When: 2016/06/06 5PM & 2016/06/07 1PM PDT (SLT)
Destination: Model’s Workshop @ Second Life
We’re attending: FashionDish Chat Session – Model Pay
NB: Yours truly is not, and has never been, involved in any way in a fashion industry, and this article has been written from the position of an outsider. As such, involuntary errors regarding the field itself may have taken place, and in case the reader has spotted those, please let me know either in-world (look for K.T. Burnett (KayT)) or here in the comments, this will be highly appreciated!
We observe their daintiness and perfection up on the catwalk, on the model stand of our favourite clothes store, in the clothes ads. They are the first to present the new clothes line at the fashion show. They make the designer clothes look good by wearing them, and encourage us to buy these clothes, inspiring us to look good as well. They set the beauty standards of Second Life (which are way easier to follow, compared to real life!). We watch them in admiration, we attempt to reach their level in our looks. They add that tangibility into the avatar appearance industry without which we would be left guessing how a certain garment would look in-world before buying it.
As much as this business is about appearing in public, displaying nothing less but perfection, there is one matter about this industry that, by default, stays behind the closed doors. How valued these beauty queens are within their own professional field?
Being concerned with the avatar appearance is probably the most significant part of our Second Life, and unarguably so: while residents have a choice in their hobbies and lifestyles, every resident has an avatar, and that avatar should be taken care of – that is not a choice. Thus, fashion/avatar appearance industry is perhaps the one that is in the most comfortable position, business-wise, in Second Life: shopping, as well as chasing bargains and exclusives, is one of the most popular pastimes of Second Life, and shopping events have got their own, separate category in the Destination Guide. A lot of competition for the resident’s money is going on there. A lot of money is circulating within this industry. Therefore, would it not be logical to have everybody involved to have a fair share of the compensation for the collective effort that keeps the whole industry running?
Model’s Workshop has put this very uncomfortable and complicated question on the round table of their Monday FashionDish Chat Session, held on the first Monday of each month, and while the discussion itself has been held in discretion, Jena Adder, Model’s Workshop COO and co-owner, gave me her kind permission to provide the readers a brief summary of what has been discussed there, as well as my personal opinion (which, actually, will go into the separate post). No names of the participants will be mentioned here, and I will only say that not only models themselves, but also fashion and clothes industry business owners have taken part in this discussion, and a vast majority of the participants possess great experience on either side, if not both.
Two chat sessions have been held, one in the evening of Monday, the other in the afternoon of Tuesday, for European residents.
Before I move on to the discussion, let us get acquainted with Model’s Workshop itself. One can have a look at their About page for more information, but in short, they describe themselves as “a group dedicated to the ongoing professional development of SL fashion models. Through the effort of its members, the group provides free workshops, fashion shows, contests and more.” (taken from the in-world group description). They host a variety of style and photo contests, as well as fashion shows, and also provide networking opportunities. As the Monday Chat Session shows, they also pay attention to hot topics arising within the industry.
While Second Life business model is known to be heavily unregulated and therefore severely unfair to certain groups of virtual professionals, I bet many outsiders (I have been one of them!) imagine these gorgeous ladies in lavish outfits rolling in Linden Dollars, being paid a fortune for a single catwalk at the fashion show or a single picture in the fashion magazine, and overall, by Second Life standards, living it up. Turns out that this is far from being the case… Models, while being the face of the fashion industry, when it comes to the business hierarchy, hang out in the position close to the ground and are often the most undercompensated professionals of this field.
To begin with, there is no standard pay existing. It is up to the employer to choose how to compensate the model for their work, and the compensation highly depends on how the employers themselves value their models. Some models get lucky and have their employer offering them a decent compensation in L$. Some, and they appear to be in the majority (although, obviously, there are no official statistics), get compensated relatively modestly, and more often that one would think, not in money at all, but in clothes by the designer they work for.
It was a great shock for me to find out that experience, more often than not, accounts for nothing. Perhaps it plays a role in a model’s employability, but not in his or her salary. A great argument has been raised that a model with more experience costs the employer less effort, and therefore money, than a beginner model – just the same way it goes with any professional, in Second or real life! Nevertheless, case after case voiced, we have a confirmation that the payment, at best, remains stagnant regardless of the number of years in profession and the CV.
