Model turned documentary filmmaker Sara Ziff let the world in on the increasingly shameful and often quite sad working conditions models face these days in Picture Me. She further investigated the topic in a series of videos she filmed exclusively for The Cut during Fashion Week. In one installment, Anja Rubik told her about how she used to be able to change privately backstage, but now she’s forced to do so in the open. “We were at Rodarte, and everyone was backstage while we were changing, so everyone could see us naked. Back in the days when I started, we had a separate room,” she said. “There are too many girls who will do the job if you don’t do it, so I don’t think it’s possible to unite all the girls and say, ‘No, we want [these] conditions.’ I think that’s crazy — it’ll never happen.” Ziff seems partly to agree: She’s working with Fordham’s Fashion Law Institute to create the Model Alliance to help models advocate for better working conditions and create a code of conduct for the industry. But the Model Alliance will not function as a union, which Ziff considered forming but decided against since the Models Guild has already failed in this country.
“The modeling industry is essentially unregulated,” Ziff said in an interview. “As independent contractors, models don’t have the same basic workplace protection as a lot of other industries do. They don’t have workmen’s compensation. They often don’t have access to affordable health coverage. There are no provisions for rest and meal breaks [during work hours]. There is little recourse for issues of sexual harassment and sexual abuse. And a lot of modeling agencies have a huge amount of power over international girls because they sponsor their visas.”
Ziff is also a senior at Columbia and is cutting back her modeling work to focus on setting up the Alliance. She hasn’t started recruiting models yet but is working with the Fashion Law Institute to set up a clinic for models to come in and discuss what they would most need from an organization like this. Council of Fashion Designers of America’s Health Initiative chair Nian Fish is among the supporters of the organization.