Culture

A glamorous life? Why Equity is unionising models

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Equity member and model Dunja Knezevic

- By Kristin Mie Hamada

Equity is the trade union for performers, theatre creatives, and stage managers, including models working in the fashion industry.

Although it seems like a glamorous life, models experience poor working conditions and work in relatively isolating environments on short contracts, with different teams, and frequently out of the country. They experience industrial conditions which many other workers would not have to deal with; frequent thermal discomfort, endless scrutiny of their body and appearance, expectations of being nude or wearing sheer clothing without prior consent, being offered payment in clothing rather than a wage. The myth that a career in modelling equates to fabulous people, parties, and notoriety must be challenged because in reality models are at the bottom of the fashion industry food chain. At the core of the mistreatment that models face is a general disrespect for their craft and the unequal power dynamic on which the fashion industry thrives. Organising and educating models are some of the ways that Equity’s models are working to shift that power dynamic.

Equity models developed a 10 point code of conduct which covers some of the most common areas of exploitation. So far we’ve made relatively large strides in improving conditions for models by promoting the code with Debenhams, French Connection, British Vogue and Grazia all signed up. Also London Fashion Week models all work on an Equity agreement, so there are a lot of positive changes being made, however we need to build more grassroots involvement to secure the collective agreement and broaden employer commitment to the 10 point code. By building the grassroots aspect of this work members will be more aware of what their rights are, and how to move their common agenda forward.

It’s crucially important that models take a united stance against exploitation in the workplace. Many times models, particularly younger models (ie under 16 years old) or those who are scouted on the street, are not aware of their rights as workers because they fell into the industry by chance. They have no place to turn to if they are uncertain about a job, an agent, pay, etc. The Model’s Alliance and American Actor’s Equity in the US are also teaming up to unionise the modelling industry, so it’s a global movement that is gaining significant momentum because of the exploitation that goes on industry-wide, not just in the UK. We also learn from and support the unionising of models in the US because it’s important to share information and build power through international alliances.

The modelling industry is isolating and rewards individuality, but in reality there is a collective spirit when people actually connect with one another. No matter what area of modelling they work in many models experience similar feelings of exploitation, uncertainty, and insecurity. This is why Equity models are starting a network; it starts with bringing people together, then followed by education, organising, action, and evaluation. The models network will be a self-organising network of models who care about the industry and will work to make improvements to it. It will be a source of information and support for models. It will be a space for models to talk openly with each other about their issues, but also find union solutions to bring change.

The best way to support Equity in organising models is to talk about it; face to face with people or online. I have a background in using social media, so there will be a good online presence on twitter and facebook once the campaign gets moving. It’s all really exciting though. It’s a new and challenging industry to organise, and there are a lot of lessons that can be learned as industrial landscape outside modelling becomes informalised and people work more and more on short contracts. If people want to support the campaign or speak to some of our activists about their work feel free to get in touch with me and I would be happy connect people.

Kristin Mie Hamada is Equalities, Recruitment & Retention Organiser for Equity

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