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Iman: How Somali-American Supermodel Defied Beauty Retailers to Build a $25M Beauty Line

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Iman Mohamed Abdulmajid is a retired Somalian-American fashion model, actor, and entrepreneur who found success as a model after meeting photographer Peter Beard at the University of Nairobi in Kenya. He snapped images of her with the promise of paying her tuition at the institution if she paid him a fee.

According to Biography, Beard later encouraged Iman to join him in New York in 1976, when she signed with Wilhelmina Models.

In New York, she attracted the attention of major designers such as French couturier Yves Saint Laurent, Donna Karan, and Versace, and began starring on haute-couture runways, appearing on the covers of fashion magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar. Yves Saint Laurent, a French designer, dedicated a collection to her called “The African Queen.”

As her career progressed, Iman insisted that she be paid the same as her white coworkers and was actively involved in styling her photos. Her mother inspired her by telling her to always realize her worth.

“A couple of months after I arrived in the United States, in 1975, I found out they were paying Black models less than our counterparts, and I said, ‘I’m not doing this.’ If I’m doing the same job as the white model, I have to be compensated,” she told W Magazine. The supermodel said she even “went on strike” for three months. “And then, of course, they raised my rate,” she said.

She temporarily ended her modeling career in the early 1980s after being involved in a car accident, and she was out of the modeling industry for five months, during which she is claimed to have reviewed her priorities.

She ended her modeling career in 1989 and pursued another hobby. Iman Cosmetics, her cosmetics company, was created in 1994, selling all-inclusive cosmetics and hard-to-find hues for dark and black skin tones.

She would eventually prove beauty shops incorrect with her popular make-up brand, despite their claims that “black women don’t buy liquid foundation,” according to the MailOnline. Her cosmetic line has evolved to a $25 million enterprise.

She took her cosmetic brand to market after reaching a partnership with Procter & Gamble and launching it at JCPenney in 1995. When she approached distributors, however, names such as Walgreens and Target were skeptical.

Retailers, she claims, attempted to place her products toward the back of their stores, such as the “ethnic section.” “It was ruled out. “They wanted to put me in the back, which they thought was for the ethnic section, which I was completely against,” she told Mailonline.

Despite having achieved record sales to date, Iman claims the trip has not been simple. Trying to get distribution, which has been a huge difficulty for both brick-and-mortar and online retailers, was one of her major challenges.

“I approached the players – Wal-Mart, Target, Walgreens – and everybody knew about the brand and how successful it was, so everybody said yes to it,” she said. “But then there was this, “Oh we’ll test it.” Like I had just started, like there was no customer base for it.”

Today, her brands can be found in more than 10 countries and on various e-commerce platforms.

Iman was born Zara Mohamed Abdulmajid in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1955; however, her name was altered at the request of her grandfather, who requested she be renamed Iman. Her grandfather thought she’d do better with a manly name. Iman means “faith” in Arabic.

Her grandfather had been correct. Iman went on to become one of the world’s most recognized Black supermodels and a multimillionaire with a business empire. When her father, a diplomat, became ambassador to Saudi Arabia, she spent her formative years in Egypt in a boarding school, while her mother was a doctor.

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