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Months after appearing in and making the documentary “Picture Me,” which details the downsides of American modeling, Sara Ziff is on a mission to regulate the industry.
That effort involves the establishment of The Model Alliance, a professional organization for models in the U.S. that she wants to form early next year. The objective is to give models a voice in the workplace and to organize for better working conditions. Along with a consortium of advisers from Fordham University’s Fashion Law Institute, Ziff is drafting a code of conduct and industry standards.
“The modeling industry is essentially unregulated,” Ziff said in an interview. “As independent contractors, models don’t have the same basic workplace protection as a lot of other industries do. They don’t have workmen’s compensation. They often don’t have access to affordable health coverage. There are no provisions for rest and meal breaks [during work hours]. There is little recourse for issues of sexual harassment and sexual abuse. And a lot of modeling agencies have a huge amount of power over international girls because they sponsor their visas.”
The Fashion Law Institute is setting up a clinic to meet with models in order to get a better sense of their legal rights and most frequent problems. Ziff said she has not started recruiting models for the alliance.
The institute in October hosted a screening of “Picture Me” and followed up last month with a panel discussion featuring Ziff. Sexual harassment, eating disorders and poor financial management are among the subjects tackled in the 80-minute film, which Ziff made with her former boyfriend Ole Schell.
Ziff, a Columbia University senior who is studying American politics, said she has cut back her runway work to focus on getting The Model Alliance off the ground. A Web site is in development to help spread the word about what she expects to be a nonprofit organization.
Ziff, who is represented by the Marilyn Agency, said she is encouraged by the support from such industry types as Nian Fish, acting chair of the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s Health Initiative, and Susan Scafidi, director of the Fashion Law Institute. Ziff’s academic adviser at Columbia, Dorian Warren, a politics professor, helped to oversee the project.
Ziff hopes to do something similar to what the organization known as Equity did in the U.K. in 2007. But unlike Equity, she does not plan to offer union membership. She said she considered unionizing but decided against it partly because of the failure of The Models Guild in the U.S. Of the alliance, she said, “This has unique potential. The Fashion Law Institute is helping. And it already works with different agencies to make sure the reform we want to put in place is enforced.”