How Much Modeling Really Pays (If You’re Not Gigi or Kendall)


Image: Getty


Kendall and Gigi can make modelling look so glamorous and easy, but for models who aren’t massive celebrities, the job can be a financial nightmare. In part of an investigative series, “Runway Injustice,” CNN Money researched the outrageous costs of being a model, and the numbers are bitterly disappointing due to fat commissions for agencies, ridiculous work expenses and indirect theft.

Since modelling agencies charge 20 percent commission, models’ paychecks are significantly reduced from the promised amount by the time they receive it. Here are a few examples:

  • One model got $15, approx. RM60.60, from a $500, approx. RM2,019.70, catalogue shoot
  • Another was promised $74,000 over six years on official documents but only earned $30,000, approx. RM121,185
  • A model who was promised $30,000, approx. RM121,185, for a job received $6,475, approx. RM26,156, after commission and taxes
  • One models’ expected $10,000, approx. RM40,395 paycheck shrunk to $4,000, approx. RM16,158, after commission

Besides the chunk reserved for agency fees and income tax, the expenses required of the job also take out a large portion of each paycheck. Alexia Palmer of Trump Model Management shared that her expenses totalled to $12,000 in about three years:

  • Test shoots: more than $2,000, approx. RM8079
  • Walking lessons: $75/each, approx. RM303/each
  • Dermatology visit (recommended by agency): $200, approx. RM807.90
  • Promo video: $250, approx. RM1,009.80
  • “Show package” (a process that aims to land models in runway shows): $900, approx. RM3,635.40
  • Courier fees (for delivering portfolios to possible clients): $100, approx. RM404
  • Transportation: $400, approx. RM1,615.70
  • Other administration fees: $4,000, approx. RM16,157.20
  • Personal website: hundreds of dollars per year
  • Comp cards (model equivalent to a business card): $1/each, approx. RM4.04/each, purchased hundreds at a time

And since some paychecks take months to process, she’s had to ask for cash advances—which isn’t rare for models—for a 5 percent interest rate.

Attorneys argue that modelling agencies are posing as “management companies” instead of employment agencies to avoid limitations on high commissions and fees, CNN reports. A class-action lawsuit took place over 10 years ago, that resulted in modelling agencies promising to be more transparent, but the 20 percent commission still dominates.

Some models have claimed that pay cuts don’t even have to be from commission—money is just taken from the paycheck without permission. Model Louisa Raska said her agency deducted $250, approx. RM1,009.80, from her paycheck for client Christmas gifts without her knowledge. Retired model Grecia Palomares had 70 percent of her $1,000, approx. RM4,039.30, paycheck removed due to unnamed expenses.

When questioned about the paycheck-shrinking tactics, one management company involved in the lawsuit said that such practices “help their models succeed.”

This idea may be one of the most complicated parts of the job, as it trains models to keep quiet on the ways they’re taken advantage or in order to be favoured by the agency and earn more gigs as a result. As one attorney put it, they’re in a “perpetual state of dependence.”

Read more at Harper’s BAZAAR