I want you to think back to when you were 16 years old. If someone told you that you had the opportunity to have a career as a model earning upwards of $75K a year, would you jump at the opportunity? Of course you would! That’s a lot of money to earn posing for camera’s, walking designer dresses down runways and being flown around the world.
But what isn’t communicated to these young models is the incredible sacrifice and insane costs involved with being a model. Hundreds of models have shared their stories of ending their short career netting only a few grand for their months of hard work or even in debt to their agency.
So what exactly is it that puts young models into such tricky financial situations?
Often modelling agencies provide housing for their models. Where you might be imagining sprawling NYC apartments and forever sleep overs with your besties, the reality is far closer to bunk beds in dingy rooms and 8 girls all sharing a single, run down bathroom. You’d think that with so many models sharing the one apartment that the rent would be crazy cheap right? Well, it’s widely reported that it’s actually more expensive for models living in model houses than it would be if they were to be sharing their own apartment separate to their agency. Agencies aren’t particularly forthcoming about the amount of profit they make off of their accommodation but reports from past models estimates it to be several thousand US dollars a month on average.
So you’re probably thinking, why don’t models just pair up and rent their own places? Well, it isn’t that simple. Many of the girls that are moving to cities like New York to pursue a career can’t commit to permanent moves. Many only plan to stay a few months during the peak seasons for work and then move on to the next city. Then there’s the issue that they’re often too young to rent their own place, or have no rental history to win over potential landlords. With such a competitive rental market already, there’s little to no chance a landlord will rent out a room to a young girl with no rental references, no solid income and who only plans to hang around for 3 months.
Portfolios are a model’s bread and butter. A new model has little chance of booking castings or attending go-sees without a portfolio that is up-to-date and shows her versatility and range. For a model that doesn’t have a lot of experience or past work that she can use for her portfolio, it’s expensive to put together. Agencies will happily set up test shoots and print folio images and comp cards for their new models but not without charging it back to the model it’s for.
It seems logical when you think about it. Why should an agency have to front the cost of portfolios themselves? Aspiring models need to invest in themselves and their careers. The problem here is that agencies typically aren’t upfront about the need to pay for a portfolio when they’re scouting and aren’t forthcoming with exactly how much it will all cost when it’s being put together. Many models share stories of their agents just sending them off to an appointment and then getting an invoice weeks later for thousands of dollars.
There’s a good chance that when you were 16 you didn’t have enough money in your bank account to move to one of the most expensive cities in the world and support yourself. Let’s all bear in mind how notorious the fashion industry is for paying people late. Models constantly share stories of waiting months and months to be paid for jobs all whilst bills, rent and travel expenses continue to build up.
It’s because of this that agencies offer their models cash advances. It’s a great thing in theory. A model can go to her agent, be paid a sum of cash on the spot and not have to worry about paying it back with any kind of time frame. The money will simply be taken out of her pay check from her next job. But here’s the catch. Agencies charge upwards of 5% interest on cash advances and will often give them out to a model even if he or she has no guaranteed upcoming work. If the models career doesn’t work out, they end up in debt to the agency.