Miniseries: The underworld of the fashion industry

RealStars present the first part of a four part miniseries. It’s made by fashion expert and freelancer Marina Milojkovic.

The fashion industry often symbolizes progress, luxury and glamour. But you can also find addiction, unhealthy beauty-ideals, even prostitution and sexual assault. Writer and feminist Sheila Jeffrey says there is a link between the fashion industry and prostitution which is rarely mentioned:

”The sex Industry sells clothes and the fashion Industry sells prostitution and pornography. This results in viewing women just as pleasure objects and toys; this is the first step in converting women into prostitute.” ( Beauty and Misogyny 2005).

During the international film festival in Gothenburg a documentary called Girl Model was shown. Made by David Redmon and Ashley Sabin, it portrays young Eastern European women with dreams of becoming models. The story follows thirteen year old Nadja from Novosibirsk who gets “scouted” by an international model-agency with promise of work in Tokyo.

Nadja, who has never even been outside of her village and barely knows any English, leaves for a strange continent on her own, with great expectations of a job and a successful career. But she gets no work in Tokyo, other than the undressed portfolio pictures the agency takes of her. Nadja cries a lot and wants to go home. When she is finally sent home, she has made no money and has a debt to the agency for 13000 SEK to pay for housing and plane tickets. To repay the debt it is not uncommon for young girls in Nadja’s situation to become prostitutes.

Many young girls dream of becoming successful models. To some eastern European women, becoming a model is a possibility to get away from the poverty of the countryside. There are of course success stories of Russian models turned multi-millionaires, but few get that far. Many are instead victims of sexual abuse and are exploited by fashion photographers, agency-owners and other men. Compared to these men, the young Eastern European women are inferior based on their gender, class and ethnicity. Meaning that they are in a very vulnerable state where they might have to become prostitutes to pay back the debts they amass while going abroad. Sometimes the agency doesn’t pay for a return ticket which forces the duped girls into prostitution to provide for themselves. This is something the model and fashion industries stifle.

According to the American model-scout Ashley Arbaugh, it is not uncommon for models to earn a living on prostitution. Nor is it uncommon for the provocative and lightly dressed portfolio-pictures to end up on suspect internet sites, she says. Ashley, who makes a living transferring young Eastern European women to the Japanese agencies sees no problem that girls, sometimes as young as thirteen are exploited for sexual purposes.

To remedy the abuse of young Eastern European women, people need to take responsibility; models as well as agencies and fashion companies. The matter needs to be given more attention on the international agenda. During the fashion week in New York (two weeks ago), “The Model Alliance” was founded. It is a kind of a union for models created by accomplished models Shalom Harlow, Doutzen Kroes, Sara Ziff and Coco Rocha. They want to work together for the models’ rights. They demand wage conditions for models and also the prevention of pictures of under aged girls. They all agree on the fact that models are too young, are underpaid and don’t have legal aid. People need to take responsibility or act. I hope this will make others more aware of the problems.

”The issue of an underage girl working without any kind of mentoring or chaperoning is really critical, because at that age you’re still learning boundaries, you’re still learning how to stand in your right and say No.”

– Shalom Harlow, model and founder of The Model Alliance”.

/Marina Milojkovic for RealStars