Karen Elson rallies to further push Fashion Worker's Act through New York State Legislature
It's fashion week in New York—a $600 million juggernaut event, according to Mayor Adams—but many of the aspects of the industry remain highly unfashionable. On Tuesday, The Model Alliance led by Sara Ziff with Karen Elson, State Senator Brad Hoylman, Rafael Espinal of the Freelancer's Union, Ambra Gutierrez, Kaja Sokola and former model Ingrid Sophie Schram, and more rallied together in support of the Fashion Workers Act.
The legislation passed the Senate Labor Committee before the State Legislative session ended earlier this year. Its focus is to put into place basic worker protections for models and other related creatives afforded other laborers, such as transparent and timely payment and health and safety practices to be implemented in the workplace.
Karen Elson pointed out that the injustices of not knowing what a job or payment terms will be or any related fees have happened to her as an uber-successful model, thus surely trickling down even more. Elson acknowledged that companies such as Condé Nast and Kering have put codes of conduct into place, but it's only half of the equation if agencies aren't regulated.
"I hate to keep harping on the agencies, but it creates a catch-22 because not being regulated, they are not required to show us the contracts or detailed deal memo," she explained, adding, "I can't count the amount of time over my career where I don't know what I am being paid or have been told I am getting a certain amount but no explanation. Is that gross? What commission? Is it 20 percent or plus 20 percent, so 40? Are expenses being taken out? If you are traveling all over the world, that can be expensive. Costly. There have been numerous occasions where I went to fashion week thinking I am making money, and I ended up in debt," explained the supermodel.
Gutierrez and Sokola share a regretful moniker and highlight the need for such regulation. Both were abused by Harvey Weinstein early in their modeling careers when they arrived in the U.S. underage and faced exploitation by the industry. Artist and actress Ingrid Sophie Schram recounted several incidents of abuse to models ranging from a life-threatening gash and indentured servitude. She included herself as an injury sustained on set and while at Marie Claire casting.
"The magazine editor and photographer were friends with a predator they introduced us to. I became a victim of sexual assault that day in the elevator," she revealed.
"This is good old-fashioned worker exploitation, and we need to put a stop to it," said Senator Hoylman at the podium on the corner of Lafayette and Houston Street, adding, "The best look this Fashion Week is treating fashion workers properly and compensating them fairly. Models and creatives are currently unprotected by state law, and their agencies lack financial transparency and accountability when it comes to issues of both payment and sexual abuse. There is no question that fashion is one of New York's most iconic industries, and its workers should be afforded the same protections as any other laborer. To keep this industry sustainable and become non-exploitative, New York must pass our Fashion Workers Act."
Later that day, Governor Hochul announced that she would allocate $10 million funds for a new Fashion Innovation Center in New York. This much to the chagrin of the Model Alliance, who sent another release to the press urging the Governor and Senate to pass legislation to regulate agencies and ensure safe working practices.
Expressly, the bill hopes to enforce agents and agencies to accept responsibility to act in the best interests of their talent, pay models and creatives within 45 days of completing a job, provide models and creatives with copies of contracts and agreements and conduct a reasonable inquiry into health and safety on set among other measures.
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