Happy September!

Due to the glamour and hype of fashion week, September is when I receive a lot of questions regarding runway modeling.

How to get into it, where to take classes, and what are the requirements.

One question that is becoming more common year after year is:

Why are there so many fashion shows that don’t pay their models???

The most direct answer is:

The organizer or designer of the show know they can get away with it.

They know that even if they offer little or no pay, there will be no shortages of models willing to participate, and they will still have plenty to choose from.

Now you see that the real question, is actually:

Why are so many models willing to be in a runway show for free?

work for attention cartoon modeling joke

paparazzi photographers for celebritiesSome models are willing to work for free because

  • The attention alone, is enough for them
  • They are lead to believe the non-monetary compensation is worth it

Models crave attention- an Achilles Heel, if you will

It’s quite satisfying to walk down a runway and stand in the spotlight. The music is blasting, people are taking pictures, and models in a sense, feel fulfilled and appreciated. This feeling is so wonderful that when faced with the problem of nonpayment, in an effort to capture this opportunity to shine again, they reluctantly agree. Of course models would rather be paid. It’s their job after all.

But, “If I don’t do it, someone else will!” they tell themselves. And it’s true, someone else probably will.

Designers and Organizers know a model’s need for recognition and validation.

blue runway stage new york fashion week nyfw

Some know that even if met with resistance, all they have to do is add a bit of incentive, and models will yield and accept. This simple strategy worked so well over the years that more and clever ways were created to avoid payment.

In order to have proper perspective on this matter, it’s important to consider if the show is high profile (famous Designer/Brand) or not. If it is a high profile show, chances are you will be compensated appropriately for your modeling services. And even in low profile events, I have seen diligent designers doing their best to generate funds so they can pay their models.

These are the good guys.

What you need to watch out for are the ones who have the funds, but chose to use clever incentives to avoid paying models. Which brings us to the question,

Are non-monetary compensation worth a model’s time?


Charity heart cartoon logo non-profit

“You won’t be paid but it’s for a good cause. It’s for charity.”

The most commonly used incentive for free model services.

Whenever you are told a runway show is unpaid because it’s for charity, you should clearly know what the charity is for. What is the name of the charity? Will the funds made during the event be donated to that charity? Will representatives from the charity be present to enjoy the show?

Pink Ribbon Cancer Survivor Fashion Show in Malaysia with Jun Top Model

A charity is donating time or resources to benefit or support an organization. There are legitimate runway shows out there that donate funds made through admission, to a charity. Others choose to benefit the community by hosting a show dedicated to an organization and inviting its members to attend or participate. For example, I was invited to a Breast Cancer Survivor Charity Fashion Show in Malaysia.

A show without a clear non-profit organization benefiting from the event is not a charity event. It is a free show. 

There’s nothing wrong with a free show. There are free concerts all the time with people performing just for fun.

What’s dishonest is when a designer or organizer calls a free show, a charity event.

There is a difference.


photographers at runway fashion show nyfw new york

“Be in my free fashion show. You’ll get tons of exposure!”

Probably the most overrated and over-hyped incentive to work for free.

The promise of exposure has tricked so many models into thinking that doing a show will make them a star… or at least help them gain recognition in the industry. The genuine way to build your reputation from doing a certain show is if your modeling agent, promotes and tells future clients that you have walked in this prestigious show, or have worked with this famous designer.

runway models look the same during fashion week

Furthermore, it’s rather difficult for one model to stand out from 30 others all walking down the same runway, since everyone is supposed to look about the same in any given show. It’s doubtful that any important industry professional such as an agent, designer, or director, will attend the event, takes notice of you, and makes an impact in your career.

It is possible to be approached by skilled photographers after the show with requests to do photoshoots. But please BE CAREFUL, some unprofessional people wait after the show to approach models claiming to be someone important, hoping to take advantage of gullible models.


runway fashion show photos quality comparison fashion week

“Be in my free fashion show. You’ll get tons of photos!”

With more than a decade working in this industry, I can confidently say runway photos are almost useless.

Am I being too harsh?


Except its sentimental value, runway photos are not necessary in your portfolio. It may be helpful as supplemental materials when you are trying to sigh with an agent but it’s still not required, and only high quality photos will do.

Most photos shot in low profile events are low quality because of the lighting and timing of the shot. And when you move to higher profile shows, the photo is still low quality because of the lighting and timing of the shot! You see how hard it is to capture a live event?

And when you do finally get a quality shot, you wouldn’t need it for agency representation because it was your agent that booked you the job!

I know from personal experience because after I placed runway photos in my portfolio, my agents removed it, calling it “clutter.”


runway show rehearsals

The only incentive that is worth your volunteer time is experience.

Provided that you have never been in a runway show before, this is a good opportunity to get some on-the-job training. Walking, turning, stopping, posing, and knowing your angles, are all good training. However, you are unlikely to receive proper industry runway coaching in low profile events. Event organizers there don’t tend to provide adequate attention and feedback on each of the model’s walks.

Nevertheless, the chaos behind the curtains, e.g. people rushing you everywhere, sitting and waiting for a whole day, and dealing with unexpected exchanges in choreography, will turn you into a professional model.

Gift Bags / Clothing

new york fashion week gift bags

The last major enticing item offered to models are the gift bags handed out to audiences after the show, and possibly the clothing that you wore during the event.

Most gift bags include free samples from sponsors who donated their resources for the show.

  • Is the item or clothing valuable or meaningful to you?
  • If you were to sell the item, how much would it be worth?

Some of my friends who have worked for Marc Jacobs sold the clothing that they received on ebay for cash.

Speaking of Marc Jacobs, here is an article that describes how he handled accusations of not paying models for their time.

Marc Jacobs don't pay his modelshttp://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2110627/If-dont-want-work-dont-Marc-Jacobs-hits-claims-doesnt-pay-models.html

So… should models do a nonpaying runway job?

Think objectively.

Besides the attention, will you really gain any valuable experience from the event?

runway fashion show brooklyn new york

In short, if you have never done a fashion show before, then consider trying it out to get a feel for the experience. Not just the moments in the spotlight, but the entire day and the environment you will be in. But if you have experience and have done many previous shows before, then it is not worth your time. You may consider telling a friend about it or your younger sibling that wants to know what it feels like to be you. 🙂

But what if you REALLY want the attention and miss the feeling of validation? Then only you can decide. But at least be clear that you are doing free runway work for the attention only, and not for the incentives created to trick you.

Happy Fashion Week!