In the fashion industry, the talent are often taken advantage of–subjected to late pay, bullying, racism, and unwanted sexual advances or even rape. Models are also often very young–like 17 years old–and therefore quite susceptible to such abuses.
Agent Inc. is a new app with which models and agents can share gig experiences with designers and photographers, review the conditions they encounter during photo shoots, and fight back against many forms of misconduct. Available on iOS and iTunes, Agent Inc. has renovated the model-booking process by adding a much-needed layer of transparency and protection. The app, for example, conducts criminal background and sex offender checks on all of its users.
“When someone comes to hire a model on our platform, they have to apply,” Agent Inc. CEO Mark Willingham tells Fast Company. “We vet everyone. They can’t just come in and book.”
On the agency side, bookers can use filters to search for models that best suit their needs. On the talent side, models can rate companies and agents (much like an Uber rating), report inappropriate behavior, secure payments, streamline their booking schedules, and more importantly, get 24-hour support from Agent Inc.’s team of fashion industry veterans who man the company’s phone lines, ready to advise users if they encounter difficult issues during a shoot. (The startup takes a 5% cut from the client, and 10% from the models, which is roughly 50% less than traditional agencies.)
“Even people working for big agencies become susceptible and vulnerable to things outside their control,” says Willingham, referencing sexual harassment and inappropriate pressure to, for example, “show more skin.”
Models definitely need more tools to help protect them from a fairly predatory industry. As cofounder Dustin Diaz wrote in a Medium post:
On one side there’s straight up unlawful, and ungodly terrible events. Like rape, or solicitations for sex. Then there’s uncomfortable situations (harassment). Like when a model is midway through a photoshoot for a brand selling t-shirts… then the photographer asks her to remove her shirt.
We absolutely do not want circumstances where people are crossed with the thought of “Well, I do need rent money, so…”
Many models are represented by an agency that handles such problems for them, should they arise–but represented models are only a portion of the modeling workforce. According to a 2016 IBISWorld industry report, only 20% of models are represented by big agencies, thereby leaving 80%–many young or new to the country–without influential protection.
“I’m not trying to paint picture that it’s all bad [people] and gloom, but it doesn’t take more than a quarter of a percent [to make this worthwhile],” says Willingham. “Even if there’s one person out there we’re protecting.”
The fashion industry has rolled out plenty of innovations in the tech and digital space over the years. It’s heartening to see a startup looking out for one of the most vulnerable groups in their midst. “We’re trying to empower the models and provide them with guidance,” stresses Willingham.
Agent Inc. is currently in beta mode, with plans to go live this fall–but 5,000 models are already active on its platform.