For the past several months I have been hearing a lot of speculation. Mostly that of the fashion industries’ health. It has become a tired worn shell of what it once was, according to some critiques, including Li Edelkoort. Pushed by a myriad of factors. Weathered by seasons moving quicker and quicker, stressed by the ever evolving demands of faster fashion, and cheapened at the same time.
Over the years the entire industry has taken a hit. With evolving demands, and heavier competition. Technology has changed and the arts as a whole are reaching a level of layman saturation. A combination of fashion, beauty, media, images, video, and music, exists everywhere. From this saturation, the capacity for artist to make a living is becoming bleak. The term starving artist is once again becoming very relevant, even for many industry greats.
One of the common misnomers young professionals have is that once you get signed on to an agency the problems are over, you will have a steady income and things will get easier. Unfortunately an agency can’t always solve all your problems. This can be seen with one of the industries’ great agencies – Jed Root.
Jed Root’s agency was once one of the most respected and renowned agencies to be a part of (from a Canadian fashion photographers’ point of view). I remember starting my career as a fashion photographer, in college, I along with my classmates would aspire to be signed, it was a signal that you had indeed made it, big time.
Jed Root’s agency has been open and running since 1989. Since then they have been representing some of the greatest creative talent in the industry, including fashion photographers, makeup artists, hair stylists, illustrators, manicurists, stylists, props/set designer & directors, and names like Ruven Afandor, Michael Thompson, Alexei Hay, Serge Normant, Ted Gibson, Joe Zee, & Jessica Diehl. The artist they represented included masterminds involved with some of the most elite, and highest paying campaigns in the world. They represented the gold standard.
A few days ago I came across this article by Alexandra Steigrad on WWD. It wasn’t the only article I found. To be perfectly honest I couldn’t look at a single electronic device without seeing some mention of it for a few days, but this was one of the first I came across. Rumor has it Jed Root is closing its doors in a rather unceremonious fashion. Shafting many of the hundreds who were once represented by them. This comes after being purchased and taken over by RPRT Group several years ago. Right now this is rumour, nothing is confirmed and I personally have not spoken to any representatives of the agency. But this is none the less an ominous sign.
It bothered me to the core reading that those who were represented were simply not being paid for their work. This hit very close to home. Several years back an agency in Toronto did something similar where suddenly an agencies’ doors were closed and those who were owed money were simply never paid. It is always difficult to see something like this happen. It is even more difficult to watch as those you know are caught in the crossfire.
The creative industries are the only in the world where many seem to see not paying for work as totally acceptable and almost a norm. Take a look at this video from Zulu Alpha Kilo who took the same approach of hiring creatives to those who are not
The harsh reality is that if the Jed Root agency incident had happened in any other industry it would have made national or international headlines. Imagine an accounting firm, or automotive production plant not paying their employees for three months of work. Imagine the outrage and sympathy, yet in this instance you can see it is distinctly lacking. With any bankruptcy there are always winners and losers. Often times corporation heads are able to protect themselves, whilst throwing the rest of their business, employees and associates under the bus. It will take time to find out whether this is the case, as much of this has occurred behind closed doors.
This type of incident is no longer a localized anomaly. It is a sign that the industry is changing and morphing, as it always has, but this time into much more uncertain territory. With fast fashion setting the pace and budget, it places a squeeze on creatives. It is no longer create quality on a reasonable timeline, it is a demanding be creative now focus. Take for example ASOS and Boohoo’s new production formula of “four-week design-to-store model”. Our industry is now more economically integrated and tied to markets, and economics. Which poses a new challenge on its own.
As a creative, it is our job to well… be creative. We must evolve to match this demand and find ways to expedite the creative process. Technology has done it for us for the better part of a century, we are no longer shooting with single use flashes, and glass plates. Now it is our turn to develop if we want to stay.