The Models Taking their Agencies to Court: Pt I

I was pretty shocked to hear that a crew of former models is taking their agencies to court. Shocked because they were suing their agencies for things that I, to be honest, put up with at various stages of my career.

Click on the title below to head to an article that sums up the ways in which their agencies exploited them.

Modelling sucks

What seems surprising is that so few models bother to stand up to their agencies. Complaints here include…

Wage theft: agencies being dishonest about how much a client is paying or has paid.
Incorrect expense deduction: e.g. deducting the cost of a flight to a job, when the client was paying these costs.
Overcharging rent on model apartments: staying in flea-infested pits with no proper bed and charging penthouse-prices.

The question on many people’s lips will be…’why put up with it?’ Well, let me give you an overview…

1. Certain Agencies Get Away With It.

To me, this is behaviour that either really huge agencies or really small, unlegit agencies do. I was at a couple of huge agencies, surrounded by top models and being sent to the toppermost of the elitest of clients, publications and photograpers. To complain, to be put in their bad books, felt like a terrifying leap into the abyss, whereas to just put up with the overcharging and hazy financial situations felt like the price to pay for going to Vogue House every week.

On the other hand, I was then at a very small agency that was terrible at paying, who I have previously written about. In this situation it felt like I was right at the bottom. No other agency would want me. I was powerless and would just have to put up with it (in the end that wasn’t true but I bet lots of other models feel trapped like that.

2. I Didn’t Understand Any Of It

I was 16 when I started. Did anyone sit me down and explain how payments work, what my legal standing was, how I should sort out my taxes, how to ensure I was safe, how I should act and what was required of me?

Nope. You are just meant to figure it out as you go along. But many models like me have never had a normal job before as we start so young. We don’t have a system to compare it to, and it’s all a bit baffling and chaotic. Do some agencies take advantage of this? You decide.

It’s so hard to understand, to really get a handle and control over your statements, that it can sometimes be easier to just cross your fingers and hope. Some models are earning huge amounts and, without a grasp on the language or maths, it’s hard to really analyse what’s happening

3. It Sometimes Just Seems Easier to Leave It.

I remember, at another agency, being charged for a catwalk lesson I never attended. It was £70. Every week I rang up to get it taken off, every week I was told “yeah yeah I’ll do it now.” It was never taken off. These were the days when portfolios would be biked around every day, but each model would be charged the full amount for the courier fee rather than divided by how many portfolios were sent. So I might get charged £32 for one bike fee – but if 6 models’ portfolios were there, we should have been charged for just over a fiver each.

When you’re earning amounts like £3k for a days work this can seem insignificant. And it can make you less likely to complain to bookers, who are booking you on these jobs. But our work is irregular and models should be charged fairly.

4. We Feel Grateful to be Models

This links in with all the above, really. Us models are real-life Cinderellas, plucked from school and suburbia (or very poor backgrounds) and thrust into the glamour, the clamour, the money of a rarified world. Speaking out against fees, standing up for ourselves – we tell ourselves it’s churlish and petty to speak out. I think, more likely, is that we’re too scared to rock the boat. Everyone knows someone who’s been dropped for being a ‘moaner’, and no one wants to lose their job. Most models work hard though, and deserve to be paid fairly and squarely.

5. It’s Hard to Chase Finances From Other Countries

Here’s my personal experience. I did a shoot in France, a campaign for a big watch company, for which I’d get 28 thousand Euros. I signed the contract, the agency out there was thrilled.

When the shots came out, they had only used pictures of the other model. I had signed those contracts though, and I would still get my fee.

I’d ring up, I’d ask, but it was hard to get through to the right person and when I did, answers were vague. I rang up a few times but to no avail. I never saw my money.

Should I have chased more? Yes. But many models find it a lot tougher to get money from foreign agencies as it’s so easier for them to avoid telling you about buyouts/simply avoid speaking to you. As time passed it just seemed better to leave it – something I face palm daily over but which will hopefully be a lesson to you all.

6. No One Has Set a Precedent.

Our peers are constantly moving, dropping out, winning and losing. It’s hard to really join together and create meaningful change when our lives are so transient and unpredictable.

My own experience shows that all models can fall foul of a job that has no international or even national regulation. Many agencies are, of course, legitimate and fair to their models. I quite like the ‘middling’ agencies for this: they’re smaller, so they don’t always get the biggest clients, but in order to keep their models they treat them with respect and pay on time.

Tomorrow I’ll do a post on how to make sure you’re treated fairly in modelling. For now, I hope I’ve either reflected many other models’ experiences or explained to others enough to ensure that they don’t see models as a bunch of spoiled drama queens! Modelling is amazing, obviously, but anyone going into it needs be have their eyes wide open to the potential pitfalls. Hopefully I can help with that.

Rebecca x

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