Sèven things you should know about the Celebrity Stylist Union
Welcome back to the SèveN! This week we asked founding member of the Celebrity Stylist Union, Michael Miller, to explain how unionizing can help creatives improve their working conditions.
In August, WWD exclusively reported that for the first time celebrity stylists in the UK were unionizing under BECTU, the Broadcasting, Entertainment, Communications and Theatre Union. A group of U.K. based stylists have come together to form the union's committee and are carrying the powerful message that “by coming together, we can raise the standards for ourselves.”
This ambitious agenda sounds great, but what does it actually mean to unionize? How does one join a union? And how can it help celebrity stylists and other creatives?
We sat down with a founding member of the union, Michael Miller, and asked him 7 questions to help us all better understand their hefty undertaking and the bright future they see ahead.
What is the Celebrity Stylist Union?
Michael Miller: We are a group of celebrity stylists in the UK who, under the help of an organisation called BECTU, have come together to try and improve our working conditions and our rates. We also aim to build safe communities to talk about, and find solutions to the issues we face at work.
A union can be exactly what you want it and need it to be: you as a group form it, and you as a group decide what issues you need to deal with in your specific sector. Ours is very much about pay, whether low or late payments, and working conditions.
What has the union worked on so far?
MM: We've been active for well over a year, but it's only over the last 4 to 5 months that we've been more vocal and visible. We started by having open and honest conversations with celebrity stylists. Based on these conversations, our committee is working on actionable ways we can help. For example, we are working on template contractual documents to delineate and protect our rights when taking on a new job.
How does unionizing help creatives?
MM: It's very simple, it's strength in numbers. If there is an understanding that everyone says no to be treated or paid in a certain way, then slowly that starts to change an industry. If one person says it, that's great, but if a hundred or a thousand people are saying it, it truly resonates. It's about coming together, so that together we can raise the standards for ourselves.
If there is an understanding that everyone says no to be treated or paid in a certain way, then slowly that starts to change an industry.
How can our readers and users get involved?
MM: Sign up to our newsletter to stay up to date with what the union is working on, and most importantly reach out to us via our email: email@example.com
Even if you are not a celebrity stylist, we will help connect you to other stylists! It's about talking, about open communication and finding your people. Don't be afraid to write to us and just say “Hi, I'm struggling with something, can we talk about it?” From there we can help creatives connect, and maybe even help them to form their own unions if they aren't celebrity stylists.
What are you trying to achieve in the long run?
MM: Our union, the Celebrity Stylist Union, is specifically addressing the issues faced by celebrity stylists in the UK. We are part of a larger branch called “Fashion UK” within BECTU, and we did that specifically so that other stylists and fashion creatives can form their own unions underneath that banner.
When we think about a wider union for the industry there are so many issues to tackle for different creative classes whether that be editorial stylists, commercial stylists, style assistants, photographers, art directors, hair, make-up, magazine workers, tailors, designers…
The point of having specific unions is that you can form a little family with your peers and tackle issues specific to you. It could be working hours, wages, working conditions… or anything else with which that group of creatives struggles.
We hope that with our Celebrity Stylist Union we will solve issues for celebrity stylists, but also inspire others to stand up and say: “Actually this is not acceptable”.
If someone were to try to create another union within the umbrella of Fashion UK, would you be willing to guide them?
MM: Of course - we would want to be a part of that! Underneath the umbrella of Fashion UK there could be 20 unions. If we, as an industry in the UK, can pull it off, it could become a very bespoke way of working, where each creative could join the unions that best serve their interests and the specific job that they are doing. If someone is willing to stand up and say no, then we'd encourage them to start your own union, in the UK at least - we've been through it and are here to help!
In building Sève, we've spoken to hundreds of stylists who have noted that there doesn't seem to be a community where they can come together. Is the Union aiming to provide them with that safe space?
MM: Yes! It's not just about protecting our rights, it's also about having conversations with other creatives who are in the same boat. We have a WhatsApp group where we will ask questions like “Do you know the PR for this brand?” and “What would you do in this situation?”. It's been wonderful to feel like you can use like-minded people as a sounding board. Really, it's starting to feel like a little family.
I want to add that we have also been talking to non-union members, and that's great too! We are starting lots of conversations and connecting people. This London Fashion Week, for the first time, I went up to other stylists, hugged them, and asked “How are you?” I had never had that before, and it's all because we've opened a dialogue.
What the union means in terms of community is a deeper connection and understanding among creatives.
(BONUS): To date, styling has largely been a “behind the curtain” profession. What more can be done to give credit where credit is due?
MM: I think literally crediting the creatives on any project is a crucial part of this. When we watch a movie it's normal to everyone to see credits rolling for 10 minutes, with names down to the last assistant. I think the same logic should be applied to us. Tagging on social media, crediting in any outlet, makes a huge difference. I think stylists shouldn't be afraid to remind their talent of this.
We should also lift the veil on the realities of the profession, try to educate people to understand the job we do and take it seriously, so we can be paid more fairly for it. Ultimately the aim is to make styling a much more viable job that doesn't exclude those who can't afford to be underpaid for their work.
We hope this helps you better understand the work the Celebrity Stylist Union in the U.K. has been doing to improve working conditions and wages. For more resources check their website, and instagram page. To sign up to their newsletter: fill out this form.
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