film

 

The Models United: Interview with Sara Ziff
June 27, 2016

by Brittany Farmer

Photography by Beatrice LaBarge

Sara Ziff is a model, filmmaker, and founder and director of Model Alliance, a new not-for-profit which works toward improving labor conditions of models in the United States. Her film, Picture Me (Digital Bazooka, 2009) exposes a modeling industry plagued by extreme youth, sexual abuse and exhaustive schedules--the result and perpetuation of a disempowered workforce. In February 2012, Sara created Model Alliance to change this. I sat down with her at a cafe in Greenwich Village to discuss the organization and its goals.


Photo  by Beatrice LaBarge

Sara Ziff

Sara Ziff is a model, filmmaker, and founder and director of Model Alliance, a new not-for-profit which works toward improving labor conditions of models in the United States. Her film, Picture Me (Digital Bazooka, 2009) exposes a modeling industry plagued by extreme youth, sexual abuse and exhaustive schedules--the result and perpetuation of a disempowered workforce. In February 2012, Sara created Model Alliance to change this. I sat down with her at a cafe in Greenwich Village to discuss the organization and its goals.

Photo  by Beatrice LaBarge

Sara Ziff
Brittany farmer (Bf): model alliance aims to organize models to establish basic rights and protections currently lacking in the industry. From viewing her film, it seems she’s taken on a lot. So i wanted to know what the most important issues are for her right now?

Sara Ziff (SZ): The child labor issue is a serious concern and it’s one of several, but the age of the girls is the crux of a lot of the issues. You’re dealing with fourteen, fifteen-year-old kids who are not able to stand up for themselves. And they shouldn’t have to, there are existing laws to protect them, but they are just not being recognized.

Photo  by Beatrice LaBarge

Sara Ziff
Sara went on to describe how the modeling industry is overwhelmed in misogyny, and is only concerned with projecting glamour and effortless beauty. To acknowledge the reality of what is happening, almost goes against what the models are being paid to do. “I think a lot of people have a hard time even understanding that this IS a job.” Sara says. Certainly, most people think models are lucky to be paid for being pretty, so who really cares?

Photo  by Beatrice LaBarge

Sara Ziff
Sara draws out the reality that is being so covered over in this industry; “I try to frame it this way: we are performers, like actors and dancers who have unions and much stricter regulations governing working hours and rest breaks. Child actors have to have a trust account. There’s nothing like that for models, by law. And I really think that--well, I really think that misogyny is at the heart of it. Having trouble understanding that it is a job, and that it can actually be a tough job, and that it’s real work! People might be able to appreciate a domestic worker’s plight: she might be an illegal immigrant, she might be an undocumented worker, she might not be getting paid minimum wage. Funnily enough, a lot of these models are not making  minimum wage. Many of them are undocumented workers, which makes it of course harder to record any kind of abuse because they’re worried about getting kicked out. We’re overwhelmingly young, foreign. We’re dispensable. There are a lot of the same issues, but somehow because we’re models, people have trouble sympathizing.”

Photo Credit
Sara Ziff

Photo  by Beatrice LaBarge

Sara Ziff
Bf: So this leaves us all to wonder if the initiatives of the model alliance are having any impact?

SF: Most definitely! At first there was Vogue agreeing not to hire models under the age of sixteen, and that’s not just American Vogue, that’s every international edition of Vogue. The Alliance had a sit-down meeting with them a couple months before they announced that. They also put a lot of pressure on Marc Jacobs about not paying models at New York Fashion Week, and a recent response indicates just that this year he is paying them. But what gives Model Alliance the power to effect change?


Photo  by Beatrice LaBarge

Sara Ziff


“We’re not a union and we don’t have collective bargaining rights, but one thing that we do have is a membership base that attracts a lot of media attention.” Sara continued, “So far, the battles that we’ve won have been through the media. Drawing attention to child labor and the body image stuff that’s tied to it is what made Vogue agree to set minimum age standards. The same thing with Marc Jacobs. It doesn’t make him look good for the media to ask, ‘Why are you hiring fourteen-year-olds and not paying them and working them until 3 o’clock in the morning?’”

Photo  by Beatrice LaBarge

Sara Ziff


Photo  by Beatrice LaBarge

Sara Ziff


Photo  by Beatrice LaBarge

Sara Ziff

Obviously Model Alliance has their focus’ appropriately directed on the issues at hand, so what are their visions for the future? “It’s exciting to think about how this can grow. Right now, I’m focused on empowering models, but I think that, as such a visible workforce in the fashion industry, if we can become a more unified workforce, we could also lend our visibility to draw attention to the invisible workers in the fashion industry. My dream is to look at this along the supply chain.” Sara says; “I feel a kind of innate--and I hope this doesn’t sound cheesy--drive, that’s very powerful, to try to help people appreciate work that’s traditionally women’s work, and tends to involve the sexualization of women, as work. I remember being ten years old and having a conversation with my dad saying that I felt very strongly about these issues. He said, ‘Well, go for it.’ But none of this for me was like, oh, I’m going to form a union. It sort of comes from here” Sara laughs and points to her heart .For more information on Model Alliance, its events and its initiatives, visit http://modelalliance.org.


Child Labor model Ally

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About The Author: Jacqueline Romano

Jacqueline Romano is the Creative Director & Editor of Blindfold Magazine. She feels it is her personal vocation to use her creative skills to raise awareness for people and organizations who are making positive change, both globally and locally.





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