Supermodel Icon, Iman On Diversity and Entrepreneurship

Supermodel Icon, Iman

On Diversity and Entrepreneurship

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Gorgeous and famously outspoken regarding diversity in the beauty industry, Iman is a powerhouse with a unique perspective thanks to an exciting life in the public eye.

The 5 foot 10 beauty, who emigrated from Somalia after being discovered in college to begin a modeling career in the US, said she immediately saw that the playing field was not leveled in terms of foundations for women of color.

“Back in the mid-70’s when I started my career as a model “ethnic” and “women of color” meant one thing – Black. True, it later evolved to include Latina or Asian,” Iman tells SWAAY. “But from an early age I began seeing more similarities than differences among different ethnic groups. Let’s face it: women of every race, nationality and background want the same thing – to look radiant and feel beautiful in their own skin.”

I first interviewed Iman back in 2012 when working for WWD to discuss her beauty brand. She told me then that she decided to create Iman Cosmetics in 1994 after and experience in which she was “made over to look ‘gray’” during her first day working as a model for American Vogue in New York.

“The makeup artist asked me if I brought my own foundation [to the shoot],” says the 61-year-old mother of two. “You have to understand what foundation means. It is really a self-esteem booster, especially for women with skin of color. It becomes like the holy grail of a product. It is the one that makes you look as beautiful as you can be, as flawless as you can be.”

Iman founded her  company with the goal of product inclusivity for women who had few options in terms of makeup. Iman was clearly ahead of the curve, as now in 2017 the multicultural beauty market is swelling in record numbers. In fact, according to US Census data, by 2020 the United States will be a minority/majority population, meaning addressing skin tone will be a more vital than ever for beauty brands.

“Everyone can be a consumer – that’s the beauty of it!,” Iman tells SWAAY. “I created the brand because I wanted to put a new face and a new language on what beauty is and what beauty means to a new generation of beauty. So, I was really trying to create a brand and a beauty company that was more about the skin tone of a person rather than their ethnicity.”

One of Iman’s biggest grievances in terms of the beauty industry is the segregation of products in retailers. She has openly spoken out regarding this throughout her years promoting her brand.

“If you go into a lot of cosmetic stores, you still have the ethnic section in the back,” says Iman. “It’s like, if you’re a company that caters to just women of color, you’re sold differently. I wanted there to be options for us. While larger companies are now becoming more inclusive, there are still more options for women with paler skin. I was the first company to create bronzers for skin of color, to put SPF in our products, to think of skin care and technology for women of color.”

In recent years, Iman has evolved the brand to include nuanced skin tones that work for Latina, Asian and Indian women. She also has developed an app, the Iman Cosmetics App, which, according to Iman “approaches the task of extracting a user’s colors by combining cutting edge computer vision technology with intuitive interactive engagement.”

The app is available on iOS and Android and includes automatic lighting detection and image validation, while allowing the user to perform the final check and validate her colors visually.

“The app can then recommend which products would fit you best,” says Iman. “It’s amazing!”

As part of her brand DNA, Iman continues adding to it with products that have strong color payoff and flexibility in terms of complexion.

The newest launches from Iman Cosmetics include the Luxury Concealing Foundation, a highly pigmented two-in-one formula which can be used for everything from spot-coverage to dark under-eye circles, or as foundation for full coverage. The item is available in eight shades so as to cover a variety of skin tones. Iman’s Luxury Matte Lipstick, available in five shades, is another new item, and is meant to give bold color while hydrating lips with jojoba and vitamin E.

Iman’s other entrepreneurial enterprise, of course, is her booming HSN business. Comprised of clothes, accessories and shoes, Iman has two lines; Global Chic, a range meant to be representative of international fashion trends and Platinum, leather and suede outerwear. Known for being inclusive of various body types (the line includes extra small to 3X), the IMAN HSN business is one of the network’s best-selling lines.

Iman’s on-screen success has not only been due to the chic, fashionable product line, but also, to be sure, due to who she is. From the first moment I met her I was taken by Iman’s strength of self, confidence, warmth, and ability to speak from her heart with true conviction. Pairing that with a direct-sale television platform that reaches more than 85 million American women, and you have entrepreneurial self-made magic.

In 2013 Iman expanded her reach by partnering with Joy Mangano, of Jennifer Lawrence fame, on Joy & Iman, a collection of affordable fashion accessories and apparel, that has only furthered the superstar’s appeal to more women across the country.

“Working with a fashion icon like IMAN to bring this collection to life has been an amazing experience,” said Joy Mangano, President and Founder of Ingenious Designs, a division of HSN, in a statement about the partnership. “She is the epitome of glamour and luxury, and her esthetic radiates throughout the entire line. I’m very proud of this new collection.”

Although she’s expanded her empire from modeling to beauty to fashion, Iman’s message continues to be the same.

“Beauty comes in all shapes, sizes, skin tones, ages and backgrounds,” she says. “The most beautiful thing about any woman is her confidence. We need to remember to celebrate each of our individual skin tones!”

Belisa Silva

Belisa is an editor with more than 10 years of experience. Prior to SWAAY, she worked as freelance writer, covering lifestyle, fashion and beauty industries. Belisa was a Market Editor at Women's Wear Daily for five years, where she interviewed rockstar business women like Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Lopez and Iman. Belisa also contributes to Cosmetic Executive Women, where she highlights female executives making an impact in the beauty industry.

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