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How Contact is Giving Power Back to Models    

How Contact is Giving Power Back to Models

Photo Courtesy of Contact, Art by FISK

By Jessica Schiffer 

In the last few years, it’s become clearer than ever that the modeling industry is ripe for disruption. Long portrayed in movies, television and magazines as a glamorous world that people should feel nothing but lucky to be a part of, a darker truth has emerged from the stories shared by real models about the industry’s exploitative and abusive practices, as well as its glaring lack of diversity.

That reality has been disastrous for the mental health of models, many of whom start their careers before the age of 16. A study from advocacy group The Model Alliance found that 68 percent of models suffer from anxiety, eating disorders, and/or depression. On top of all this, they’re also historically underpaid (or, in many cases, never paid), an issue that only further erodes their wellbeing.

Reuben Selby saw all of this first-hand in his early days as a model and is now fighting to change the way the industry works with Contact, a model-booking app that puts the power in the hands of talent by allowing them to vet their jobs and get transparent information on rates without any commission being taken from an agency. It also makes it easier for young models to get their foot in the door, no longer having to wait for that once-in-a-lifetime scouting moment or spend years networking with little work to show for it.

“I launched Contact because I found it hard to break into the creative industry, connect with the right people, and get paid for my work,” said Selby, who’s based in London. “Being a creative can often be a lonely and stressful place.”

Now Selby and his team have their sights set on expansion, hoping to broaden their scope to focus on empowering all different types of creatives, beginning with welcoming photographers onto the platform in July. We caught up with Selby and Contact’s product marketing manager, Imi Read, to discuss how brands can better serve the talent they work with, the company’s unique approach to model scouting, and how they’re creating a safe space for models to speak up.

What do you wish that brands who work with creative talent knew or would do better?

RS: I think brands should be more considerate of the mental health of the talent they work with (and don't work with, if they reject them). They should be more sensitive to changes that they can make that have little impact on their business but a significant impact on the individual. I wish brands would give more recognition and monetary reward towards all the hard work that goes into developing a creative skill set that is truly unique, rather than just charging for the time [it takes] to create a piece of artwork or content. 

Why was it so important for you to not take commission from models for their bookings?

IR: It's as much about our company's culture as anything else. We are all creatives in the company and we are building a tool for creatives, so every step of the way, we are thinking, "what would we want from this?" And, of course, we wouldn't want to be charged just to book a job. From our research, it is clear that models are often being charged huge fees just to get work and then don't get a lot for [the project] in the end as a result. It is really just about valuing the creative talent, which is what’s missing from so many areas of the industry, with so many creatives being underpaid, paid late, or not getting paid at all. 

What would you like to see the larger industry do to make things better for models overall? 

IR: The first thing that springs to mind is [putting more of a focus on] mental health. When we put out content around mental health, models respond really well to it and it’s almost like a relief for them to see these stories being told. One recent story from a model explored how rejection is totally normal and doesn’t have to be a bad thing, you can focus instead on the fact that you're being seen by casting directors which is actually a really positive thing for your career. It's the same thing when we have conversations around appearance. Five to ten years ago, if you were a kid growing up with acne and wanted to be a model, there weren’t many examples out there for you, so we’re working to change that. It’s about having these larger conversations and opening up the discussion around mental health and beauty standards in the industry. 

We also want models and creatives to feel okay being vocal when something is wrong. If you feel you have been mistreated, or if you’ve heard that a friend has, it’s so important to speak up, but in order to do that you need to be in an environment where you feel safe and where you know if you speak up, people won't laugh or think you're lying or hold it against you and not work with you. We as a company create a space where anyone who feels like something wrong has happened to them can feel safe to vocalize. I think it's also building that kind of community on a larger scale, if we multiply what we’re doing by 10, that's when we create a movement. 

What do you look for in the models you work with and how do you scout them?

IR: We have an application process where models can apply directly but our operations team does a lot of scouting themselves, whether that is through Instagram or just when they are out and about. Diversity is a massive part of the brand, so we try to make it clear that anyone with a really diverse look can come to us. We’ll give them a shot, whereas a traditional agency might not, whether it is because of their height, size, etc. We even speak a lot about breaking down beauty standards such as acne and how having something like acne shouldn’t mean they can't be a model. 

Contact recently launched its own blog, called Backstage, that shares behind-the-scenes tips and industry stories. What is your ultimate goal with the content you’re putting out?

Backstage is not a platform for us but really one that our talent can use, so we’re always asking them if they have an article they want to write or if they have a creative project that we can feature. The purpose is really to shine a light on areas of the industry that you usually don't get to see, like the behind-the-scenes of a designer’s process or an interview with a casting director that we really admire. It’s about sharing creative stories, which we’re also doing with the new podcast we launched called Creative Paths, which is all about digging into different creative's journeys and how they got to where they are today.

What’s up next for Contact?

RS: The first type of talent on the platform was models because I had many friends in the industry with awful experiences. I wanted to change that for them, [but] our plan was always to figure out how we could offer the same service to all creatives. The biggest thing that has changed is the "how" of our mission. Our mission is to empower creatives and get them paid for their talent, and we've realised that this can be achieved in so many exciting formats outside of a "physical" booking. We're exploring how we can provide creatives with tools to have more leverage in monetising their work.

IR: The mission for the next few years is to take what we’ve built and make it useful for all creatives. We are going to start with the fashion industry, bringing on photographers, stylists, makeup artists, and videographers and then move into DJs, actors, designers, and artists. The idea of who is a creative has completely exploded with platforms like TikTok, and they’re now trying to give their creators more control, but we don't need another social network, we need an empowering tool that creatives can use to make their career and life a better one, whether it’s by helping them get paid on time or helping them deal with the administrative stuff more easily. It is about carving through the noise and providing something that is actually really useful to people.

Keep the conversation going by commenting on this story below. You can also connect with us about whatever’s on your mind by texting The Local Optimist Hotline at 310.299.9414.