Gisele Bundchen earns $30 million -- but most New York Fashion Week models make less than $50,000 a year

Gisele Bundchen models fashion week new yorkGetty/Fernanda CalfatIt’s not as glamorous as it seems.
  • The 20 highest-paid models, including Gisele Bündchen, earned a collective $US154 million last year.
  • Models in New York earn $US48,130 on average, and are sometimes only paid in clothes.
  • For some, the costs associated with developing a career results in debt that can take years to pay off.

Don’t let models’ designer duds fool you.

Over the next few days, hundreds of well-dressed models will descend on Manhattan as New York Fashion Week kicks off Thursday and runs through Wednesday, September 13.

But appearances can be deceiving. While many models have closets filled with expensive clothes — often received as payment for their work — most do not have bank accounts to match.

In New York, models earn $US48,130 on average, according to the Bureau of Labour Statistics. That’s only a third of the average annual Manhattanite salary of $US144,716.

Those who manage to become household names — like Gisele Bündchen, Kendell Jenner, and Gigi Hadid — command much higher rates. The 20 highest-paid models made a collective $US154 million last year, according to Forbes. Last year, 36-year-old Bündchen took the top spot, earning $US30.5 million. Jenner, who has over 83 million Instagram followers, made $US10 million, and Hadid was close behind with $US9 million.

For others in the industry, which the Council of Fashion Designers of America has said is “in transition,” the financial story is much different.

“Models — many of whom are minors — have low bargaining power and are frequently not paid all of their earned wages, are paid wages late, are paid only after complaining about non-payment, are paid in ‘trade’ instead of money, or are simply not paid at all,” former model and founder and executive director of the Models Alliance, Sara Ziff, told The Daily Beast’s Miranda Frum last year.

Kelly Mittendorf, 23, who retired from modelling in 2015 after spending five years in the industry, recently spoke to the New York Times about her experience. Here’s Mittendorf:

“I never made good money as a model. I went into debt with every single one of my agencies at one point or another. An agency has for each girl an account, and if they need to have the girl come from Arizona to New York in order to build her portfolio, the agency will front the expenses for her plane ticket, for paying the photographers, for printing the photos, for the physical portfolio itself, for the comp cards that need to be developed, for the retouching, for new clothes to go on castings with, for a model apartment for her to stay in.”

While there’s no guarantee that a model’s career earnings will justify the upfront costs, one way or another she is required to repay the agency. In Mittendorf’s case, that amounted to five figures of debt.

“I was lucky to kind of be able to climb out of that,” she told the New York Times. “It took years.”

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