What to Look for in your Modelling Contract

Before you sign away your life, our resident writer and #fashionlaw guru Hemma Vara has some thoughts to share. Contracts are exciting but frightening when your agency has the upper hand. Hemma will outline some important terms included in standard model contracts, and provide tips on negotiating so that you have #noregrets.

The Catch-22

New and inexperienced models want work, but agents know they have the upper hand. These models don’t want to miss the opportunity of being signed, so they often sign less than favorable contracts without being informed of the consequences first. This leaves them with false hope, stuck with an agent who doesn’t have their back.

In other cases, models with potential sign with agents who don’t deliver, or don’t have great connections. The models are stuck with regular $150 jobs and aren’t being pushed by their agent to work with higher-end fashion brands.

These scenarios are probably making you shudder. So how do we avoid getting ourselves into these situations? Here are some important issues to consider when reviewing an agency contract:

1. Paying to join an Agency + Upfront costs

Should you pay to join an agency? When you think about it, you’ll be making the agency money if they truly believe in you. If an agent is making money of multiple aspiring models joining their books, rather than the other way around, you should probably run.

What about upfront costs? If an agent requires you to pay for expenses such as ‘website costs’, ask if this can be taken off your first paycheck. If they say no, then are they really doing their best to secure you your first job?

When it comes to test-shoots and headshots, we know how important it is to use a professional photographer who can produce quality digitals. The going rate for this is around $150 - $200 USD. So be careful, and question the cost if an agent wants you to pay an amount such as $1500. This is completely unethical as you’re being taken advantage of. Again, run!

We know it can be daunting to question expenses, without sounding broke AF. Hold your head high and stand your ground. Ask around, and join supportive online communities such as the model basics. Facebook Group to connect with like-minded models who have got your back.

Model Photoshoot

2. Exclusivity

Do you ever get the feeling that your agency owns you? Well, they may do.

Some agencies take a commission (say, 15%) of all work you do, and not just the work they bring in for you. So if a friend photographs you for their new clothing line in return for $500, or you put on an event publicising yourself and charge for tickets, you’ll have to pay 15% commission of the profits to your agency. And within 5-10 working days. Cue screaming.

Note that working on an exclusive basis for an agency could be worldwide, or restricted to a particular geographical location, such as a city or state.

However, It may be acceptable to work exclusively for an agency if the agency is advancing your career and getting you to where you want to go. It’s a two-way thing, ya know.

Turning to a second scenario, you could work with an agency on a non-exclusive basis, where commission is only changed on the jobs they bring you. This allows you to sign to other non-exclusive agencies and take on other freelance jobs. However, are these agencies investing in you and furthering your career? Or are you just another pretty face on their Instagram?

The grass is not necessarily greener on the other side. Do some research, and think about what suits you and where you want your career to progress. Don’t be afraid to switch it up if things aren’t working - just watch out for those cancellation fees.

3. Service Charges

So you know how we were talking about a hypothetical 15% commission above? Well, sometimes agents take way more than this. How? Service charges.

What this means, is that an agency will take more than 15% commission of the total cost of the job under the guise of a service charge (which could be around 18%). So this means that the agency is taking 33% of your agreed fee. And this is problematic when you’re working with an agency on an exclusive basis, and you find jobs on your own. It doesn’t seem fair for the agency to reward themselves with a ‘service fee’ when you’ve found yourself the job.

4. Length of a Contract

Before you sign anything, it’s important to have a look at how long the contract is binding for, and the consequences of canceling (i.e. cancellation fees or penalties). Also, will the contract be automatically reviewed, or do you have to revisit re-signing after a certain period of time?

Younger models may want to test the waters by trying a few agencies in their formative years, seeing who works for them, and then opting to take a long-term contract with their chosen agency thereafter.

Also note that if you want to end a contract with an agency, and you leave with a debt (for example flights and accommodation for test shoots), your negative account may be transferred to your next agency by the former. Agencies are cautious to take on new models with existing debts, so make sure everything is in order before you take the leap. Or avoid being in debt altogether by seeking out the right agencies (we know, it’s hard).

5. Breaching Contractual Terms

Check the contract to see what constitutes a breach. For example, certain actions or behavior on your part? And are you comfortable with these terms being in place? As breaching a contract may financially penalize you or end your contract altogether.

For example, if the agency contract states you must not take any payment upfront from the client and you do because you didn’t know, this can have serious consequences down the line. Most agents aren’t as forgiving as you’d think!

Also, check if you’re protected if the agency has obligations to you in the contract but they fail to deliver. The company may not be in breach of the contract, although they’re supposed to assist and protect you.


Ask if you’re unsure about anything, and take some time to read the contract. Don’t sign it there and then once you’re given it. If there is anything that rings alarm bells or doesn’t quite look right, send the agency an email for clarification. It’s important to receive clarification in writing!

Remember, you’re not just a pretty face, you’ve got brains and you’re willing to stand up for yourself. You may be pleasantly surprised at what the answer will be if you push for more favorable conditions.

You may even opt to use a lawyer or a manager if your budget allows, especially if what you’re entering into could be a make or break deal. If you’re worried about meeting with an agency rep, bring in a trusted friend, mentor or parent. Someone who can ensure that you stand your ground, ask the hard questions, and make sure you aren’t pressured into saying yes.

Please don’t feel daunted by the above. Remember to be brave. You’re an asset to an agency, and you’re there to make them money! A bad contract or agency can put you in a worse situation than waiting or working towards finding an agent who is the right fit for you and who offers a fair contract. I understand there are emotions involved, and you don’t want to miss out on a job. However, missing out on the wrong job means that you have time to find the right job. You’re worth it!

If you have any model contract stories, the good, the bad, the beautiful, please feel free to share in the comments below! Or submit via our contact form and we'll anonymously share them for you. We love hearing from you! 

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