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‘Call Me When They’re Ready to Pay Me’: Iman Recalls Going Months Without a Modeling Gig After Demanding She be Paid the Same Wages as White Models

Iman is revered as being one of the foremost pioneering Black supermodels in fashion history. By the time the Somalia-born beauty was 19, she was signed to premier modeling agency Wilhelmina. At the age of 20, she made her debut in Vogue.

Though she has since reached icon status, Iman can still remember a time when she and other Black models were viewed as inferior. That is partly why the fashion trailblazer helped to produce “Supreme Models,” a docuseries inspired by journalist Marcellas Reynolds’ book of the same name. The six-part series chronicles the cultural impact of Black models in fashion and their fight for equity.

Equity is something Iman fought for from the onset of her decades’-long career. After moving to New York in the 1970s, the Iman Cosmetics founder realized she was being paid less than her white peers. And instead of accepting the “completely racist” lower wages, she demanded that anyone hiring her for her talents also pay her accordingly.  

“I said, ‘Just let me highlight it to you and say it to you in a way that you can understand: I want to be paid for services rendered. So if I’m doing the same job as a Caucasian model, I want to be paid exactly what she’s being paid,’ ” she told PEOPLE, while recalling a conversation she had with her modeling agency.

She continued, “I said to her, ‘Call me when they’re ready to pay me.’ It took three months for them, but they started paying the same amount.” That victory along with her desire to help other Black models be properly compensated led to Iman’s helping to launch the Black Girls Coalition in 1988.

The organization, which still exists, was co-founded by model Bethann Hardison. “We were able to highlight the discrepancies in the fashion industry, especially when it came to Black creatives, and then we saw incremental changes,” added Iman. 

Iman and several other fashion figures such as Joan Smalls, Chioma Nnadi, Anna Wintour, Duckie Thot and more lend their voices to the discussion. The first two episodes can be viewed on Vogue’s YouTube channel. New episodes will be released every Monday throughout October.  

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