Fashion Models Take a Stand Against Sexual Harassment, Discrimination, Labor Law Violations, and Other Fashion Industry Problems

Fashion plays a prominent role in the cultural identity of New York and cities like Paris, London, and Tokyo. People come to New York City from all over the world every year for Fashion Week, and aspiring models arrive in the city almost every day. Issues faced by models in New York and elsewhere have received an increasing amount of attention in recent years, such as sexual harassment, wage and hour violations, and discrimination. Models are beginning to stand up for the rights under New York and federal employment laws, but many problems persist. Several models, both current and former, have spoken to the media recently about various issues of concern.

Sexual Harassment in the Fashion Industry

Jennifer Sky became a model at the age of fourteen, and left the industry at seventeen. She later became an actress, and is now an advocate for models’ rights in the workplace. A recently-published short memoir recounts her experience as a sixteen year-old model in Tokyo. She also discussed her experiences in the modeling business and her current concerns in several media interviews.

An excerpt from the memoir published by Buzzfeed describes some inappropriate situations in which she found herself while working abroad. This included inappropriate sexual overtures and conduct, made more inappropriate, even illegal, by the models’ young age. She discusses the power dynamic between young models and older photographers, which often makes models afraid to speak out about harassment and abuse.

Unionization of Models

Sky draws on her experience as an actress, including appearances on television shows like Xena: Warrior Princess, to discuss unionization of models. She became a member of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) prior to her appearance on Xena. SAG membership guaranteed certain minimum conditions of employment, like eight-hour workdays and safety standards. Models do not have an organization to advocate for their interests in this way.

The Model Alliance, founded by former model Sarah Ziff, is a trade organization that advocates for models’ rights and interests. It is not a union, however, and therefore cannot directly intervene or negotiate on members’ behalf.

Child Labor

Ziff considers child labor issues to be one of the most pressing concerns for fashion models. She also began modeling at age fourteen, and discusses the pressures placed on models age fourteen and up who are expected to model clothing intended for adults. At the same time, they are expected to maintain an “androgynous” physique, which can cause serious medical and psychological pressures along with the pressures of long workdays and inappropriate workplace behavior.

Race Discrimination

Several active active fashion models, including Jourdan Dunn from the United Kingdom, Chanel Iman from the U.S., and Anais Mali from France, have spoken out extensively about racial bias in the modeling industry. While they have all found success in their careers, they recount multiple instances of being turned away from castings, and even from jobs they thought they already had, for expressly race-based reasons. They each have experiences in which someone tells them something similar to what a designer once allegedly told Iman: “We already found one black girl. We don’t need you.”

The employment attorneys at Phillips & Associates represent the rights of workers in New York City and surrounding areas, asserting claims for harassment, discrimination, and other unlawful employment practices. We practice at the municipal, state, and federal levels. To schedule a free and confidential consultation, please contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431.

More Blog Posts:

New York Governor Signs Bill Created to Protect Child Models Into Law, New York Employment Attorney Blog, November 6, 2013
Criticism of Art Production Highlights Lack of Protections for Performers, New York Employment Attorney Blog, February 28, 2013
Fashion Model’s Support of Controversial Photographer Demonstrates the Difficulty of Addressing Sexual Harassment in the Fashion Industry, New York Employment Attorney Blog, February 25, 2013

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