One of Scotland’s first black supermodels is urging people working in fashion to join a union to help stamp out exploitation in the industry.
Edinburgh-born Eunice Olumide, an activist who has worked for top couture houses such as Alexander McQueen, Christopher Kane and Vivienne Westwood, said modelling’s insecure and temporary nature left people susceptible to bad treatment and missing out on basic employment rights.
They can be susceptible to unkindness and exploitation because you can be so easily replaced, unlike normal jobsEUNICE OLUMIDE Edinburgh-born fashion model
Olumide, who has also appeared in magazines such as Vogue, Tatler and New York Magazine, has written a new book entitled ‘How To Get Into Fashion’ as there were almost no manuals to help young people striving to get into the industry.
Olumide, whose parents are from Nigeria, said: “Hundreds of thousands of people work in the UK fashion industry in different sectors, contributing a huge part to the economy.
“They need some kind of support and advice because there is so much vague misinformation out there.
“For example, I met someone who’d handed over £2,000 to have his photos taken. He’d been taken in. I’ve never heard of any agency which would ask for this.
“In the very worst cases I came across models who had been badly treated simply because they were unsure about the boundaries of their occupation, what they might be asked to do and how their image could be misused or even exploited
“So my primary concern is to protect people from putting themselves in situations that are not productive or necessary to achieve their dreams.
Olumide, praised by viewers and commentators for her contribution to BBC’s Question Time in February when she spoke about actor Liam Neeson’s controversial comments on race, said: “People working in fashion need independent advice and support, especially since they rely so heavily on agents for work.”
The 31-year-old was scouted by one of London’s top model agencies at the age of 15 and was appointed Design Champion by the V&A Museum in Dundee last year.
She said: “They can be susceptible to unkindness and exploitation because you can be so easily replaced, unlike normal jobs. Even if you’re extremely successful, you need advice and after care on things like pensions.”
The book also includes advice on aspects of the industry such as finding an agent, identifying a personal look, building a portfolio, social media, healthy eating and dealing with rejection.
Ude Joe-Adigwe, regional organiser for the union GMB Scotland, said: “The very fact someone of her calibre finds it necessary to speak out makes you wonder how many people are being exploited.
“But most models have a short working life and those who are entering are likely to be very young and won’t have any experience of the workplace, so can easily be exploited by unscrupulous people.”
Caroline Knox, director of the festival, said Olumide’s session would be an inspiration for young people.