African American history, African Americans in fashion, African Americans in history, black history month, first black model, first black supermodel, first black woman, Naomi Sims, naomi sims cosmopolitan
As one of the worlds first black supermodels, Sims personified the term “Black is beautiful,” while breaking racial barriers both on the runway and as businesswoman.
Naomi Sims is considered to the first black supermodel to ever land the cover for Ladies Home Journal in November 1968. She broke barriers during a time when African American models were scarce.
Naomi Ruth Sims was born on March 30, 1948, in Oxford, Mississippi the third of three daughters of John and Elizabeth Sims. Her parents divorced shortly after she was born.
Her family moved to Pittsburgh where her mother became ill and Sims was placed in foster care. After graduating from high school Sims moved to New York in 1966.
After arriving to New York, Sims had a scholarship to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology, where there was very little interest in fashion for black models. While attending F.I.T, she took night courses in psychology at New York University. When her modeling career began to take off, Sims stop attending NYU.
Sims was encouraged by classmates and counselors to give modeling a try. But every agency she approached turned her down, some telling her that her skin was too dark.
Determined Sims decided to approach photographers herself. Gosta Peterson, a photographer for The Times, agreed to photograph her for the cover of its August 1967 Fashions of The Times.
Within a year, Sims was earning $1,000 a week and had been hired for a national television campaign for AT&T.
“After it was aired, people wanted to find out about me and use me.”
Sims became in high demand, top designers like Halston, Teal Traina, Fernando Sánchez and Giorgio di Sant’Angelo.
As a model, Sims often did her own hair and makeup, since many studio assistants were unfamiliar with working with darker skin. And she noticed that most commercially available wigs were designed for Caucasian hair, so she began experimenting with her own designs, baking synthetic hairs in her oven at home to create the right texture to look like straightened black hair.
In 1973, Ms. Sims decided to start her own business. Sims give up modeling and to start a wig-making business with styles designed for black women. She also began writing books, including “All About Health and Beauty for the Black Woman,” “How to Be a Top Model” and “All About Success for the Black Woman,” as well as an advice column for teenage girls in Right On! magazine.
Naomi Sims died in 2009 at the age of 61.