Rachel Noe, a model based in Seattle, and representatives from two local agencies talk about getting work in the industry.

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Although she’s only 25, Rachel Noe has already been a professional model for 11 years. She makes a full-time living from it, when she’s not tending to her Instagram account that has more than 50,000 followers.

Talking about her work via the phone while en route to the airport after a photo shoot in Los Angeles, Noe’s on her way home, but her destination isn’t New York — it’s Seattle.

While modeling is a part-time job for some in Seattle, it’s possible to make good money while traveling the world, as long as your schedule permits the lifestyle, says Nancy Peppler, of Seattle-based Heffner Management, which represents Noe and more than 1,400 models from ages 12 and up.

About 300 on Heffner Management’s roster are based in the Seattle area, while others live in New York, Los Angeles, Paris and London.

“The biggest misconception people have is that they don’t think you can do this for a living,” Peppler says.

Noe loves her job — and her home base.

“Seattle has been great, and the best market for me,” she says, mentioning the clients she’s worked with: Nordstrom, Ben Bridge, Tommy Bahama and Columbia Sportswear, among others.

So, what does it take to get modeling work in Seattle?

To work a top-end designer show, it’s not enough to look beautiful anymore, Peppler says. “Casting directors want a new face, somebody who hasn’t been seen yet,” she says, to garner credit for being the first to show off unique and interesting models.

And with Korea’s Hyun Ji Shin making a splash on the runways, alongside Colombia’s Natalia Montero, South Sudan’s Adut Akech and Nora Attal, a Moroccan-Brit, diversity is important for all types of clients.

At Heffner Management, the model pool includes Classic (mature women), Athletic and even Maternity categories, along with an emphasis on ethnic diversity and size inclusivity.

Each client has its own set of criteria, says Terri Morgan of Seattle-based TCM Models and Talent, which represents models from infants through seniors, locally and internationally. Clients seeking commercial and catalog models look for a “nice-looking, average, happy person,” with roughly proportional body parts and few tattoos (because the focus should be on the product, not the person).

However, height still helps. Most female fashion models range between 5 feet, 8 inches and 6 feet tall, and men between 5 feet, 11 inches and 6 feet, 3 inches. Models often get the most work between the ages of 18 and 35, Morgan says.

Most important: Models with a good attitude get repeat bookings. “We can get you in the door, but your personality and professionalism keep you in good standing with a client,” Peppler says.

Aspiring models should be able to hear criticism as constructive advice, Noe says, and be able to withstand rejection. “You get, maybe, one out of every 20 jobs,” she says.

“People ask me if you need to take classes, and I tell them no,” she says. “Just jump into it, and you’ll get better as you go, as with any art form.”

Types of gigs in Seattle

Along with high-fashion modeling on runways and in magazines, there’s also local commercial and catalog modeling. Pendleton seeks more mature models, while REI, Eddie Bauer, Columbia and Nike want outdoorsy people who know how those skis work, but still have a “street-style edge,” Peppler says.

E-commerce clients shoot models in apparel, but no faces are shown. It’s all about the flexibility necessary for fast fashion’s turnaround, Peppler says: “The minute clothes come into a warehouse, they’re put on a body and put online.”

Local manufacturers (including Filson, Tommy Bahama and REI) hire fit models to help their designers see how clothing looks and wears, such as whether the arms fit too tight or just right, whether to boost button size or shrink the pockets, Morgan says. 

“Not everybody can work across the board,” in fashion, commercial and fit modeling, Morgan says.

How much it pays

As with acting or music careers, modeling income varies widely. The median hourly wage is $11.01, but that can range from less than $8.17 an hour to more than $23.78 an hour, according to the most recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics career description for models.

Top models earn millions per year, according to Forbes magazine, between modeling gigs, contracts with consumer product companies and other promotional work.

But models are independent contractors, and are responsible for their own taxes and insurance, and there’s no guarantee of work, Morgan cautions. 

Breaking in

Yes, you really can get discovered. Morgan has scouted for models in local malls, and also hosts weekly walk-ins for an assessment; aspiring models only need to bring a snapshot and smile. Professional classes and photos aren’t necessary in advance, and an agency shouldn’t ask for money, either.

“If you’re asked to pay a lot of money up front, that’s a red flag,” Morgan says. “Nobody pays us to do a photo shoot or classes. We only make money if the model works, because we work on commission,” which is the industry standard.   

At no cost, agencies invest time in coaching models in necessary skills. “You have to learn how to walk to do those high-fashion shows, and how to have certain presence to attract casting directors,” Peppler says. It’s a process that can take up to a year, she says.

In the meantime, aspiring models work on their “book” (photo portfolio) and craft, by analyzing photos, for example, to correct unflattering angles or a smile that looks more like an unintentional scowl. Models should understand the history and industry, too — how fashion design, modeling and photography intertwine, Peppler says.

“If you go to Paris or New York, it’s a very social business,” Peppler says. “When you go to castings, you want to know who you’re meeting.”

That’s one reason Noe loves her job. “I really like the people,” she says. “I get to meet creatives working in the business world.”