Supermodel Icon, Iman On Diversity and Entrepreneurship


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!"


A Modern Day Witch Hunt: How Caster Semenya's Gender Became A Hot Topic In The Media

Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.

Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.

That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.

Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.

Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.

Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.

With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.

The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.

Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.

As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.

Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.