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Why celebrity stylists are unionising

For decades, strict labour laws in the US have hindered unionising efforts in creative industries like fashion. Thanks to the knock-on effects of the Hollywood strikes, however, – where workers are standing up against low wages and poor working conditions – the tide appears to be turning.

In July, hundreds of thousands of Hollywood actors swapped the red carpet for the picket lines and went on strike, after negotiations between studio representatives and the AMPTP and  SAG-AFTRA failed to make a breakthrough.

The decision to walk out marked the first time in 63 years that both the SAG-AFTRA and Writers Guild of America unions had taken simultaneous action against movie executives and streaming giants, with the push back against low wages, poor working conditions, and a lack of sector-wide standardisation and transparency ongoing.

Now, celebrity stylists and costume designers are following in the footsteps of the stars they dress for red carpets and unionising over similar concerns, proving that disruption and dissatisfaction in creative industries has reached a tipping point.

‘We’re trying to create more structure, more regulation and make it safer and happier for celebrity stylists to turn up to do their job, because most of us don’t even want to be there anymore. We don’t have the money to foot up all the expenses ourselves,’ says Michael Miller, who founded the new Celebrity Stylist Union (CSU), which seeks to establish a baseline for fair pay and treatment within the sector.

‘We’re asking people to understand what we do, how long it takes, the costs involved and why what we’re given isn’t workable. We’re not trying to be greedy or difficult. We’re asking for our basic needs to be met and treated fairly.’

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The Celebrity Stylist Union has been formed as part of BECTU (the Broadcasting, Entertainment, Communications and Theatre Union) and has seen a number of UK-based celebrity stylists come together in order to better protect their rights.

‘Now is the time to stand up for ourselves,’ continues Miller. ‘Many are suffering in silence and feel powerless to stand up to the film industry and streaming services. It’s corrupt and unfair, and our aim in launching this union is we can start to shift the dial in a positive direction.’

At present, there is no legislation in place to offer protection or advice within this section of the fashion industry.

In fact, according to Miller, it’s rare for any contracts or terms and conditions to ever be exchanged between stylist and client, and many are working below minimum wage, having to front large expense budgets with the promise of being paid in due course.

‘There is simply no regulation and we hope we can begin to change that,’ he says.

Currently, the CSU is operating thanks to the efforts of six people working behind the scenes, but they have rallied the interest of many more stylists and a large scale meeting with publicists, artists, actors, and agents is imminent.

The end goal is to try and unionise fashion freelancers as a whole. Miller hopes that photographers, hair and make-up artists, creative directors, set designers, tailors and assistants will be able to use the CSU as a template to set up their own unions so that professionals everywhere can guarantee they are respected.

‘Time and time again we are not compensated fairly or credited for the work we do,’ says Miller.

‘We are an incredibly important part in forming the public image of our clients, and we also build relationships between our clients and brands.’

‘Not only do we help grow our clients’ star power and public persona through what they wear, but we also increase their visibility to peers, directors, casting directors, producers, labels – and, in doing so, we also help their bank balance, too. Perhaps it’s time they help us.’