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Backstage at Colombia Fashion Week: An Inside Look at Models' Wages, Hours and Working Conditions

Covering Colombiamoda, we knew that as at any fashion week, most of the action would be going on backstage. We had lots of questions: who were the to

Covering Colombiamoda, we knew that as at any fashion week, most of the action would be going on backstage. We had lots of questions: who were the top models? What was the work like? And what was everyone getting paid? In a year when organizations like the CFDA and the Model Alliance have attempted to improve backstage conditions, including by pushing for designers in New York to only hire models over the age of 16 for runway work, to provide healthful foods, and to bar backstage photography in areas where models change clothes, we were keen to take a look backstage for ourselves.

Most of the models at Colombiamoda were locals -- the only foreigner we could find was Holland's Next Top Model alum-slash-lingerie model Sylvia Geersen. But several Colombian models who work internationally came home for the shows, including the buzzed-about IMG new face (and recent MOTW) Catalina Llanes.

Daniela Quintero, who last year represented Colombia in the international Elite Model Look competition, said her week was going pretty well. "I like to see the new talent, and these very prestigious designers," she added, before she had to head into hair and makeup for another show.

Colombiamoda had just one runway venue and one large, common backstage area. Inside the backstage space, there were separate, curtained-off areas for models hired for various shows to change into and out of the collections. Security guards were pretty careful to protect the models' privacy. Julian Lopez, a new face from Medellín, told us his only issue with Colombiamoda was the low rates: he admitted he was getting only 200,000 Colombian pesos, or around $110, for the one runway show he booked, a student showcase.

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Rates per show for most models ranged, said XY agency co-owner Juan Mendoza, who had 21 charges working the event, from COP 200,000 to 500,000 ($280). XY takes a 25% cut of its models' earnings, and -- like all agencies -- deducts any expenses the model may have incurred from the remainder, meaning the individual model generally nets much less than the stated rate for a job. And some clients, Mendoza said, "take four or five months to pay."

"It's hard because in Colombia it's so difficult for the thin girls," Mendoza explained. "At my agency, all the girls are thin, they are skinny. And in Colombia there is a preference for a more curvy shape."

Because model age has been such a hot-button issue, we asked Mendoza what age he thought it was appropriate to start a girl in the industry. "I think 12 years or 11 years," he replied. "We have many tall girls here."

Backstage was clean and well organized, with even an outdoor patio with a fountain for relaxation, but everyone involved was working long hours and we didn't see any healthy food -- just a couple vending machines. We asked a makeup artist what she was getting paid: COP 350,000, or $195 per day. She'd been working since 8 a.m. and her last show was scheduled to walk at 9 p.m. We asked if that was a good rate, and she just laughed and said, "No. But I'm doing it for the experience."