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Coco Rocha Doles Out Valuable Lessons to Young Models

In her own words, Coco Rocha tells us about her personal struggles working as a model and the lessons she's learned in her lengthy career. We've also got an exclusive video of Rocha at a recent Model Alliance event giving young models advice on everything from finding the right agent to avoiding sketchy photogs.
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We here at Fashionista are continually impressed by the efforts the Model Alliance is making to improve working conditions within the industry, so we’re teaming up with them to bring you the latest from their movement. We’ll be hearing from them about everything from broadening child labor laws to changing the sample size. Today, Coco Rocha tells us about her personal struggles in the industry and what makes a good model. Plus, we have an exclusive video of Rocha at a recent Model Alliance event giving young models advice on the importance of having the right agent and avoiding creepy photogs.

I came into this business knowing nothing about fashion. I was a young girl from Vancouver, Canada who wore boot cut jeans and an oversized sweatshirt every day to school. Becoming a model was never an aspiration of mine, but at 14 I was scouted at an Irish dance competition and after some initial resistance found myself modeling in Asia and working on my portfolio.

After that I moved to New York where I found the agents I still work with to this day and started down a path that would lead to working with some of the world’s greatest photographers and designers. I was pulled from relative obscurity and given an amazing international life, but it was not without its ups and downs.

There were times when I was very lonely and felt an enormous pressure from adults around me to give up values and beliefs I held dear. Through trial and error I learned my rights and I learned to stand up for myself. I realized the benefit of an ironclad contract. In my contract today I state that due to my religious beliefs I won't shoot nude or sheer clothing, or with cigarettes, weapons or religious icons. Even after nearly 10 years I still I find occasions when clients will push the issue, making it uncomfortable for everyone. It gets better though.

As I've moved from being a girl to a woman, and now a married woman, I feel more and more confident in my own skin every day. It’s something that comes with age and experience, which is why I wish most models would start a little later than the usual 14 or 15-years-old when they are so vulnerable and easily influenced. 

The reality is, whether I like it or not, most of the modeling work force today is underage, and that's one reason why I volunteered to join Sara Ziff on the advisory board of the Model Alliance. We believe that models deserve fair treatment in their workplace like any other group of workers. Not only do we aim to establish ethical standards, we also support the enforcement of existing child labor and contract laws, promote financial transparency and redress for issues of sexual harassment.

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Recently we launched a petition that child models should be afforded the same legal protections as all other child performers because we believe that models have the right to complete their compulsory schooling, and we want to encourage a safe and healthy work environment that protects models’ mental and physical well-being. We hope to set in place concrete rules of conduct and fair working conditions for the modeling industry and we will continue to seek to improve the industry by empowering the models themselves.

I think one of the common misconceptions about models is that we are catty and in competition with each other. In general I’ve found models more of a sisterhood than anything. I started modeling at 15 so I feel like I went through fashion High School with girls like Behati Prinsloo, Doutzen Kroes, Caroline Trentini and Hilary Rhoda who I still consider my dear friends nearly 10 years later. The girls who last in this industry, the Behati's, Doutzen's and Hilary’s, recognize that modeling is a profession, not a lifestyle. They show up on time, work hard, are respectful to everyone they work with and demand the same respect in return. We tell this to the models who are members of the Model Alliance and we hope to become the big brothers and sisters young models need--not only to discuss common issues and concerns, but to work together to champion a better way.

Coco Rocha is a model on the advisory board of the Model Alliance who has appeared in the pages of international editions of Vogue as well as recently mentoring on Oxygen's reality show The Face.

The Business of Modeling from The Model Alliance on Vimeo.