Naomi Sims has been called “the first black supermodel” by people of the fashion industry. She was the first face of the term “Black is Beautiful” and in 1968, Sims was the first black woman to appear on the cover of the Ladies Home Journal.
Born in Oxford, Mississippi in 1948, Sims was the youngest of three daughters. She never knew her father. He and her mother divorced when she was a child. She was only led to believe that her father was absent by her mother. When her mother fell sick, Sims was put up in poor foster homes. The kids teased her because she was tall and black.
After graduating high school and moving to New York with her oldest sister, Sims enrolled at the Fashion Institute of Technology. At the urging of friends, she tried to get an agent, but was told her skin was too dark. After going directly to photographers, she shot the cover of Fashion of the Times. Still at a loss for an agent, even with her own cover, Sims decided to pair up with Wilhemina Cooper who was starting her own agency. Sims agreed to send out her cover photo with Cooper’s card and she could keep any commission.
Using her business skills with Wilhemina, Sims eventually landed a TV campaign with AT&T, which put her in full demand. She booked major magazine covers, like the Time Fashion cover and Life, both of which are now in the New York Met Museum. She modeled for Halston and other top designers.
In 1972, she turned down the role of Cleopatra Jones because she thought it was too stereotypical and offensive to blacks.
With her business savvy at hand, Sims started her own wig making line which resulted in a major beauty empire. By the 1980’s she owned the Naomi Sims Collection, and had written several books on fashion and beauty.
Naomi Sims passed away in August 2009 from cancer. She was 61 years old.