Gigi Hadid and Kendall Jenner earn millions — but most models make less than $50,000 a year

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Dimitrios Kambouris / Getty

    The 20 highest-paid models, including Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid, earned a collective $154 million last year. Models in New York earn $48,130 on average, and are sometimes only paid in clothes. For some models, the cost to develop a career leads to debt that can take years to pay off.

Another New York Fashion Week came to a close on Wednesday, with a star-studded show for Marc Jacobs’ Spring 2018 collection that included Gigi Hadid and Kendall Jenner, among others.

Models like Hadid and Jenner who become household names command high rates for their work. The 20 highest-paid models made a collective $154 million last year, according to Forbes. Last year, 36-year-old Gisele Bündchen took the top spot on the list, earning $30.5 million. Jenner, who has over 83 million Instagram followers, made $10 million, and Hadid was close behind with $9 million.

For the rest of the industry, which the Council of Fashion Designers of America has said is “in transition,” the financial story is much different. While many models have closets filled with expensive clothes – often received as payment for their work – most do not have bank accounts to match.

In New York, models earn $48,130 on average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s only a third of the average annual Manhattanite salary of $144,716.

“Models-many of whom are minors-have low bargaining power and are frequently not paid all of their earned wages, are paid wages late, are paid only after complaining about non-payment, are paid in ‘trade’ instead of money, or are simply not paid at all,” former model and founder and executive director of the Models Alliance, Sara Ziff, told The Daily Beast’s Miranda Frum last year.

Kelly Mittendorf, 23, who retired from modeling in 2015 after spending five years in the industry, recently spoke to the New York Times about her experience. Here’s Mittendorf:

“I never made good money as a model. I went into debt with every single one of my agencies at one point or another. An agency has for each girl an account, and if they need to have the girl come from Arizona to New York in order to build her portfolio, the agency will front the expenses for her plane ticket, for paying the photographers, for printing the photos, for the physical portfolio itself, for the comp cards that need to be developed, for the retouching, for new clothes to go on castings with, for a model apartment for her to stay in.”

While there’s no guarantee that a model’s career earnings will justify the upfront costs, one way or another she is required to repay the agency. In Mittendorf’s case, that amounted to five figures of debt.

“I was lucky to kind of be able to climb out of that,” she told the New York Times. “It took years.”