Your Agency Treats You Like Shit

Your modeling agency treats you like shit.

When you were dreaming of being a model growing up, what did you imagine? Moving to a cultural hub like NYC or LA and getting picked out of a crowd? Signing to a major agency and booking shoot after shoot? Jetting to Paris and Milan to work with visionary designers and legendary photographers? Parties, glamor, creative expression?

You probably didn’t imagine paying $50 a night to live in a studio apartment with seven other would-be models. Your dreams probably didn’t include giving your agency a 15-20% cut of every paycheck you get, even after you leave their roster. Unless you’re crazy, you probably didn’t aspire to have your agency secretly charge you hundreds or even thousands of dollars for whatever they feel like, from comp cards to Christmas gifts, without ever having to tell you.

Nobody aspires to be tricked and discarded. But that’s what the major modeling agencies do to their talent all the time.

Top agencies like Wilhelmina, Elite, and Ford want you to believe their shiny elevators will take you directly to the top of the modeling industry. And, to a certain extent, it’s true – their top five or ten models will have a glamorous five to ten years. But for the rest of their roster, they’re a lot more like a treadmill.

Right off the bat, you have to agree to pay a ~20% commission back to your agency on everything you make, regardless of whether they booked the gig for you or not. A CNN Money report describes a model who booked a $30,000 gig, only to take home just $6,475 after taxes and her agency’s cut.

After that come the fees: your agency will charge you for test shoots, skincare and dermatology, promotional packages, sending out those promo packages, and whatever else they like, under the umbrella of “administrative expenses.” All of that comes out of your paychecks; if you don’t have paychecks, it racks up as debt. Not only do you have no say in the matter, but you also might not even know you’ve been charged until you get the bill.

Then there’s your living situation.  Agencies cram their aspiring talent into “model apartments,” studios and one- and two-bedrooms packed with eight, ten, a dozen models, sleeping on bunk beds and couches. And they profit off that, too: they might charge a dozen models $1,200/mo each to stay in a cramped $4,000/mo apartment, pocketing the extra $10k every month, as one former model recounts. That’s $40 a night for a twin mattress on a top bunk with ten roommates, one bathroom, and a mouse problem.

With all that debt, you’ll probably end up having to get cash advances from your agency just to stay afloat, each of which comes with a 5% fee. In other words, the more in debt you are to your agency, the more they own you. And God help you if your body stays anything less than impossibly perfect.  Your agency could care less if you develop eating disorders or body dysmorphia, just as long as you keep yourself profitable for them. Once you step onto the treadmill, you better keep running for them, or you’re fucked.

Agencies claim they’re doing aspiring talent a favor by taking a chance on them, so it’s only fair that the models owe them back their investment. Forgive us if we think that sounds like what a sleazy executive straight out of A Star Is Born would say.

We took a hard look at the modeling industry, and what we saw was pretty fucked up. So we started asking questions:

What if the modeling world functioned less like a seedy limo company and more like Uber, elegantly matching whole cities of aspiring models with tens of thousands of opportunities? What if it functioned less like Wendy’s and more like Whole Foods, putting quality organic relationships above mass-produced product?

What if models didn’t have to pay a 20% fee on every gig? What if the brands hiring models didn’t have to pay a fee, either?

What if the modeling world didn’t demand models’ bodies conform to impossible standards? What if it stopped broadcasting those impossible standards out to the world, fighting against body dysmorphia instead of promoting it?

What if models were treated like independent artists in their own right, instead of products to be bought and sold?

We wanted to make that better world real, but we couldn’t do it alone.

So we found incredible unsigned models and shot with them. We turned the results into thousands of guerrilla “wild postings” that we plastered all over ten-plus different NYC neighborhoods and in front of top agencies like Wilhelmina.  We drew on energy from hundreds of passionate young people to get our message out there, and our message was this:

Your modeling agency treats you like shit. Ours doesn’t.

How To Win Free Studio Time!

1.) Find these posters in NYC

2.) Take A Photo With/ Of Them, Post It, AND TAG US


How has your agency treated you? Share with us in the comments below!

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