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Why UK fashion stylists have formed a union
08 August 2023

A group of stylists in the UK has formed a union with the aim of improving pay and working conditions in the industry.

Fashion stylist Michael Miller founded the Celebrity Stylist Union, a branch of Bectu, the Broadcasting, Entertainment, Communications and Theatre Union.

Stylists dressing actors for premieres, award shows and other promotional activities are paid on average $500 (£394) per look, from which they’re expected to cover costs such a travel, shipping and tailoring of garments.

“Our rates are an all-inclusive rate, our expenses do not get paid, so it all has to come out of our fees,” said Miller.

When calculating an hourly rate, he added: “More often than not, we’re either below minimum wage, or we’re left with nothing.”

The union wants clients (primarily film and TV studios and streaming services) to understand the preparation time that goes into each job, and the value stylists bring in terms of marketing, and to pay them accordingly.

“Even if the rate was doubled to $1,000 or tripled to $1,500, the rate simply is not enough for a highly skilled professional with many years of experience, living in one of the world’s most expensive cities,” the union claims.

It also wants higher rates for out-of-hours or weekend work, and for clients to pay stylists on time.

“A lot of times the payment terms are 30 days, some are 90 days, some I’ve had pay six months later,” Miller said. “People are meant to pay you within 30 days – rarely does that happen.”

He said the Barbie movie – which has taken over $1bn at the box office – is a perfect example of how valuable fashion styling is for studios.

“If it wasn’t all pink and everyone’s strutting around in perfect Barbie costumes, it would have been nowhere near as successful. The amount of free press and marketing they get even just from fashion publications is ginormous,” Miller added.

So far, 35 members have signed up to the union, representing around a third of UK celebrity stylists.

“There’s probably maximum 100 celebrity stylists who do this full time [and] actually make a living from it, where it’s not just a side hustle,” Miller noted.

The union wants to follow a similar format to the BFMAA (British Fashion Model Agents Association).

“The major British fashion models agent all have an association where they have standardised terms and conditions, they have standardised contracts, they talk to each other,” Miller continued – and he hopes workers in other creative industries will follow suit.

“The end goal, of course, is to be able to have a union for other types of stylists, for photographers, for hair, for make-up, for art directors – any number of creatives, to be able to show them that you can form a union.”

Since the announcement, Miller has been in contact with high-profile New York-based stylist Micaela Erlanger, who has dressed A-listers including Amal Clooney, Blake Lively and Ana De Armas.

“We put her in touch with IATSE, which is the US equivalent of Bectu. She is talking to them, figuring out whether they can launch a union for celebrity stylists there,” Miller explained.

The hope is that there will be unions “on both sides of the pond, where the majority of the work is, so that the studios and streamers don’t have a leg to stand on when it comes to trying to negotiate with us.”

Main image: Barbie stars Ryan Gosling and Margot Robbie (Ian West/PA)

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