- Neilson Barnard / Getty
- New York Fashion Week shows may be glamorous, but very few models receive paychecks to match.
- Models in New York earn $48,130 a year on average, and are sometimes only paid in clothes.
- The 10 highest-paid models, including Kendall Jenner and Gisele Bündchen, earned a collective $109.5 million last year.
New York Fashion Week has descended on the city once again.
As designers showcase fashion collections worth thousands of dollars, runway models bring the shows to life. But behind the scenes, the financial situation of many models who walk in New York Fashion Week isn’t as glamorous as it seems.
Models who manage to become household names command high rates for their work. The 10 highest-paid models made a collective $109.5 million between June 2016 and June 2017, according to Forbes.
The top spot on the most recent list went to 22-year-old Kendall Jenner, who earned a total of $22 million. That’s more than double the $10 million Jenner, who has over 85 million Instagram followers, made the year before.
Gisele Bündchen, 37, was the second-highest paid model with $17.5 million in earnings. She came in first on the 2016 Forbes list, with $30.5 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.
“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.
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.”