Model-Slash: Advocate Sara Ziff
Before Sara Ziff founded the not-for-profit Model Alliance, she was just another runway regular. The 29-year-old walked the runways for Marc Jacobs, Chanel, and Dolce & Gabbana and shot ad campaigns for H&M and Tommy Hilfiger. But when she left modeling full-time to study political science at Columbia University, she used her spare time to edit footage taken during her modeling career into a 2010 documentary, Picture Me. “It allowed me to start making sense of my experiences,” Ziff says. “Without Picture Me, I don’t think I would’ve formed the Alliance.” Following the film’s warm reception, other models began reaching out to her with their own stories.
So with a little help from the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham University, Ziff and model-turned-scribe pal Jenna Sauers formed the Model Alliance earlier this year to help educate and advocate for models. At just a few months old, the Alliance already boasts over 200 members, including big names like Coco Rocha, Trish Goff, Doutzen Kroes, and Milla Jovovich.
Many of the Alliance’s goals are in line with those of the CFDA Health Initiative. “There have been efforts within the industry to promote healthier standards, and while I think any effort in that direction is a good thing, I don’t think that real, lasting change comes from the top down,” says Ziff. “It has to be a grassroots effort, and you have to involve the models themselves.”
The Alliance is rolling out new programs during the Spring 2013 New York shows. One workshop will advise beginning models on business necessities like how to negotiate a contract, do taxes, and even set up a bank account; another will focus on career transition possibilities for models exiting the runway. The Alliance has also set up a discreet grievance reporting system for models facing unjust difficulties within the industry. “Modeling is a business like any other, and it’s in models’ best interest to treat it as a business and to understand their rights,” says Ziff, who still works part-time as a model. “In a funny way, when I went to school, I was desperate to escape this industry and move on, but now I realize fashion is part of my world, and these are my people.”