*This Stuff is a newsletter by me! fashion journalist, Alyssa Hardy. Three times a week, I unpack the ways our clothes impact the world through news, essays, interviews and more. Subscribe for free here and follow me on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Know someone who might like this story? Forward it to them!*
While a job in fashion may seem like all glitz and glamour, the truth is that for many workers, the best parts of this industry also come with harmful corporate greed that impacts the most vulnerable. For garment workers making our clothing, pay is unlivable, conditions are often substandard, and protections are non-existent. Small designers who are trying to create art and make the industry more inclusive have to deal with their ideas being stolen from larger brands. While modeling may seem like a wonderful jet setting life, for most, the job also includes harassment, body shaming, and debt. Even in fashion media, writers and editors are working 60-70 hour weeks for low pay, and constantly face layoffs and mistreatment from management. Long story short, there are a lot of problems that have been spoken about but ignored for decades.
Recently, though, workers in the United States are getting louder and demanding action through policy change and unionization. Last year, garment workers in Los Angeles fought to pass SB62 – a law that holds brands accountable for using a piece-rate system that results in illegal wages. In New York, The Model Alliance announced a new bill called the Fashion Worker Act which holds management companies accountable for payment. Models around the industry have reported that their wages are withheld without proper explanation. “The fashion industry is a $2.5 trillion global industry, and New York is its center in the U.S… And yet, the creative workforce behind the industry’s success – namely, models, influencers, stylists, makeup artists, hair stylists, and other creative artists – are not afforded basic labor protections in New York,” The Model Alliance explained in a statement.
Just a few days later, workers at Conde Nast, the publisher of magazines like Vogue, Teen Vogue, GQ, Glamour, and more, announced that they had formed a union with the NewsGuild of New York. “The current workplace culture at Condé Nast allows many people of color and women to be consistently silenced by management. It’s no longer enough to play-act a commitment to diversity, or apply bandaid solutions to issues of discrimination,” Kaylee Hammonds of Epicurious in a statement. ”We’re unionizing today across the company so that this hypocrisy that currently thrives at Condé Nast can be remedied.” The staff also released a spoof of Vogue’s popular 73 Questions YouTube franchise, in which several employees spoke of the problems at the company. While not all of the outlets involved are fashion focused, it’s important to note that they operate within the fashion media world because of the Vogue flagship. The culture reflects that.
I don’t think it's a coincidence that these labor movements within fashion are all happening within a short amount of time. Despite the often discriminatory hierarchies put in place by corporations, fashion is an ecosystem that employs millions of people. It cannot operate without its workers. “You’re lucky to be here” is not just something management throughout fashion says, it's an ethos that permeates through every single segment of the industry. The thing is, no matter how glamorous the perks are, these are jobs and they deserve protections and pay across the board. And it seems like workers have had enough.