Debt Peonage In The Fashion Model Industry

Jenna Sauers has a great piece about debt-peonage among fashion models. What happens when Elite takes you to Paris to become a model?

I owed Elite 937,19 for the plane tickets and 142 for plane ticket change fees. I owed 92,40 for composite card printing in the month of September, a print run which incorrectly advertised to clients both my height and my eye color, 113,40 for corrected composite cards in the month of October, 107,64 for November’s cards, and 12 for a Paris city map. To live on, I was permitted to withdraw 80 cash from the agency once a week, against future earnings I began to understand were notional. The agency referred to this 80 as my “pocket money.” To hasten my weight loss, I stopped taking the pill. I owed 92 for a portfolio book, 555 for “tests” with the fashion photographers who would tell me about the eye and the scoliosis and the way the right corner of my mouth has a downward cast that must be anticipated and corrected for. And I owed 420 and 250 for two line items that appear on my final statement as just “Jenna Rose Sauers /512110” and “Jenna Sauers /5121110.”

When she got work, “the agency deducted its standard 70% commission, and then applied the remaining 30% to my outstanding debt.” So how does anyone actually wind up getting out from under that debt? Well, “if a model is in demand but in debt — a not-uncommon situation, when expenses are high and rates for the most prestigious jobs can be low — a competing agency might buy her debt and thus acquire her contract.” Alternatively, you can end up just skipping town, effectively locking yourself out of that market but gaining yourself the right to roll the dice and do it all over again in a new city.