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New York One Step Closer to Passing Fashion Workers Act, Which Aims to Protect Models and Others

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After three years of lobbying by models and politicians, the Fashion Workers Act has been passed by the New York Assembly and Senate and is headed for Gov. Kathy Hochul’s desk.

Imaan Hammam on the runway at Michael Kors.

Giovanni Giannoni

The unprecedented legislation is geared toward regulating management agencies and providing oversight in the industry. It aims to ensure workers receive contracts, payment within 45 days and that they are protected from harassment, discrimination and unsafe working conditions. Pending Hochul’s approval, the legislation would ensure that agencies have a fiduciary responsibility to models, industry hairstylists, content creators, makeup artists and other creatives. It is also designed to prohibit any unreasonably high commissions and fees. Supporters have said it would deter predatory behavior by management agencies in New York that operate without oversight in the $2.5 trillion fashion industry.

Last month, one of the bill’s most ardent advocates, the Model Alliance, staged a rally on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the day before the Met Gala to draw attention to it.

The fashion industry is an economic engine in New York state with the semiannual New York Fashion Week generating approximately $600 million in revenue each year. About 180,000 people work in New York’s fashion industry, which amounts to nearly $11 billion in total wages.

The scene at the 2023 rally for the Fashion Workers Act.

The scene at the 2023 rally for the Fashion Workers Act.

Photo by Jaka Vinsek/Courtesy

There is another industry-focused bill that was pending approval among legislators in Albany Friday afternoon called The Fashion Act, which would amend general business law and require fashion sellers to be accountable to environmental and social standards. It would also amend state finance law in relation to establishing a fashion remediation fund. Both bills were put forward by New York state Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal. The pro-labor Fashion Workers Act also has had the support of Assembly Member Karines Reyes, R.N., who chairs its subcommittee on workplace safety.

While The Fashion Act would help to advance sustainable efforts, the Fashion Workers Act would lead to basic protections for models — including those who are teenagers and immigrants — by establishing a zero-tolerance policy for abuse within the industry.

There were 3,090 models in the U.S. earning hourly wages between $15.23 and $67.46 as of May 2023, the most recent data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, established models earn considerably more for runway appearances and major designer ad campaigns. New York and California are the states with the highest number of models nationally, followed by Ohio, Virginia and Florida.

Urging Gov. Hochul to sign the legislation into law immediately, the Model Alliance’s founder Sara Ziff said Friday in a statement, “This is a major leap forward for the fashion industry, which since its inception, has been an absolute backwater for workers’ rights, camouflaged by glamor and rife with a range of abuses considered the price of admission.”

In the wake of the #MeToo movement and even more recently, Ziff and some high-profile models like Carrie Otis have spoken publicly, and in some instances have taken legal action, about the alleged sexual abuse they faced in their earlier modeling days. The proposed legislation has also had the support of model Coco Rocha.

“Overjoyed” by the bill’s passage and calling on Hochul to take swift action to protect the next generation, Otis, a Model Alliance board member, said, “I know firsthand how models — often very young girls — are forced to normalize financial and sexual exploitation. This shouldn’t be normal. And now, it won’t be.”

Former model and activist Bethann Hardison said Friday that the question is what the legislation will mean to the agencies that represent the fashion models. There will be a need to adjust and deliver according to law, she said.

Having been an agency owner from 1984 through 1997, Hardison, who continues to represent Tyson Beckford, said her agency was run like a tight ship during the time of “the wild, wild west” in the modeling industry. “I couldn’t afford to mess around being a woman of color, and a caring human being wouldn’t allow, nor was it ever my desire to own a model agency. I was the right person at the right time doing the right thing,” she said.

“The modeling industry has come around the bend, many are gone from it and the dust has settled. What has been left behind will adhere to the law, like it or not. It should not have needed to come to this, but it is what it is, which will hopefully benefit all, from the fashion models to the model agencies. I am still proud to be an alumni, but the thought of being regulated is hard to swallow,” she added.

Beverly Johnson at the Herve Leger Spring 2016 Ready-to-Wear Collection

Beverly Johnson at the Hervé Léger spring 2016 ready-to-wear collection.

Steve Eichner/WWD

Another well-known model, Beverly Johnson, who became the first Black model to land an American Vogue cover 50 years ago, lent her support and emphasized the need for greater diversity. She said, “After decades in the fashion industry, the challenges of underrepresentation and inequality for Black models continues to persist, and it remains particularly difficult for Black survivors to speak out about abuse and be believed.”

With the legislation one step closer to becoming a law, representatives at a few of the modeling agencies were relatively quiet about the prospect Friday afternoon. Staffers at IMG Models and the Lions Talent Management Company did not respond immediately to requests for comment. Karine Roman, a vice president at New York Models and LA Models, declined to comment.

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