New York, I Love You, But Make Sure You Sign Child Model Protection Laws

by Amy LaCount


With chic citizens and stunning innovation to spare, New York has clearly proven itself as a fashion capital. But is the city living up to its ambitious title?

Although New York’s fashion scene thrives in aesthetic value and skill, the way the industry treats its own is coming into serious question – although, thankfully, improvements seem to be underway!

Sara Ziff, former child model and founder of Model Alliance, reports that the labor regulations she worked under were alarmingly destructive. 

She speaks of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that killed 146 garment workers, most of whom were teenaged women – a historical milestone that brought attention to lax child labor laws and lead to better workplace standards and protections.

“Yet, over a century later, you may be surprised to learn that children continue to work in New York’s fashion industry without the most basic legal protections. Today, the Department of Labor protects all child performers working in New York with one notable exception: print and runway models.”

There are countless child dancers, actors, and singers working in the city – but they are all protected by Department of Labor laws, while models only fall under Department of Education laws. This means that universal standards of workplace sexual harassment or provisions for chaperones and trust accounts do not apply to under-aged models.

To add insult to injury, often times the laws are not even adhered to, with models facing insidious pressure from the industry to fit into a culture of sexual promiscuity or to drop out from school and pursue the job full-time. The awful statistics are staggering: “76% of models have been exposed to drugs and alcohol and 87% have experienced a ‘surprise’ nude photo shoot or casting.” 

This very obvious neglect and abuse of young models sparked a movement – child model advocate Ziff, with the help of Senator Jeffrey Klein, wrote up a bill to protect the workers’ rights. The law passed quickly through both houses of NY State legislature last Wednesday, although it still awaits Governor Cuomo’s signature.

“We are hoping to get the legislation passed before fashion week in September,” says Ashley Sabin, director of the chilling documentary Girl Model, which follows a conflicted model scout along her journey to recruit teen models.


A still from Girl Model.

The bill’s stipulations are lengthy and complex, but here are some of the highlights:


  • Models under 16 must be accompanied by a chaperone, and are not allowed to work past midnight. 
  • 15% of all wages must be placed into a trust account that’s only accessible once the model turns 18. 
  • Minors would require a permit, and their employers would have to apply for a general certificate of eligibility to employ child performers, and then notify the state of specific dates and locales before all jobs.
  • Child performers are required to keep up with their studies, and if they miss more than 3 days of school because of work, their employers must provide them with tutors. 


These elaborate regulations have backers of the bill convinced that the industry will have to skew upwards in age.

Susan Scafidi, academic director of the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham says, “This is the day that modeling moved from being a girls’ profession to a women’s profession…I really feel like the easy solution is going to be, fine, bring me an 18-year old. It is true that the aesthetic is going to change a lot.” 


Sara Ziff with Susan Scafidi


Although modeling adult women in clothing geared towards adult women doesn’t seem like a novel idea, it is true that most models typically get their start around 13-16, so the bill looks to be quite revolutionary.

It’s New York City’s time to shine as one of the world’s most cutting-edge fashion capitals, by signing this bill into existence and adapting to a new, healthier look. 


Photos via fashionista, UPI, Model Alliance.

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