Tara Le Roux writes for Harpers Bazaar on Model Mistreatment
The maltreatment of models is still rife; this is what the industry needs to do next
Linden Staub’s Tara Le Roux explains how far the fashion world has to go before it creates even a vaguely acceptable working environment
In 2018, the fashion world started to wake up to reports of sexual harassment and abuse that had dogged the industry for years. Photographers accused of such behaviour were dropped from publishing houses and big brands, as multiple models came forward with their harrowing experiences. Once the lid was lifted, the daily verbal and emotional abuse endured by fashion assistants and junior staff was exposed through Instagram. The tide was, finally, turning for fashion and its pantomime villains held accountable.
And yet, not enough is being done about the day-to-day maltreatment of models. Tara Le Roux – co-founder of Linden Staub, a model agency that aims to look after client well-being as well as their career – writes about how far the industry has to go, and what it needs to do next.
The habitual mistreatment of models is still rife within the industry. Big corporations have introduced mild measures of model protection to appease outside critics, but this is generally image cleansing – the problem still persists. Exploitation is not always the sensational headline that reaches the mainstream press; it is also day-to-day mistreatment and loopholes that allow bad practice to continue.
Fashion’s version of whistleblowing, AKA naming and shaming on Instagram, does bring attention to the issues, but ‘likes’ don’t indicate change. The crux of the problem is that in this business, under the guise of ‘creative genius’, people get away with being monsters. Artistic license, big budgets and brand support enables many to feel as though they can do whatever they want. And, if what you want to do includes mistreatment of other human beings on any level, then that’s OK, because you are a ‘genius’ and, sadly, that’s fashion’s ultimate get-out-of-jail card.
Who cares if, after having been asked to dye her hair green and shave off her eyebrows for a show, a young model never works again in the next year and is unable to pay her rent? If she catches pneumonia because hosing her down and shooting her on the polar ice caps is your vision. If her mental health is permanently damaged because the entire shoot team discussed at length, in front of her, how she was one centimetre too fat on the hip for look seven? In this industry, daily abuse – the kind that crushes confidence and ruins career prospect – is accepted and, at worst, encouraged.
We need better working conditions, not just for the faces that propel our fashion industry, but for all involved. Employing good practice encourages those who work in fashion to know their worth and feel empowered in a post #MeToo era. As former model Brogan Loftus says; “Respectful treatment and business-like practice turns modelling into a viable career, otherwise it’s just a really, really crappy hobby.”
It’s true that recently there has been a shift in mood, and more members of the industry have come forward with their accounts of abuse and harassment. But more needs to be done and actions need to be wholehearted to eradicate everyday mistreatment. Old school ways of working are evaporating, albeit rather slowly. The industry is finally cottoning on to the idea that you can be good at business AND be a good person.
So, there is hope. If the industry just followed the next five steps, working conditions for everyone, from models to fashion assistants, would be immeasurably better. This is what we need:
The industry lacks simple business practises that would vastly improve working conditions. Let’s implement considerate working hours for models during Fashion Week (who is it who actually wants to be in a fitting until 3am?) Ensure invoices are paid within 60 days. Use respectful language. Treat models (and all individuals, for that matter) as business people, as they would be treated in any other profession. A small step that we have adopted that has proved transformative: we insist that our models are paid the day after they complete a job, a simple, humane policy that grants financial independence.
Most industries employ experience hierarchy – you wouldn’t put an intern in million-dollar board room negotiations on day one – that would be madness. But not in fashion…Overnight sensations are the thing. No one thinks about the impact that an instantaneous launch into stardom can have on a young person, because if it sells advertising space, if it makes that company money, it’s OK. As an agent, education is my weapon of choice. It is imperative that we do all we can to inform young people, so they can become the fresh business minds that the fashion industry needs. Education is key to being able to capitalise on one’s platform. The ability to understand and question instead of blindly accept, empowers better industry practice and sows seeds of change. It also inspires a level of self-worth, the absence of which bolsters many of fashion’s issues.
Fashion is a notoriously private industry and it’s this private members club-like set-up that inspires overinflated self-importance and ego. Fobbing consumers off with things being a certain way “because they always have been” is archaic and an indication of the stale past from whence it came.
The gender pay gap is widely reported to female detriment but within the modelling business men are paid up to 50% less than women. This little morsel is something that fashion chooses to ignore completely (while fiercely campaigning for equality in other sectors). Men face entirely the same harassment as female models; their male peers are also just as likely to be assaulted on the job, but paid less for the pleasure. If we are going to shine a light upon fashion’s misgivings, we need to be transparent about it. Giving customers and clients a true understanding of inner workings not only inspires loyalty, it provokes change.
“Publicly ticking boxes for superficial image protection is patronising”
Brands are beginning to realise that the public want to understand their supply chain. The importance of ethical and environmental sustainability is paramount. Surely, the importance of product manufacturing working conditions is as important as the working conditions of the people that become the faces of said products? Greenwashing, or publicly ticking boxes for superficial image protection, is patronising and only perpetuates problems further.
Good incentives are great steps towards positive change, but it needs to be applied across the board. Roll out recyclable packaging – big tick. Announce you are going fur free – even bigger tick. In fashion, these positive moves are countered by other morally unsound decisions – the employment of sexually predatory photographers, for example, or poor model pay on the grounds that “it’s great exposure for the model”. This stuff cancels out the good. Sustainability in fashion should apply to every step in the chain, not just those that look good on a press release.
The future fashion consumer needs more to invest in a brand than a secondary spin-off story. The success of brands such as Fenty Beauty, Good American and Glossier are shining examples of those that are unique and sincere in their narrative. Jumping on a Kardashian-esque bandwagon can yield some success, but it’s short lived.
The same applies for messaging. If you aren’t a feminist company, don’t launch a campaign in support of it for monetary gain. If your values don’t align, your customers won’t put their hands in their pockets. Also, you’ll likely be roasted on social media (see Gillette for more details). Authenticity sells and today’s consumer doesn’t want to be underestimated.