The price of getting paid in New York’s cutthroat fashion industry

Making it in New York’s competitive fashion industry isn’t easy. Artists come to the city with hopes of making it big, only to find work is often done without pay.

Savannah Shearouse, an experienced makeup artist and Florida native, has difficulty securing paid jobs despite having spent years in the fashion industry. She constantly has to prove to her clients that she is worth paying. “It’s not just hair and makeup, it’s not just modeling, it’s not just theatre – it’s all artists, at some point, are asked to do their work for free. We are expected to accept that as a part of our journey as artists, that we are supposed to be underpaid,” she said.

New York Fashion Week.

Model Caroline Huang said that a lot of her colleagues do free work in order to get noticed and hopefully get paid jobs in the future. However, photographer Jude Valentine explained that after a certain point, artists can’t really get by solely on free work. “You have to figure out how you’re going to get your foot in the door,” she said. “[Maybe] that’s cold emailing people [or] asking people for collaborations [or] telling people that you’ll work for free knowing that you’re going to profit from it.”

The industry also squeezes designers. Bree Billiter, an emerging designer who participated in last week’s New York Fashion Week, said that 99 percent of the time participating in a show is not free. “Most of the time, the price to participate [in a show] is $1500,” she said. “That’s ridiculous for an emerging designer that doesn’t have the money and should be using that money on making new garments for the show.”

But no one can survive on free work alone. “I deserve to be able to eat, pay rent, have enough money that I feel comfortable living,” said Shearhouse. “I deserve to be paid and every artist I know deserves to be paid.”


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