In 2013, New York state passed legislation classifying models under the age of 18 as “child performers” and giving them protection in conjunction with the state’s Department of Labor, rather than the Department of Education. The law went into effect on November 20, 2013, and imposes some significant duties on brands if they choose to employ models under age 18-years old in their runway shows. Here is a reminder of what New York-based brands need to know.
Want a 17-year-old walking in your show or appearing in your lookbook? You are now legally obligated to abide by a number of requirements. Models under 18 must be given 12-hour breaks between work, cannot work past midnight on school nights, and in certain cases are required to have chaperones, tutors, and special bank accounts set up to receive 15 percent of their earnings. The fines for violating the law are enough to hurt an emerging design brand, but would constitute a far less damaging fine for big name designers, like Marc Jacobs, who consistently cast underage models in their runway shows. Designers can expect to pay $1,000 for their first offense, $2,000 for the second, and $3,000 for the third.
Now that New York Fashion Week is here, the question of enforcement becomes a significant one. After all, it’s one thing to say, “Don’t keep underage models out past midnight!” It’s another thing entirely to make sure every single designer and model is abiding by the rules. Model Coco Rocha, spoke out about the law's effects recently, saying:
The point is that if you are underage, you will have a great experience as a model now. As long as we’re protecting children, [designers] can continue to be artistic, [designers] can still be creative, and they can still work with younger models if that’s what they want to do — they’re just going to have to do it the right way.
One of the more worrisome elements, however, lies in the very competitive nature of the industry. Despite an uptick in body diversity and a push for older, more iconic models over the past few seasons, designers will likely still want youthful, thin girls on their runways. Models want gigs, and must beat out other models for those gigs. If one 17-year-old protests her unfairly long hours or inadequate compensation, citing the law that’s now on her side, who’s to say the designer won’t shell out the $1,000 and turn to the next 17-year-old waiting in the wings, mouth shut because she so desperately wants the work?
Moreover, we must consider that the fashion industry is hardly centered upon the catwalks in New York. As for whether the newly enacted state law will result in the banishing of models under 18 from the runway, it is unlikely. There's a chance the top young models will just walk in London, Paris and Milan Fashion Weeks and work primarily for international designers until they come of age.
* This article was initially published in November 2013.