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!"
I walk into a room full of men and I know exactly what they're thinking: "What does she know about whisky?"
I know this because many men have asked me that same question from the moment I started my career in spirits a decade ago.
In a male-dominated industry, I realized early on that I would always have to work harder than my male counterparts to prove my credibility, ability and knowledge in order to earn the trust of leadership stakeholders, coworkers, vendors and even consumers of our products. I am no stranger to hard work and appreciate that everyone needs to prove their worth when starting any career or role. What struck me however, was how the recognition and opportunities seemed to differ between genders. Women usually had to prove themselves before they were accepted and promoted ("do the work first and earn it"), whereas men often were more easily accepted and promoted on future potential. It seemed like their credibility was automatically and immediately assumed. Regardless of the challenges and adversity I faced, my focus was on proving my worth within the industry, and I know many other women were doing the same.
Thankfully, the industry has advanced in the last few years since those first uncomfortable meetings. The rooms I walk into are no longer filled with just men, and perceptions are starting to change significantly. There are more women than ever before making, educating, selling, marketing and conceptualizing whiskies and spirits of all kinds. Times are changing for the better and it's benefitting the industry overall, which is exciting to see.
For me, starting a career in the spirits business was a happy accident. Before spirits, I had worked in the hospitality industry and on the creative agency side. That background just happened to be what a spirits company was looking for at the time and thus began my journey in the industry. I was lucky that my gender did not play a deciding role in the hiring process, as I know that might not have been the case for everyone at that time.
Now, ten plus years later, I am fortunate to work for and lead one of the most renowned and prestigious Whisky brands in the world.. What was once an accident now feels like my destiny. The talent and skill that goes into the whisky-making process is what inspired me to come back and live and breathe those brands as if they were my own. It gave me a deep understanding and appreciation of an industry that although quite large, still has an incredible amount of handmade qualities and a specific and meticulous craft I have not seen in any other industry before. Of course, my journey has not been without challenges, but those obstacles have only continued to light my passion for the industry.
The good news is, we're on the right track. When you look at how many females hold roles in the spirits industry today compared to what it looked like 15 years ago, there has been a significant increase in both the number of women working and the types of roles women are hired for. From whisky makers and distillers to brand ambassadors and brand marketers, we're seeing more women in positions of influence and more spirits companies willing to stand up and provide a platform for women to make an impact. Many would likely be surprised to learn that one of our team's Whisky Makers is a woman. They might even be more surprised to learn that women, with a heightened sense of smell compared to our male counterparts, might actually be a better fit for the role! We're nowhere near equality, but the numbers are certainly improving.
It was recently reported by the Distilled Spirits Council that women today represent a large percentage of whisky drinkers and that has helped drive U.S. sales of distilled spirits to a record high in 2017. Today, women represent about 37% of the whisky drinkers in the United States, which is a large increase compared to the 1990s when a mere 15% of whisky drinkers were women. As for what's causing this change? I believe it's a mix of the acceptance of women to hold roles within the spirits industry partnered with thoughtful programs and initiatives to engage with female consumers.
While whisky was previously known for being a man's drink, reserved for after-dinner cigars behind closed doors, it is now out in the open and accessible for women to learn about and enjoy too.
What was once subculture is now becoming the norm and women are really breaking through and grabbing coveted roles in the spirits business. That said, it's up to the industry as a whole to continue to push it forward. When you work for a company that values diversity, you're afforded the opportunity to be who you are and let that benefit your business. Working under the model that the best brand initiatives come from passionate groups of people with diverse backgrounds, we are able to offer different points of view and challenge our full team to bring their best work forward, which in turn creates better experiences for our audience. We must continue to diversify the industry and break against the status quo if we really want to continue evolving.
While we've made great strides as an industry, there is still a lot of work to be done. To make a change and finally achieve gender equality in the workplace, both men and women need to stand behind the cause as we are better collectively as a balanced industry. We have proved that we have the ability to not only meet the bar, but to also raise it - now we just need everyone else to catch up.