Following claims of misconduct, a fashion industry insider responds and outlines practical steps for making work environments as safe as possible. We welcome further feedback, ideas and conversation.
I’ve worked as a makeup artist and hair stylist in fashion media for about eight years. Some readers may know me, others may not - I tend to keep my head down. But last month, my boat really got rocked. Three separate allegations of sexually inappropriate behaviour came to light within my regular - if not immediate - work environments. Two of these allegations have been addressed in the article ‘NZ Fashion Confronts Culture of Silence as Fresh Misconduct Claims Surface’.
During my career, I’ve occasionally heard whispers of inappropriate behaviour, suggestions, a name here and there - but never anything specific, first hand, or detailed. Unfortunately, that has made navigating these vague allegations extremely difficult.
More recently, and in regards to one of the photographers referenced in the article, the allegations against him again seem loose and nondescript. I completely acknowledge how difficult it can be to openly discuss abuse, and often, to actually articulate what it is that has made a situation inappropriate. But when it comes to ‘cancel culture’, and for me personally, making decisions about whether to continue to have professional relationships with these people, I feel I owe it to them (in the sense of ‘innocent until proven guilty’) to have the best understanding possible of what has occurred.
Let me be very clear - I have absolutely no tolerance for inappropriate, suggestive, abusive, manipulative, or otherwise damaging behaviour - and this is the very reason I feel it’s extremely important that we openly communicate as a fashion community when something happens that is not okay.
So please, speak up. Whether it was last week or two decades ago. We are a tight and collaborative community, and there is no place for abusive behaviour here. You will not be judged for speaking up.
I appreciate the decision to publish this story, but I hoped for it to outline stronger directives for people within our industry, to be able to create an environment of safety and togetherness. Give me more information, give me a strategy, tell me why this is happening, tell me what my responsibility is, tell me what ‘the reckoning’ is going to involve.
Based on my experiences within the fashion industry, I’ve listed some suggestions on how to make our work environments as safe as possible for all:
• If you feel unsafe, uncomfortable, or a person you are working with has been inappropriate, tell someone - if not at the time, then as soon as you can.
• If something happens to you, or you witness something happening to another person, tell someone.
• Don’t be vague or use innuendo when describing your account of inappropriate behaviour. Specifics are extremely important, especially because inappropriate behaviour can be subtle and insidious.
• Talking about an experience can be important in processing information, feelings, and trauma.
• If you witness a model being mistreated in any way, you have a responsibility to them to keep them safe on-set, and to urgently speak to their agent to relay your account of events in detail. If you are working in a studio, you can also ask for a member of studio staff to be present during a shoot.
• If you are an agent, get to know the people who are working with your talent. I can count on two fingers the number of agents in New Zealand who have my phone number - and I work with your models everyday. We are your allies, and your eyes.
• After working on nearly 1000 photo shoots in my career, I can tell you that there has been one singular publication (Viva) that routinely emails their guidelines for on set conduct with every call sheet. If you are a publication, photographer, designer, artist, or in any other way use models or talent, publish your own set of guidelines that reflect the environment you want your team to create and uphold.
• If you are an agent, clarify whether your model or talent is required to be seen in underwear, nude, or partially nude. Communicate this with your talent. If you are a client or stylist and are expecting the talent to be seen in underwear, partial or full nudity, check that you have consent to do so before the shoot day. This can be very awkward for models to negotiate without their agent.
• If you are planning a shoot on location, make an effort to provide safe and private changing facilities for your talent. There is no excuse. Bring a hula hoop with a shower curtain around it. It is not a job requirement that models undress in public or in front of crew.
• If you are an agent with a model on your books who has specific needs and sensitivities that need to be considered on set (eg. a disability, total privacy when dressing, no men on-set, no physical touching, no nipple exposure) brief us beforehand. We never want to make anyone feel uncomfortable.
• If you are a person that works on set in any manner, be it lighting, makeup, coffee runner, photographer, et al, it is your responsibility to be aware of the safety of those around you. It is your responsibility to create a comfortable, professional environment.
• If you are an agent who has concerns about your models working with certain people or crew, follow your gut and do not make the booking. It doesn’t matter how well paying the job is - you are the custodian of your model, and you have a duty of care to ensure their safety in any work environment.
• If you’re a makeup artist, hair stylist, or stylist, you have the opportunity to check in privately with models and talent and quietly make sure that they’re feeling okay. You will be the easiest person to confide in if something is making them feel uncomfortable.
• If you’ve experienced abuse or misconduct by someone within our industry, we will never judge you for speaking up. You will not lose work for being honest. You will not lose credibility for blowing the whistle. We support you, and we believe you.
• If you’re a model and you’ve been approached privately for work, say via Instagram, inform your agent. Their job is to ensure you’re working with safe people. Consider why you may have been solicited privately, rather than via your agent.
• If you are working with me, and I misstep by saying or doing something inappropriate or that makes you uncomfortable, please tell me. I won’t be mad, and I will really appreciate your honesty with me. That way, I will learn or be reminded, and you’ll be helping me to ensure I contribute to a safe and comfortable work environment.
• If you are a perpetrator of abuse, or believe you may have made someone feel uncomfortable, offended, misled, or abused - seek advice on how best to begin the process of reparation. Understanding how and why your actions have caused damage is crucial.
• If you are a photographer who wants to shoot nude photographs, the most important part of your job is not the photograph, but to ensure you have the consent of the model throughout the shoot (remember, consent can be withdrawn at any time), to make them feel comfortable and informed at all times, and to conduct yourself with utmost professionalism and respect for the person allowing you to photograph them. If you fail to make your model feel comfortable, you have failed at your job as a photographer.
Ensemble has recently implemented a code of conduct for fashion shoots and events, with the aim of working alongside the local fashion industry to galvanise change through industry-wide guidelines. We welcome further feedback, ideas and conversation.
If you have any more information about the New Zealand fashion industry or photographers, get in touch confidentially with email@example.com