The Truth Behind K-Pop Stylists, And Their Harsh Working Conditions

A recent study conducted by the Seoul branch of the Korean Women Workers’ Association regarding the working conditions of assistant stylists revealed harsh truths about the industry.

More than 80% of 203 surveyed reported that they are paid less than $1,000 USD a month; 93.1% worked more than 8 hours a day, and 40.7% worked more than 12; 93.6% of the surveyed were women; 78.3% were between the ages of 20 and 25.

The summary: some women in their early 20’s are working more than 8 hours a day, sometimes 7 days a week, and not making $1000 USD a month

The assistant stylist’s job is made difficult by the physical demands of the job. An assistant stylist must pick up pieces from brands/sponsors or fashion houses and also return them on a daily basis.

Considering how a single actor or an idol may require 5~6 pieces per scene/event on a daily basis, that’s many pounds of clothes.

On top of the physical labor, more hurdles await. She has to consider what the particular actor/idol might like, dislike, and what the brand/sponsor might want her to pick up.

To make things worse, unless you are the assistant stylist to a stylist in charge of an A listed actor or singer, chances are that you are nothing more than a second thought to many a fashion houses and brands. An assistant stylist spoke of a time when she knew that it’s unlikely that she will get fair treatment.

“On the day of pick up, out of nowhere the brand stated that they don’t lend to an entertainer with an announcer background.

It’s not like I can start arguing with them then and there. If you are in their bad books, they might cancel sponsorships in the future.

Once, it was decided that I’d take a particular piece from this particular fashion house. But later that same day, they let me know that a A list actor decided to take it.”

— Anonymous Assistant Stylist

Situations can be even more dire for an assistant stylist working with corporate level labels, dealing with idols.

“‘Passion pay’ situations, where they don’t actually pay you, worse when you are working in the music industry, especially with idols. Some just don’t pay for a few months. They say that this is their way of making sure you are not there to just gawk at idols.”

— Anonymous Assistant Stylist

Some who work with idols are paid $300 to $500 a month and are on a non-official 24/7 call, having to pick up clothes for not just official events but also for the idols’ personal outings, etc.

The current working conditions are maintained by an two factors; A) the influx of aspiring stylists who hope one day to become full time stylists and heads of fashion brands; and B) the non-contractual, person-to-person relationships that often get these aspiring stylists to land a job in the first place.

Behind the glitter and the fanfare, and the in the shadows of the limelight are many such women who toil by day and night, underpaid, overworked, and under-appreciated.

Steps surely need to be taken to secure them a safer and a just working conditions.

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