Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.
Models look glamorous on the runways, but the way they're treated by their agencies is anything but. Many modeling agencies use and reuse model images without compensating them properly, the Daily Beast reports, and since the industry is completely unregulated, many models don't find out about it until they find their images on random products.
In 2012, former model Louisa Raske found a photo of herself from 1999 on a L'Oreal hair dye box. During a legal argument, Raske found out booking agency McCann-Erickson had paid her modeling agency, Next, a fee to use the image—money which Raske never saw. In some cases, Raske said her agency even forged her signature on tax documents.
Raske filed a lawsuit against Next, who settled by paying her $39,505.03, but her story is common with agencies that use vague contract language and rely on the fast-pace nature of the industry to cheat models.
All but one of Raske's claims against her modeling agency were originally dropped so she recruited more models to join her cause in filing a class action lawsuit. Raske found eight female models and one male model to file against several major modeling agencies.
The male model, Alex Shanklin, 36, worked for companies like Ralph Lauren, Target, and J.Crew but only after friends in Canada called him to let him know he was in international advertisements did he find out that his former agency, Wilhelmina, was getting paid for his photos to be used abroad.
Photo by Getty Images
Shanklin described his fight with his former agency as a "cat-and-mouse game." Currently, the agency's counsel is trying to dismiss the case because they say his complaint "fails to allege with any specificity any facts to support a breach-of-contract or unjust enrichment claim as against Wilhelmina."
Models' unfair compensation is not a recent occurrence. Back in 2005, a few models sued Wilhelmina, complaining about things like price fixing, collusion and a failure to account for their payments. With the case settlement, the agency agreed to disclose all compensation they'd receive from model bookings, but recent lawsuits have exposed that the agencies have ignored this order. In some cases, models were even threatened for speaking out against their agencies: some were told during the 2005 lawsuit they'd be "blackballed" and would "never again model in New York" if they participated.
"The lack of financial transparency has always been viewed as the ghost in the room and it knowingly and sometimes unknowingly affects every model in the industry," Shanklin wrote in a recent letter. "Since this issue has never been properly addressed, the core of the problem has created a sense of fear, enabling the agencies to operate in an environment of learned helplessness towards the models. This type of environment mirrors typical predatory behavior and needs to be stopped."