The Model Conundrum: Waiting to Be Paid


Founder and academic director of the Fashion Law Institute, Professor Susan Scafidi, talked with Women’s Wear Daily about the lack of accountability in the modeling industry when it comes to the timely payment of models.

Susan Scafidi, founder and president of the Fashion Law Institute, a nonprofit organization at the Fordham University School of Law in New York, feels the transparency issue is not a new conversation, but it’s one that is back in the news.

“This is a conversation we’ve been having for a decade or more. It is an issue that is returning to the fore, not only because individual models are expressing concerns but because of the conversation around independent contractors and independent contractors’ rights generally. The lack of transparency is certainly an issue and the delays that are the cause of lack of transparency are often on the part of the clients, and not the agencies and model management companies,” she said.

“It is simply very complicated to keep track of all these things, when you have client delays. With regard to all the hidden charges, in New York, what we call modeling agencies are carefully designated as model management companies whose role is to develop the careers of their clients and to book jobs. Because if they were agencies there would be a cap on their percentages. The cap is substantially lower than the typical 20 from the model, and 20 from the client. Once you are Gisele, it may be 20 percent from the client, and nothing from the agency,” she said.

An agency would be capped at 10 percent, which is why the firms describe themselves as model management companies, and can take 20 percent, she noted.

“Part of being a model management company, it’s not nearly an agency relationship where you’re booking clients, you’re expected to develop the client. It is part of their decades-long practice, to send the model to haircuts, or dermatologists  or to buy clothes so they can go out on look-sees, as well as paying for transportation and putting them in an apartments, all of these things that have become part of the culture of the modeling industry over time, since the founding of Ford,” she said.

Is there any recourse for a model if she’s expecting to be paid in 60 days and it’s taking six months?

“With regard to recourse, a model can always ask her agency or her booker for an accounting. And then they’ll receive an answer. What that answer might not necessarily reflect is when the clients might pay,” she said.

“If the issue is when the third-party might pay, then the model has little recourse because the agencies get paid when they get paid. Ultimately we have seen models who have taken legal action against agencies, but usually not until they leave the agency because the ongoing relationship and the power differential means that models are very reluctant to sue their agencies. There’s always another young, beautiful person who happens to be six feet tall, and weighs 10 pounds waiting in the wings,” she said. “Models are very aware, until they reach a certain level of success, they are very replaceable.”

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