The poisoned workplaces of Emily in Paris, Ugly Betty, and The devil wears Prada are a proven – if not tired – gag and tested in the most popular representations of fashion. For Emily, Betty and Andrea, vicious coworkers, grueling schedules and ungrateful, stingy bosses were presented as the price to pay for living the dream. “Everyone wants to be us,” Miranda Priestly reminded her downtrodden servants.
If these were stories from the music, film or television industry, the fate of these women might have been more lenient. Not because fashion lives off scandal, but because the protagonists could have organized themselves. Today, Bectu, the creative industries union, welcomes fashion assistants and freelancers into its fold – the first time that fashion workers have had the backing of a legal governing body.
This is the work of Tamara Cincik, CEO of the industry think tank Fashion Roundtable, who has been pushing for better professional support since the organization’s inception. “The fashion industry is creative and exciting, but if you can’t make a stable career out of it and run the real risk of late or non-payment from customers, it’s not sustainable.” , she says. âFashion assistants are offered Â£ 50 for a day of shooting with no travel costs covered. I earned Â£ 50 as an assistant in 1993. In 1993 the average London house cost Â£ 81,000, it is now Â£ 514,000. If you make that kind of money, you can’t plan ahead or build a life â.
While many fashion workers see their lives reflected in the glass caverns of Fashion, Learned, and Track, fiction often strays too far into fantasy in one particular respect – there would never be so many staff. Half of all those people hanging out in the office are said to be freelancers, permalancers, and temporary contractors. Whether it’s in newsrooms, workshops, or photo shoots, fashion is an industry built on the backs of freelancers with little career infrastructure. “This leads to more Downton abbey creatives who don’t need to work for money and more than exploit those who do, âexplains Cincik.
âAn assistant on Â£ 50 a day can’t negotiate higher wages and more job security, which is hard enough when you are self-employed anyway. A union can. As evidenced by the meteoric rise of Instagram accounts like @fashionassistants and @shitmodelmanagement, the culture of exploitation within the fashion industry is facing a moment of judgment. Until June 14, fashion assistants and stylists can join Bectu for Â£ 7.50 per month – see here for more info.
âThere is no reason why fashion shoots shouldn’t be as regulated as movie shoots and that’s why I’m delighted that BECTU has agreed to add fashion assistants and stylists to their roster. It could transform lives, working conditions and pay for our creative talents and I totally agree. “