always on and stuck in the present

Exploitation through last minute and opaque scheduling in the modelling industry

Recently, the rampant exploitation of fashion models has finally drawn public attention. Following the #metoo campaign, fashion models also shared their experiences on social media using the hashtag #myjobshouldnotcontainabuse. Despite this, there has been limited academic research on labour exploitation in the fashion industry and how such exploitation is made possible. Although there has been academic work identifying several ethical issues concerning the job of a fashion model, most research was geared towards either, theorizing how the modelling industry belongs to a ‘cultural economy’ characterized by specific mechanisms of valuation, or investigating how fashion models experience their aesthetic labour. This study, on the other hand, aims to unpack how organizing the ‘daily schedule’ in a last-minute-manner enters as a powerful managerial technique that allows for systematic exploitation. The ‘daily schedule’ is the main contact a fashion model has with their agents (i.e. gatekeepers). It is typically sent by email each night to inform the model of what they have on the next working day.

This research contributes to three areas of research. First, it speaks to classical labour theory concerned with how the organization of workers’ time is a managerial technique that can potentially harm employees’ autonomy. Second, it contributes to work on cultural production, as it looks at how labour and time are organized in the creative industry while taking into account field specific dynamics. Third, this research contributes to the expanding body of literature concerned with the ever-growing informal sector, and last-minute, opaque scheduling that is typical in the gig-economy.

This qualitative study draws on 26 semi-structured interviews with male and female models. Throughout this research four different types of exploitation are identified: time, financial, bodily and sexual exploitation. This study demonstrates how these four types of exploitations are, for a large part, facilitated by a last-minute scheduling system. This managerial technique decreases the autonomy of the worker by systematically withholding necessary information and obstructing future planning. Similar to how scientific management (i.e. Taylorism) was not only introduced as a way to boost efficiency but simultaneously served as a means to take away control from workers and minimize the possibility of resistance (as was argued by Harry Braverman), automated last minute scheduling systems (e.g. Cdsglobal) which are employed by fashion agencies, also limit the autonomy of models. The findings indicate that for all participants it appeared difficult to resist this type of scheduling without risking consequences to their career. However, a comparative analysis revealed that some models are in a better position to mitigate these risks, or are more able to risk their modelling careers than others, due to factors such as, field position, tenure, age, education, networks, gender and citizenship.

by Abigail Harrington and Kobe De Keere
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