One-hundred models have banded together to create a program to try to end sexual harassment in the fashion industry.
Led by the Model Alliance’s founder Sara Ziff, the new “Respect” program asks brands, modeling agencies and media outlets to sign a legally binding agreement to protect models. Their aim is to create an environment of mutual respect and to stop sexual harassment in the industry. In the past year, numerous male photographers have come under fire for allegedly mistreating or abusing models. Mario Testino, Bruce Weber, Patrick Demarchelier and Terry Richardson are among those who have been accused of misconduct, largely via media exposés.
Founded in 2012, the Model Alliance is a network of models and supporters. The group is now calling on fashion companies, media ones and modeling agencies to sign on with its Respect program. Through the agreement, models “will have recourse to a confidential complaint process that protects them against retaliation and ensures independent investigation and lasting consequences for harassers,” Ziff said. “Respect goes beyond voluntary standards and mere promises to do better.”
Karen Elson, Doutzen Kroes, Teddy Quinlivan, Nathalia Novaes, Milla Jovovich, Caitriona Balfe, Bryce Thompson, Jason Fedele, Geena Rocero, Edie Campbell and Elettra Wiedemann are some of the models who have signed an open letter. “We are calling on leading agencies, publishing companies and fashion brands to join Respect, a program that is driven by models themselves, and rooted in a commitment to real change,” the letter reads.
Said Ziff, “The program establishes an orderly and fair process for addressing charges of abuse. It provides comprehensive training and education to models and all industry participants. This system benefits models, photographers and other service providers, and every company that wants to do the right thing. The only people who don’t benefit are the harassers themselves.”
The Respect program strives to create strong workplace standards “that ban abuse and harassment, protect underage models, ensure models are never required to appear nude at a shoot without prior agreement, among other protections.” It would also put in place a confidential and secure complaint process, “offering protection for those fearing career-jeopardizing retaliation or defamation.”
The Respect program was announced at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit Wednesday by Ziff; Campbell, and casting director and Model Alliance advisory board member James Scully during a discussion entitled “Being a Model in the #MeToo Economy.” In November, Campbell wrote an open letter to the fashion industry highlighting model abuse and calling for radical change. In a phone interview, Ziff said, “It’s an exciting day. We thought it was an appropriate occasion to announce the Respect program.”
The open letter calls on modeling agencies, fashion brands, publishing companies and other media outlets to join in support. Having met with various stakeholders over the last couple of months such as IMG, The Society, Elite Worldwide and DNA Model Management, Ziff said they have been “very encouraged” by the response. “We felt there was no point in tiptoeing around so the models put forward this open letter and now we’re publicly calling on the industry to step up and no longer treat these abuses as a p.r. crisis to be managed but rather join us in fostering an environment of genuine accountability and lasting change.”
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Eager to get feedback from as many people as possible, not just modeling agencies but other stakeholders, Ziff said the group’s intent is to make the program as comprehensive as possible and addresses everyone’s concern. The Model Alliance is developing and will conduct the training on rights and responsibilities for models, photographers, stylists, casting directors, agents and all other industry participants. A third-party independent monitor, a Standards Council, is also being established “so that all companies that are signatories will have a voice on the council,” Ziff said. “The Model Alliance really represents the concerns of the models and people who have suffered abuse. It’s important to have this dual structure so that complaints are received and addressed in an impartial manner.”
In development for about six months, the Respect program is something that Ziff said, “she has personally been thinking about and working on for some time before the #MeToo movement sort of swept the national discussion.” Asked if the initiative was triggered by the investigations and allegations brought on against more widely known photographers, she said, “These abuses are nothing new. I first went to Vogue magazine years ago with concerns about one photographer in particular who there have been numerous complaints about him sexually harassing and assaulting models. For me, this is really not new. What’s changed is that companies are no longer able to sweep these concerns under the rug. I think they feel they really need to take meaningful steps to address these concerns,” Ziff said. “So for the first time, it’s actually been quite a nice change rather than trying to get people to recognize the problem. I think everyone is very aware of the problems in our industry and others and now we finally are able to move towards solutions.”
Ziff later identified the aforementioned photographer as Richardson, and noted that “to Vogue’s credit” they stopped working with him.
“This initiative is not about pointing fingers. It’s about putting forward real solutions and our hope is that the industry will go beyond just promises to do better and Band-Aid fixes, and really work with us on implementing all the ingredients that are needed from education for all parties so they know their rights and obligations to having an independent body that can receive these complaints so that people don’t have to worry about retaliation.”
On another front, many are familiar with “these long lists of predators” that have been published online. “I don’t think that we can continue in this way. It’s not fair to people who have been wrongfully accused. They deserve due process,” Ziff said. “If you look at how the industry is structured, it’s mostly freelancers who are working in an industry where there is no h.r. department. The modeling agencies quite frankly are not equipped to address these concerns on their own. We’re providing the technical support and the infrastructure to move forward in a way that will foster a safer work environment for everyone involved.”
The Respect program also calls for models to be paid for their work in a timely and transparent fashion, “curtailing the economic precariousness that increases vulnerability to abuse.”