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Exploitation in the modelling industry: The dirty secrets behind all the glitz and glamour

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Modelling coach Kgomotso Seboko sheds light on the unspoken exploitation in the fashion industry.

Naomi campbell was accused of allegedly turning Elsa Majimbo into an alcoholic. REUTERS/Piroschka Van De Wouw.

Model coach Kgomotso Seboko shares insight on some of the unspoken exploitation that happens in the fashion and modelling industry

IN 2020, Elsa Majimbo rose to fame as a comedian and quickly became a sought-after personality. Supermodel Naomi Campbell took her under her wing and helped her establish herself in the entertainment industry, even sharing her skincare routine with her.

As a result, Majimbo started to rub shoulders with Hollywood stars, landed modelling jobs, appeared on magazine covers and began living the high life.

Fast forward to 2024, the Kenyan comedian opens up about being mistreated by Campbell and turning into an alcoholic.

“She made me an alcoholic and full-blown depressed. It’s now time to heal and be happy,” wrote the comedian/model.

Although Majimbo quickly deleted her posts, she said she stands for everything she said.

“I stand by my words. Content in my decision. The tweets are deleted due to seeking peace, not fear. Yall (you all) need to understand this is something that has happened since I was 19. My goal now is happiness,” she wrote.

And when her followers asked if Campbell harassed her into deleting the posts, she said she threatened to sue her instead.

“She threatened to sue and post screenshots of a time I asked for her to help me with some older white executives who were trying to sleep with me. I’m now moving on and leaving it in the past,” Majimbo responded.

The whole saga sparked a debate on social media, with many people supporting Majimbo since she was only 19 when the incident happened, while Campbell was 51.

Elsa Majimbo. Picture: Instagram.

“I’m so proud of Elsa Majimbo. Standing up to a powerful bully is not easy, the girl was shaking, but she did it anyway. It follows then that I’ll always be on her side. A 22-year-old who dared to take on a very powerful mean girl is to be protected at all costs,” said @marthamwatha.

What’s triggering about the situation is that exploitation is common in the fashion and modelling industry, where people want to be credited for others’ hard work, don’t want to pay creatives their rates or abuse them sexually.

In 2021, several former models spoke against French former model boss Gérald Marie.

Marie was accused of allegedly sexually assaulting 15 women in the 1980s and 1990s. Although those women were brave enough to speak against one of the most powerful individuals in entertainment at the time, most victims were scared to speak up for fear of being shunned, which could result in losing gigs.

Kgomotso Seboko, founder of KS Modeling Academy, shares insight into the shenanigans happening in the modelling industry.

Seboko has been a modelling coach for 19 years, helping launch the careers of black models in townships, rural areas, and neighbouring countries including Zimbabwe and Congo.

He says most of the exploitation that happens in the industry and swept under the rug is about is racial inequality, and he has also been a victim of that.

“Racial inequality is still a major issue in this industry. In 2015, I was forced to turn my modelling agency into a coaching academy because the modelling industry is white-owned, and they refuse to give bigger jobs/contracts to black-owned agencies.

“To this day, the top white-owned agencies keep poaching my trained models and refuse to pay me a scouting commission.

“Models get exploited financially by independent brands(fashion designers and fashion week events) and social media modelling.

“Top Modelling agencies also take a higher commission (35 to 40%) from the jobs models book, Z cards(portfolio photoshoots) are also pricey for most of these amateur models from disadvantaged backgrounds,” says Seboko.

Also, the exploitation doesn’t only happen in white-owned fashion enterprises but black-owned as well.

For example, I was shocked to learn that Soweto Fashion Week doesn’t pay their models, which is unfair because it’s 2024, and people don’t eat “exposure” and shouldn’t work for free. They should be compensated for the work they do.

That also proves that the industry is not prepared to protect young models because while fashion enterprises benefit from the models’ talent, they (the models) get nothing in return.

“The problem is at the top, the people in charge and controlling the operations of the modelling industry. If these people care about the growth and sustainability of the emerging young talent, then we would not have exploitation issues,” says Seboko.

”Young talent also needs to protect themselves by doing thorough research about how the industry works, they need to create a support system of experts who will be able to guide them, read through the contracts, and negotiate deals for them. Choosing the right and reputable agency is very important.”

Emerging models can learn a thing or two from the likes of Milla Jovovich, Karen Elson, Carla Bruni and Paulina Porizkova, who publicly supported the former models who spoke against Marie.

“Enough is enough — I stand with Carré and the other survivors of Gérald Marie as they come to Paris to testify against their abuser,” Bruni told the New York Times at the time of the trial.

Although investigations in the Marie trial were closed due to the statute of limitations, the alleged victims still had their voices heard, that is why Seboko supports young models speaking up against veterans who exploit them although they stand a chance of losing on lucrative contracts because the industry is governed by powerful people.

And such doesn’t just happen in the modelling industry but the entertainment industry as well.

We’ve seen it happen to Vantiswa Ndara, who spoke against the Fergursons and now is nowhere to be seen on the TV screens.

“I am in full support of young talent speaking up against the veterans because if they don’t speak out, the circle of abuse and oppression continues, which kills the industry growth, and also puts the next generation in far more danger.

“The veterans need to heal from the abuse and the oppression they experienced because projecting it onto the innocent emerging young talent is detrimental,” Seboko adds.

Majimbo has since moved on from the Campbell saga and is now focusing on healing. She recently attended Beyoncé’s hair launch party in LA and slaying in her own right. She also thanked South Africans for supporting her when her throughout her journey.

“Damn, I love South Africa. Like ride-or-die kind of love. South Africans have shown up for me in ways I have no words to describe. Just here to acknowledge and be grateful,” she said.

Campbell has not said anything about the allegations levelled against her.

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