Several older residents have confessed that in earlier days, the situation was different, and the salaries for either type of modeling were significantly higher. It is with time that they have went down to little to no payment, and there were several contributing factors to that, the main one being the shift in the trend of how a designer achieves the recognition. Back in the days, fashion shows and catwalks were introducing residents to new brands and building up the image of the existing ones. Nowadays, this task to the large extent is carried out by fashion events, where many brands are gathered up in a small area. Competition also happens to add up to the change, when designers attract residents’ attention by participating in sales events, as well as offering free or low-price items through being a member of their group or items hunts. The bottom line is that the visualization offered by models has lost its significance in introducing, as well as promoting, the brand.
Not many, myself included, take into account what takes it a model to, well, be a model, that representation of perfection we all have a luxury to observe. Some hard work goes into that. From skins to hair to jewellery to other accessories, and everything should match other components, as well as the outfit itself. In a lot of cases, the total price of the look created exclusively for the outfit turns out to be several times the price of the outfit modeled. Shall we be reminded that a model does not showcase but one outfit throughout his or her Second Life? The actual price of being a model happens to be the cumulative one of all the looks created by him or her.
The issue of compensating fashion bloggers has also been briefly brought up. Bloggers are in general the most independent segment of the fashion industry, showcasing the items with the frequency suitable for them, and therefore the rules imposed on them by the designers they collaborate with are laxer than those imposed on the professional models. Nevertheless, bloggers put a share of their effort into making the designer’s product attract attention, and therefore, in theory, deserve some kind of compensation for driving the sales up as well. I have actually talked to several bloggers in the past, and from what I have concluded, most of them only get provided free clothes by the designer, under the condition of blogging those. An interesting point regarding blogging has been raised by one of the participants, one of the most prominent figures in Second Life business networks – according to that point, under the Federal Law, bloggers cannot accept compensation, monetary or otherwise, for their work. I have done some search on the Internet, and best I could find related to this law was this quick guide on the U.S. Federal Trade Commission new rules of December 1, 2009. In short, bloggers who receive compensation, must disclose the fact that they do, but are not prohibited from receiving it. Therefore, bloggers, until I am proven wrong, if ever, blog away, but let us know who sponsors you!
Without a doubt, something should be done, and this was the subject of the chat session as well. Forming the trade union turned out to be the most popular idea and it had been discussed pretty actively. One of the models have told us about the association founded by a number of modeling agencies in the past, but for one reason or another, it did not take off well and had been disbanded. Another model admitted an attempt to form a union in the past, with poor success as well. There is the problem of collecting dues – how many models would be willing to pay monthly? There is the problem of agreeing on the direction. There is the problem of residents being able to dedicate enough time for working on the union. While the idea, in theory, is very much sensible, putting it into practice turns out to be quite challenging.
Other ways to bring the problem closer to its solution were also introduced.
Part of the problem is the low attendance levels of fashion shows, therefore raising residents’ interest to them is the way to revive their significance for the virtual world. That could be done by reaching them through group notices in the groups that either specialize on the field different from the fashion or no particular field at all.
Another idea – reaching out to the newcomers. Some models do exactly that, one agency even has a Help A Newbie day. Perhaps more people of the profession hanging out at welcome hubs is the way to increase publicity?
Now, there is one more internal problem to think about, and that is relatively frequent internal communication issues. Several participants of the discussion have mentioned being involved in or at least witnessing jealousy, animosity and other sorts of drama happening on the field. Coming up with the standards for the field in such an atmosphere, where residents potentially put petty disagreements before the common goal, starts looking like an impossible task…
Unfortunately, time required to actually bring in the change will take more than a given bracket of an hour, or two hours, given that we have had two talks. The problems have been stated, and most of the participants agreed that the standard pay should be thought through. How to work on the solution is going to be a continuous conversation.
I hope that the provided summary demonstrates the complexity of the issue relatively vividly and provides some material for thought about not only the modeling industry, but other virtual professions as well. The compensation for work done, especially monetary, is the topic we do not discuss often, finding it embarrassing and being afraid to appear greedy, but such a mindset greenlights the mistreatment of people of profession by their employers. Therefore, such conversations must be held much more often, by other professional fields too. Since, evidently, Linden Lab will not bother with developing and enforcing business regulations, it is up to us residents to work on those. The acknowledgement of the problem is the first step to the solution. And I would like to applaud Model’s Workshop for taking this hard, but highly important and, in a way, inevitable first step. I truly hope they will not stop there and others will follow!
Stay digitized, and be safe!