You Pay Or I’ll Slay

I have been modelling since I was 14 years old. I started out with a big agency in the capital. It was daunting — coming from a small town up North, London was terrifyingly huge. I’d go to all my castings accompanied by my mum. She plucked my eyebrows for the first time ever on the Metropolitan line heading towards Aldgate, in front of the whole carriage, cos the ‘model handbook’ said I should. I had to buy cheap high heels from New Look and totter around the uneven streets looking for the right address. Clad in black, navy or white (an oppugnant shadow of my rainbow spectrum wardrobe) ‘blank canvas’ tones, sitting on piss stinky steps in an alley, I unbuckled the persecuting shoes and thrust my trusty red doc martens over throbbing feet.
 I moved to London at 17 — my body matured, as nature intended, the petit underage form of 3 years before, grown. I was told to lose a dress size in 4 weeks, and since I was at uni, I shouldn’t party “too much” because “you know what it does to your weight… stick to vodka!” Swift as day, I bought the biggest bar of chocolate in the shop (pre vegan days btw). I left said agency 4 months later on mutual terms, “we don’t think you’re right for us.” Nah, me either!
At 23 years, I’m a self defined multihyphenate with craft spanning art, opera, skateboarding and astrology; signed to a smaller modelling agency who meet me on a friendship level and encourage me to experiment with my look and hair colour, graduated with First Class honours, award winning Sculptor, and currently on the most inspiring, funded artist residency program wishes could whisk.
Still, one fashion world trait narks my spark. A phrase, not exclusive to fashion, used in all creative industries —including music, art, writing— to squeeze young artists and bleed their talent.
Oops! Typo glitch! You read exposure but it said exploitation.
These vultures mistake young, emerging artists for fresh corpses. Read between the lines of ‘invitations’ to work in exchange for ‘exposure’, make no mistake — 1) it’s a total dupe and 2) this divisive strategy is implicit in reducing the scope of opportunity for anyone but the most privileged. It’s class war.
In the buildup to LFW, MM6 (‘fast-fashion’ diffusion line of legendary brand Maison Margiela) invited me to be 1 of 5 artists in a Spring/Summer 2017 presentation. The proposal was for a filmed show in which the 5 lucky artists would paint on clothes and accessories to later be ‘sold exclusively in stores’ — but sadly there’s no budget for the artists.
I choked on my almond mylk hot chocolate. Asking someone to walk in your show for free isn’t acceptable, asking them to PAINT their ART onto the clothes and then sell them on for hundreds or even thousands of pounds is downright robbery. They mustn’t have done much research into me, I predominantly work in sculpture and film. Would they provide clay or metal welding facilities on site and have me spend days and nights editing and rendering the collection?
So tell me, Maison Martin Margiela, or should I be addressing John Galliano, the current creative director now that ‘fashion’s mystery man’ Margiela himself has returned to the shadows? Will exposure help pay a £94,500 debt incurred from my studies? Are all the likes you get on Instagram of the work you expect me to give you for free somehow gonna magically turn into IRL hearts, fly into my bank account where they metamorphose into glittering coins? Are you expecting me to be happy with a hashtag? OMG I’M GONNA BE FAMOUS OVERNIGHT! #lifegoals Wow! Are all the pictures by the swarm of photographers (stealing my IP with every invasive click of their phallic lens) going to give me level up points in the capitalist video game called
 L_I_F_E >I_N >B_R_I_T_A_I_N >2_K_1_6 —
Or will my name fade into the shadows of the flash guns?
When the big companies come to you and ask for your time, the motto is “No budget? No business.” They exploit our status as ‘emerging artists’ and their status as a notable name, because they think we are gagging for fame and recognition. At the same time they are capitalists sucking up anything cool about youth culture, subcultures and ethnic communities, and spitting it out as wearable garments costing more than a months rent.
The fashion industry is known for its abundant use of unpaid labour, from internships to assistants, and using models for free for editorials and test shoots.
Often fashion brands will offer models a ‘piece of trade’ (some clothes) for your work as a model if there is little budget, but this still doesn’t make up for the hours spent on set, the journey of your image from shoot to online/print, and the ultimate sales the brand will be making from your image. I like using the term ‘Model as Artist’ because being a model is being a performance artist, in an endurance piece covering your whole career. All artists should be paid.
The idea of putting a price on my work is spiritually dissonant — spending time and creativity with friends, fellow emerging artists and righteous causes, are all passions. When a money generating machine owned by OTB GROUP with an established-fashion-house-coloured camouflage paint job, feels so uninspired they run to the emerging artists for help, but don’t offer £££ in return, something needs to be addressed.
My story is not an isolated incident — this is happening all the time to emerging artists everywhere. We all experience this, and it’s standard practice carried out by organisations with a monopoly on opportunity. Don’t let them take you for a dummy.
How long does it take for an emerging artist to emerge? Where are we emerging into? Are we ready for this emergence? Is there life after emerging? I dunno. But I’m gonna stay true to my morals throughout the journey and create meaningful work to speak their own truths. You don’t need to piggy back on a diffusion brand to get to the top of mountain.
My art is good, but its not priceless.
So I’ll take this opportunity to announce my latest collaboration with myself. My Spring/Summer 2017 collection. Disclaimer  *no emerging artists were exploited in the making of these garments*
Words & images by Ayesha Tan-Jones, keep up with her here.