The minute you say “women of color” people think, “That is only for Black women.” I changed it to, “women with skin of color.” I was interested in the spectrum of skin tones, from Middle Eastern to Latina to Native American to Asian to Black.
How did you go about building the brand?
Every partner and investor I talked to asked, “Why don’t you just do this for Black women?” And I’d say, “It already exists. It’s called Fashion Fair. This is a new generation of people I’m trying to talk to. It’s a new beauty language that I’m trying to convey.” That was difficult. And then, being a model, people don’t take you seriously or think you know what you’re talking about. I tried to tell them, “I am the customer, and I’m a customer with money. If this existed in Yves Saint Laurent or Givenchy or Chanel, I have the money to buy it. But it doesn’t exist, so I want to create it.” J.C. Penney came on board, financed the company, and gave me 400 doors to start with.
Outside of your career, you’re also a mother…
And a grandmother. I have three grandchildren.
What has your experience as a mother, and now grandmother, been like?
It’s much easier to be a grandmother than a mom. As a mother, all is on you. Grandma, you just have the good days and then you give them back. So it’s lovely. It is really nice.
My oldest daughter, Zulekha, I had her in my early twenties, so I was still working and I took her all over with me until she had to start school and couldn’t travel with me anymore. It was hard in that way, you feel guilty. I think mothers always feel guilty, especially working mothers. There’s things that we miss. With my younger daughter, I had the luxury to be at home all the time. I had her at 45. All that work was out of my way and I could do better the second time around.
I will say, as someone who had a working mom, I don’t doubt that you felt very guilty, but I was so proud of my mother. I’m so glad that I had that example of her being in her office and being a boss and working.
Yeah, that’s nice, because you actually see what’s great about a mom—that she can work and then be switched-off and be sweet and playful with you. That she can wear those two hats.
You’re featured in the book Supreme Models: Iconic Black Women Who Revolutionized Fashion and signed on as an executive producer of the YouTube series. How did that come about?
One of the directors, Marcellas Reynols, who wrote the book, approached me. It was supposed to be four part but YouTube said it could be six. I had a Zoom call with the directors during COVID where they told me about the premise, and I said, “I know this, because I lived through it.” The first thing I asked was, “What are you guys bringing to the table that has not been said?” And they said, “Well, there has never been a documentary on Black models.” I was surprised by that. We’re talking about 2021. I was like, “That can’t be true.” They said, “No, it doesn’t exist. This will be the first one.” That brought me on board.