Black Beauties To Know And Love: One Of The First Black Supermodels, Naomi Sims

February 20, 2014  |  
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If you don’t know Naomi Sims’ name, I’m sure you’ve seen her face. She was on quite a few major magazines in her lifetime, including Life, Ladies Home Journal (the first black model on the cover) and Cosmopolitan, and participated in campaigns for big names like Halston at a time where many black models were struggling to be seen. But she was more than just a model. She was a businesswoman. She wrote books, she started cosmetics lines, she got into hair and she was all about uplifting and encouraging black women. Get to know more about this beautiful trailblazer.

At the age of 13, while most young women are settling in to average heights, Sims was lready 5’10”, something she was often teased about as a young girl. Sims didn’t have the easiest time growing up. Outside of her height, Sims never really knew her father and at one point, her mother had to put her in foster care because the family was struggling.

Before modeling, Sims was a serious student. She came to New York to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology, and did so on a scholarship.

When Sims was first starting to break into the fashion world, she said she encountered many agencies who told her that her skin was too dark for them. She was able to get work by going straight to big fashion photographers, but would eventually explode on the scene after former model and modeling agency head Wilhemina Cooper helped her get her name out there.

While supermodels like Joan Smalls bring in more than $3 million a year now, back in the day, Sims was the big dog, earning $1,000 a week when other models, specifically black models, were struggling to get shine.

Naomi Sims would have great success as a model, but she made it known back in the day that male executives in the fashion industry treated her and other models poorly, assuming that models were supposed to be empty in the head: “People have the idea that models are stupid.”

Sims would eventually leave modeling behind to become an author, writing quite a few books for women of color on fashion and beauty. They include How To Be A Top Model, All About Hair Care For The Black Woman and All About Health and Beauty for The Black Woman and more. She also wrote an advice column for young women in Right On! magazine.

Sims was a businesswoman too. She was behind a wig business for black hair called The Naomi Sims Collection.  She even delved into cosmetics and had a few beauty salons.

The model also tried her hand at acting. She was all set to take on the role of Cleopatra Jones–until she read the script. She felt the portrayal of blacks in the story was demeaning and racist and declined the opportunity.

Sims, after a storied career in modeling and business, passed away in in 2009 from breast cancer at the age of 61. When speaking on Sims’ legacy to, Naomi Campbell said that Sims “broke through the glass ceiling to lead the way for those models and business women of color, who followed in her footsteps.”


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