Street style has always been controversial in the fashion industry. The outfits seen at the doors of Fashion Week shows are almost, if not entirely, as influential as the clothes models wear on the catwalk. However, the legitimacy of the photos has always been questioned: were people paid to wear those clothes? And were the photographers paid for those photos?
Last weekend, a well-known anonymous group of street style photographers, who go by “The Photographers,” answered the latter question, starting the #NoFreePhotos movement. According to the photographers, digital influencers often post their copyright-protected photos on social media without paying any revenue. If they continue this practice, the photographers will begin to send cease and desist letters; and, if the influencers fail to address the copyright infringement, photographers will comment the hashtag on the pictures as a form of social shaming. However, the movement’s ultimate goal is to address fashion’s underlying issue: the frequent dismissal of both influencers’ and the photographers’ jobs through unfair or absent payments.
According to The Fashion Law, to fulfill their contract to brands and retailers, influencers must post pictures to persuade their followers to buy sponsored clothes. The brands, however, do not allocate “funds for influencers’ usages of street style photographers’ photos in furtherance of partnership endorsement deals.” This imposes financial difficulties on the influencers which, in turn, hurts the photographers.
BryanBoy, an influencer who came forward after #NoFreePhotos, stated that as photographers do not get their fair share from brand deals, influencers do not receive anything either. He claimed he and his colleagues do not even get paid to wear their striking street style outfits and only maintain a relationship with brands for the sake of remaining relevant in the industry. Back in 2014, BryanBoy told Fashionista about the enormous economic burden Fashion Month put on influencers, reinforcing that fashion’s negligence toward both influencers and photographers is a well-established practice in the industry.
The fashion world is often accused of not recognizing the labor of employees in the lower ranks of its hierarchy. In 2011, many unpaid interns sued Condé Nast, Burberry, Gucci and other world-renowned brands, claiming they were doing work worthy of an entry-level position without receiving remuneration. #NoFreePhotos is a step in the right direction, but it is not enough. Photographers must be recognized and paid for their photos. However, the light should not be so heavy on the influencers, but on their sponsoring brands instead. The top of the fashion world must recognize that it cannot function without the pivotal work of all the employees involved in the industry. The internet already brought the mighty magazine industry down because of similar instances; if the fashion world fails to look back on its practices and customs, the industry may not be so relevant in the future.
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A version of this appeared in the Monday, Oct. 2 print edition. Email Carine Zambrano at [email protected]