Modelling, in general, is a very time consuming, cutthroat, and demanding profession. And surprisingly, this industry can be costly. Unlike most workers in the United States, models see a huge part of their earnings disappear right after they received it, whether it is a third, half, or their entire paycheck. And this is not just a one-time thing. It happens regularly. For example, one male model showed a statement where a $1,000 photo shoot turned into a $50 paycheck.
Meanwhile, another young model saw her six years of earnings shrink from $80,000 to more or less $40,000. That was half of what she usually earns per year. Typically, models are not treated as regular employees, that is why they usually are not guaranteed to receive the minimum wage regular employees are getting. They also don’t have access to overtime pays lunch breaks, prompt paycheck or other employee protections that are commonly set by the labor code in the workplace.
Instead, they are considered as freelancers or independent contractors. It means that even after paying their mother agency commissions of at least 20%, most models have to foot the bill for any expenses during the job. It includes everything from plane tickets going to the job and back, group accommodation, to the promotional materials like headshots, website, as well as their portfolios they needed to land a job with a paying client.
A lot of agencies, preferred to be called model management companies, are investing a significant amount of their resources to help most of their models succeed in their profession. The costs the models are facing are part of the modeling business.
According to a lot of models, they are being exploited by the industry, but some models don’t see it that way. Some investigations are going on into alleged labor abuses as well as the lack of regulation in the industry, and some models say that it is the outrageous expenses and fees that make it difficult for the models, and in a worst-case scenario, impossible for them to get ahead of the pack.
Double-digit and double dipping commissions
Commissions from the job are the bread and butter for the people working in the industry. Not only agencies charge their models a commission of at least 20%, but they cost the clients who get their model’ services a similar amount. For example, a $5,000 job would result in a $2,000 paycheck for the agency.
Sometimes the agency receives more than what the models would take home. One anonymous model showed her pay stub to show how big her $30,000 payday reduced to a mere $6,475 after a big tax hit (she hopes that he will get some of it at tax time) and the agency’s 20% commission.
It may sound a little ridiculous, but this is happening in the industry. Not only that, this figure is before any other expenses like transportation and accommodation are taken out. Because the pay in the modelling world is very inconsistent, a lot of models are forced to rely on these salaries for months or even years.
Another model shows her statement of account for a $10,000 job, only to find out that it shrinks to more or less $4,000 after expenses, commissions, and taxes.
To charge for these ridiculous commissions, some lawyers argues that the agencies based in the heart of the industry like New York, are disguised as a management agency instead of employment companies. Most critics say that by doing this, the agencies are evading the state labor law that limits these agency fees. The companies counter their models with different kind of work perks and services aside from just helping them find work.
More than ten years ago, these commissions were challenged by a class-action lawsuit. Modelling companies paid millions of dollars to settle and pledge to be more transparent in their dealings with their models. But even after the suit, the 20% commission still applies, and it seems that the only models who negotiated a much lower commission are models who earn the top salaries or the famous ones.
An extended time model who famously appeared in magazines like Marie Claire and Vogue, Lorelei Shellist, was one of the models that filed a class-action lawsuit against modeling agencies. While she said in an interview that she already moved on from the lawsuit they filed years ago, she is still worried about the consequence of their actions. She also says that they are also concerned about the current working conditions of the models and cannot believe that modelling companies are still getting away with their practice of charging a 20% commission.
According to here, nothing has changed, the government is not enforcing the law. What they are doing is double-digit and double-dipping. Models are spending money on dermatology, making lessons, modelling lessons, as well as photo shoots for their headshots and portfolios to find the job.
Beyond commissions, there is a never-ending list of fees and expenses that all models need to pay. Take for example, Jamaican model Alexia Palmer. She was brought to the United States by the modeling agency, Trump Model Management after being discovered through a Caribbean model competition.
According to financial records that were included in the class-action lawsuit they filed against the Trump Model Management, Palmer racked up at least $12,000 in expenses over three years. Alexia Palmer spends more than $2,000 in test shots (where model practice modelling in front of the camera). Click here to know the decision on the lawsuit against Trump Mode; Management.
Walking lessons for professional models can cost at least 70% per session, the dermatology visit costs at least $200 and the promotional videos cost $250. Palmer was also charged with a $900 for show packages which will showcase the company’s models and try to land paying jobs in runway events.
Alexia Palmer’s statement from the agency listed at least a thousand in expenses. She was also charged $100 in courier fees, $400 in transportation and more or less $4,000 in unexplained administrative fees.