Booking Unpaid Shows

When you’re on the come up, it’s only natural to be eager in wanting to build your name and legacy.

Stardom doesn’t happen overnight and it takes time to establish yourself. As an aspiring model within the fashion industry, there will plenty of chances for you to learn the ropes of the business by participating in countless unpaid shows or events. While being able to earn a decent wage is certainly one of the best benefits to any job, it certainly isn’t the only factor that should be taken into consideration for a potential model booking. However, you do have to be both wise and selective when choosing to commit for a job because you’re trying to gain exposure and build your brand as a professional model all at the same time.

©All rights reserved by Joseph Chil Lin for TIME
©All rights reserved by Joseph Chil Lin for TIME

I’ve noticed that it tends to be common practice within the novice circuit of event production for models to not be financially compensated in exchange for work. Having an unpaid booking means that you’re making a personal investment in yourself. This also means that you have to decide if your personal costs in association with the participation of a potential job are worth it. Each time that you agree to work in an unpaid show you’re still spending money without making money. Most models are expected to appear for Call Time freshly groomed with a basic manicure and/or pedicure, eyebrows waxed, hair washed or prepped at the salon depending on your current style maintenance, and possibly purchase additional items that you may be required to bring with you. Unforeseen costs may also include lodging and transportation not only for the show itself, but sometimes for fittings and rehearsals.

If you’re a model who’s trying to learn and get your foot in the door… then an unpaid booking may be advantageous to you. Everyone has a reason for wanting to volunteer their time and services for a show or event. For designers it’s to build their brand and gain sales; for the hair and make-up artist it’s to showcase their skills in perfect tandem with a designers vision for the model who’s wearing their garment; for the stylist it’s to utilize their fashionable eye and ability to work with designers/clients; for a photographer it’s to build a portfolio and sell/publish their work; for journalists/bloggers it’s in providing content to various media outlets; for the event planner it’s to build clientele and a reputation; and for the model it’s to build your portfolio and secure future bookings.


At some point in your career you will also have to learn that you’ve earned the right to be selective about the unpaid bookings that you commit to. When you begin to reach this plateau in your career it may be time for you to seek out an agency to help manage your calendar and secure future jobs. Some event producers may be disappointed that they will no longer be able to work with you at no cost, however what you have to remember is that this is work and not a hobby. You always have a choice and it’s OK to say NO. If you’re being asked to participate in a production that is not in alignment with your personal vision or conflicts with your ethical standards, then it’s OK to pass on a job. Just make sure that you do it in a professional manner so that is does not damage your name, brand, or career. Third Culture Kids have learned the art of being very forthcoming with the way they speak to people. However, sometimes you have to watch the tone of your words so that they do not come off overly abrasive. While you may not see it as such, many people are not accustomed to direct answers, raised voices, and aggressive body language which can make your very simple NO appear as rude and offensive.

Most times event organizers don’t have a budget to pay models, and you’re lucky if you get fed with a light snack while backstage. Understanding that production costs may be high and that you may not get paid, be prepared to make the most of this opportunity so that it benefits you. Whether that translates into gaining experience, exposure, tear sheets for your portfolio, networking, or free product. Either way, no matter what the reason, just make sure that there is some sort of personal benefit in it for you. Don’t be afraid to work the room by actually speaking with people and distributing your business cards. You never know who you will have the opportunity to met, so be sure to collect the business cards of key attendees, media, and photographers’ in order to build on the relationship that you helped to establish.

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1 comment

  1. Thanks for the advise!! Very helpful for me as an up and coming; to a runway near you,  jewelry designer!  Learning to say No with grace and dignity is a practice worth learning!!!!

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