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When a Modeling Career Starts to Wind Down, What Next?

The Model Alliance held a panel discussion last week to encourage working models to think about the next steps in their professional lives — before the calls and castings stop coming.
A model reading backstage before the Zuhair Murad couture show in Paris. Photo: Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

A model reading backstage before the Zuhair Murad couture show in Paris. Photo: Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

The Model Alliance — a non-profit organization founded by Sara Ziff — has emerged as one of the primary advocates for men and women working as models in the fashion industry when it comes to labor rights and on-the-job conduct. Since its start in 2012, the Alliance has made some major strides, specifically when it comes to the protection of child models and initiatives on health and proper nutrition. But, as anyone in the field will tell you, a career as a model will only last for so long, and if you're not thinking about your next professional steps, panic can set in when the phone stops ringing and the castings become scarce. This transition can be an emotional (and in certain cases, traumatic), and the Model Alliance is stepping in to help ease the blow and provide advice on how to move forward into a new field.

On Thursday evening in New York, the Alliance held a panel discussion inviting men and women who are going through this career transition, led by former models — including Lisa Davies, a former face of Marc Jacobs who now has a career in nursing, and Paula Viola, who modeled through law school on her way to becoming an attorney — alongside other women who have experience in this challenging area. 

Though every individual has a different story and work situation, it's clear that this eventual career transition isn't something that is top of mind for many working models. Also, there's a psychological aspect that some might not consider: When modeling work begins to get slow, there can be sense of mourning or loss — whether it's because you didn't quite get to achieve everything you'd hoped to do in your career, or simply because the phase-out was not by choice. This is just one of the harsh realities that comes with having a job in fashion, but as we sat in on the panel, we picked up a number of tips that are not only relevant to modeling work, but also for anyone looking to make a career change. Read on for the best advice we heard at the panel.

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1. It's imperative that you begin developing something career-wise before you stop something else. If you're still modeling to earn a living, but don't foresee yourself doing it much longer, pursue your other interests — this can include going back to school, starting your own business or volunteering in a field that you think you might enjoy — while you're still booking jobs. Exploring different areas will help to soften the blow (both emotionally and financially) for the eventual career change and make it less of a panic when your time as a model does come to an end. Though it should go without saying, do not wait until your savings run out to start considering other career options. 

2. You’re not alone. Working with different people every day as a model provides you with a wide network of contacts, as well as people to get support and mentorship from. Networking is important throughout your career, and if you have a vision of where you think you'd like to eventually end up, find out if you know anyone who is doing that and reach out to them — don't be shy to ask if they can introduce you to anyone, either. 

3. It's important to remember that the skills that you learned as a model are adaptable and transferrable. That includes teamwork on the job, world travel, interpersonal skills with different cultures — though sometimes the bigger task is to convince others of that. You should not feel that a modeling career is a liability on your resume, because as a model, you're essentially a business person, a brand ambassador and a personal brand. You may have to educate others about your experience, but you're a pro at selling yourself. It’s not something to be ashamed of, but to be empowered by.