I believe this is a per-project basis and every situation is different. I personally no longer do non paid fashion shows because I been blessed to add some great shows to my resume and I feel I have perfected my personal walk. Now I network at fashion shows while sitting in the audience ;-). When it comes to other projects as you become more seasoned you will be able to compare new opportunities to the ones you have accomplished to see if this will help you work on a skill you want to practice on or fill an area in your resume/portfolio that your lacking. Maybe you need some swimsuit confidence or maybe you want to work on your commercial looks (big smiles).
Never rule out non-paid assignments because if done correctly as a result you will get some awesome paid assignments.As a freelance model you are responsible for declining and accepting assignments. When I first started I worked many gigs for free or low rates because I feel some experiences are priceless. As a new model you will see improvement after every shoot and fashion show so I recommend accepting some low/no budget opportunities to master your craft. In addition, after time you will learn to negotiate a rate which I will discuss on a future post. Print Assignments: Here are some things to consider before accepting non-paid print assignments. Is this gig going to provide quality pictures? There is no worst feeling then seeing a crappy picture of you ALL over the Internet and to add to your misery you didn't even get paid for this awful gig. When they tell you it's a non paid assignment you should ask who will be doing hair and makeup and who will be taking the pictures. Then use Google to check on their work and the brand. Let common sense and your gut feeling lead you to the decision. I strongly suggest waiting at least 24 hours to let it soak in before your make a decision. You might be new but pictures last FOREVER so be very careful. If you don't feel good about it...politely decline and tell them to consider you for the next one (they might step up their game). Fashion Shows: I love fashion shows. My career started at shows. Every fashion show allows you an opportunity to meet at least 4 or more new designers and the audience is full of bloggers and industry experts which help increase your exposure in the industry. The best way to maximize your non paid fashion show gig is to remove the "fun times" backstage and instead use it to network. Every designer, hair and makeup artist backstage should have your comp card or business card and you should have there info too. Be nice to everyone...including the models never know when you guys might cross paths again. The industry is smaller then you think and many times I been on set and the designer or production team might ask me "Do you have any model friend who is a size 14....". So again play nice with everyone backstage BUT remember to do your rounds do not stay around only the girls you know or be zoned out with a iPhone in a corner. Your goal at every non-paid fashion show is to secure some good leads on paid gigs in the near future.
I actually met Qristyl Frazier at a show over 7 years ago and I been her muse ever since. I thank that non-paid community center fashion show for getting me on Project Runway, Rip The Runway, FFFW and numerous TV segments for Qristyl Frazier Designs. I gave her my comp card the day of the show and sent her a follow-up thank you email the next day....the rest is history.