The mysterious death of Ivana Smit, a Dutch model in Malaysia, revives the debate about the danger of alcohol and drugs in the fashion industry

Earlier this month, the body of a young woman was found in a building in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It was Ivana Smit, 18, of Dutch nationality, who, despite her young age, had been working as a model for several years.

The mysterious death of Ivana Smit, a Dutch model in Malaysia, revives the debate about the danger of alcohol and drugs in the fashion industry

The circumstances of her tragic death remain a mystery. History, which interweaves beauty and death, is peppered with speculations about sex, drugs and alcohol. It has revived the debate about the dangers that people face in the modeling industry. 

Ivana Smit died after falling naked from a balcony from a 20th floor. The media reports that the model had arrived there with a couple after a party.

The police assured her parents that they did not suspect an attack, but that the investigations are still open. 

The Dutch Foreign Minister told BBC that it had contacted Interpol to collaborate in this case.

Smit’s family began a crowdfunding campaign this week to raise money to carry out an independent investigation.

This tragedy has moved the fashion industry. “These things happen very often, it seems that this can happen to any of us,” Emitsa Shz, a model who knew Smit, told BBC. 

Ivana Smit spent most of her life in Malaysia, growing up with her grandparents in Penang. It was there that she started modeling at the age of 13.

After a few years with her parents in the Netherlands, she returned to Malaysia recently and moved to the capital, Kuala Lumpur, last month, where she worked as a “freelance”, without an agency behind.

“She had better opportunities here,” said Natalie Woodworth, one of her childhood friends in Penang. “I still remember she said, ‘I’m back where I should be.'” She was extremely happy to be back in Malaysia, “Woodworth said.

The details of her death are unclear. It was reported that she went with a couple to her apartment. In the early hours of the morning the fatal accident occurred.

Her body was discovered that afternoon on a balcony on the sixth floor, according to several media, with alcohol and drugs in her blood. 

The family of Smit, who traveled to Malaysia, told the Dutch press that they saw marks on her neck.

The couple in the apartment has been accused of narcotics-related offenses and is free on bail, according to local press.

According to the journalistic version, they told the police that they were sleeping when Smit fell and that, without noticing her death, they took their daughter to school.

This caused a passionate calls for change in the modeling industry. Under the “hashtag” #truthforivana (Truth for Ivana) try to draw attention and support the investigation of the case.

With 28 years, having worked several years in Kuala Lumpur, Emitsa Shz is a veteran in the industry.

She says that it is not the modeling itself that causes concern, but the “many other jobs available around the models”.

It is not known if this was the case of Smit, but there are many offers, for example, going to shows. They can earn up to 1,200 USD for five hours of service at a party. Drugs and alcohol are a big problem in those situations, says model Carl Graham.

“Most of the models have lived away from their families since they were very young, they have insecurities and possible problems, and are busy attending parties, alcohol and drugs,” she says.

The young people in the industry, some just teenagers, usually have very little experience. The pressure they suffer is immense to deal with the gleaming world to which they have been thrown.

“They must learn to say no and realize that charging for parties is not modeling,” says Graham.

“In general, the models do not get adequate protection from the agencies,” she says.

“They are girls from all over the world that they take to bars and clubs at any time.”

In addition, many people in Malaysia have a negative image about modeling, she says. It is associated with a hedonistic life, close to a world of celebrities, parties, alcohol and fun all the time.

“This image has an effect on the girls, makes them believe that that is what they have to do,” says Shz. “But that’s not the case, you can say no and do your job.”

Modeling agencies in Kuala Lumpur told the BBC that they take good care of the models they work with. “A lot of that is happening,” says Nicholas Chan of the ML Model agency. 

“Alcohol, parties and maybe also drugs.”

“The agencies alert the models to be careful, but we can not do more,” he says.

“Of course not all agencies are bad,” says Shz. “But some people only care about their profit and they put little interest in taking care of the girls.” “These things happen very often,” she laments about Smit’s death.

“But only the most dramatic cases are picked up by the media and even those are forgotten very quickly.” 

Among them is the case of a 14-year-old Russian model who died in October in China. Vlada Dzyuba became ill after participating in the Shanghai Fashion Week and died of a multi-organ failure. The Chinese agency that hired her denied the charges that she was the victim of excessive work. But, the Russian media blamed his death on meningitis aggravated by exhaustion. 

But Shz believes that these cases do not change anything. Normally, agencies are not responsible, she explains. “The stories I hear about working in China are horrible, if you increase a pound, they tell you that you are fat and threaten to return you home.” But girls often come from poor families and their luck depends on how much money they bring with them.

Graham wrote a post on Facebook after the death of Smit. She asked for answers and said that this “is more about the death of Ivana Smit, it is about all of us getting up and realizing the problems that affect the modeling industry”.

Ensures that agencies could do much more. She says they should take responsibility for girls under 18 and assign caregivers to the older girls. 

Many of those who have campaigned want Smit’s death to have an impact that leads to change.

Although Graham is not very optimistic. “This tragedy will not impact the industry,” he says.

“Larger stars have died in the same way and nothing has changed,” he laments.