to adopt its standards.

One measure, which is supported by Council of Fashion Designers of America, would ensure models have access to private changing rooms backstage.

At the heart of the group's mission is addressing the misconception that models lead glamorous lives. As Michael Gross, author of the book "Model: The Ugly Business of Beautiful Women," points out, few models become Heidi Klum or Gisele Bundchen.

"The industry is rather like an iceberg," he said in an interview. "The supermodels at the very tip are angels dancing on the head of the pin. And underneath, underwater, mostly invisible is the great bulk of the modeling industry.

It's in this murky underwater realm — where most models are — that problems occur, according to the Model Alliance. Models have little recourse.

"As independent contractors, a lot of the labor laws, the employment protection laws, simply don't apply to them," said Susan Scafidi, director of the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham University, and a member of the Model Alliance's board of directors.

The Model Alliance, which is currently funded by private donations, plans to sign up new members during New York Fashion Week, which runs through Thursday.