As a champion of black women’s rights, Iman dedicated her life to breaking down beauty barriers so that all women of color could feel included and beautiful.
Her inspirational work has challenged beauty standards, which is why #SeeHer Story has chosen to celebrate Iman in this week’s episode. The goal of #SeeHer Story, a digital video series from Katie Couric Media and PEOPLE, is to recognize female trailblazers throughout the past 100 years and celebrate how they’ve helped to shape history and culture.
As this year marks the centennial anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote, the series hopes to commemorate such an important time for women in history by recognizing fearless women who have made strides for others to follow in their footsteps.
Iman, 64, grew up in Mogadishu, Somalia with her diplomat father and gynecologist mother, until political unrest forced them to move to Kenya when she was 16.
“Overnight my life just totally transformed from an ambassador’s daughter to a refugee,” she shared in the video.
She attended college in Nairobi and began to model in order to pay her tuition.
Iman moved to New York in 1975, where she hoped to become a professional model to support her family.
To her surprise, Vogue booked Iman immediately, and other major designers like Yves St Laurent, Calvin Klein and Donna Karan wanted to use Iman as their muse.
She quickly became one of the first supermodels and appeared on dozens of major fashion magazine covers.
However, Iman became frustrated with the beauty scene, as there was a lack of options for women of color, especially in makeup.
“I could never find cosmetics for myself, all the years I modeled,” she shared in the clip. “So [creating my own beauty line] was a natural progression because not only I was looking for one, but all women, women of color were asking me the same things.”
In 1994, Iman decided to take matters into her own hands and launched her own makeup company, Iman Cosmetics. It became the first brand to make a foundation for women of every skin tone and today is worth over $25 million.
She once said, “Nobody’s calling anybody a racist, but the action itself and the absence of black models, is an act of racism.”
Her work in fashion has earned her nearly every title in the industry — she was even named an icon by the Council of Fashion Designers.
Iman is also a strong advocate for her native country, working tirelessly to help Somalian and refugee children.
“My fear really is about the children, because we are hearing that one million children, Somali children, are at stake in losing their lives,” she said in the video.
To this day, Iman strives to see the beauty in every woman.
“You leave your imprint, that’s what the photography is about. Leave an imprint that people can remember you by,” the model said.
#SeeHer Story will also be a regular feature in PEOPLE’s print edition, the weekday morning newsletter Wake-Up Call with Katie Couric, on PeopleTV’s entertainment show PEOPLE Now as well as on PEOPLE Now Weekend.
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