We all know Cynthia Bailey as a cast member of The Real Housewives of Atlanta and if you’re a fan of the show, you’ve seen her create her own eponymous eyewear line, and most recently on season nine, her new line of luggage goods.
We caught up with the former model to talk all things fashion: how she got started in the industry, her rapidly growing empire and her advice for those who want to follow in her footsteps. Read on.
How was your experience judging the 2017 Miss Universe pageant?
CB: It was amazing. I love empowering women, I love women that are doing things and are smart. I didn’t really know what an amazing experience it was going to be until I got there. I’ve watched the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageant, but I looked at it as a beauty pageant. I had no idea all of the amazing things they do and their philanthropy because the audience doesn’t really get to know them like we do as a judge. The interview process is very long and you get see these women unfold so it’s kinda amazing.
How did you feel about the winner, Miss France Iris Mittenaere?
From the moment I saw her and spoke to her, she had a silent confidence. She had a quiet swag and confidence about her. She had my attention since the first moment I saw her. She stood out so I was very pleased. It was probably the hardest thing I had to judge because they were all so spectacular in their own ways.
Tell us more about The Bailey Agency School of Fashion.
At the Bailey School of Fashion, we develop talent. It’s not an agency but we do our Cynthia Bailey Model Search every year and we discover talent and I have all of the top bookers from the top cities come and judge, and we do have a winner who is usually placed with an agency.
Because of the popularity of the show, Atlanta gets a lot of television and movie opportunities now and there’s so much shooting here so people call for castings as well. So we may be part of a casting for a movie, or a casting company will cast people that we recommend for an audition. So it’s like a modeling school with perks! A lot of people reach out to us whenever there’s something going on in Atlanta. We also do acting and runway classes. And I have a Cynthia Bailey Camp for young girls. It just keeps evolving.
How did you first get discovered as model and get signed to Wilhelmina?
I was homecoming queen at my high school. I’m from Alabama from a small town, Tuscumbia, and the only way you’d know it is because Helen Keller was born there. So Helen and Cynthia Bailey put it on the map! (Laughs.) I went to a predominantly white school and was the first African-American queen from my high school, which was pretty amazing.
I went on to compete in a homecoming queen pageant and that was the one and only pageant I have ever been in. I didn’t win and I didn’t place, however, one of the judges was a model scout from Wilhelmina Models in New York City. I was the only girl that she approached after the pageant and offered a contract with Wilhelmina Models. So I didn’t win but I kind of won!
Your first business was Cynthia Bailey Eyewear. Can you tell us more about the eyewear line and what’s new with it?
I started my eyewear line because I am a fashion brand as well as a beauty brand. The only thing I’ve ever done besides be a housewife is be a model. I lived in New York City before I moved to Atlanta, so fashion is in my blood. I wanted to do something in the fashion lane other than my school and although I was approached many times about doing a clothing line, I just didn’t feel like there was a need for me to do a clothing line and I didn’t have a passion for it.
I’m not saying that I will never do one but for me, I was more interested in fashion accessories and personal style, and how you put clothing together opposed to making clothes. A right or wrong accessory can make or break an outfit. I thought eyewear would be great because I wear a lot of fashion glasses and sunglasses and every time I’d wear them on [Real Housewives of Atlanta], people would ask where I got them.
It seemed like the most organic lead out to the fashion accessories empire that I am currently putting together. You can buy the glasses on cynthiabaileyeyewear.com and also I have a licensing deal with St John, which is a division of the Steve Madden company, so my 2017 collection should be coming out next month and we will also have optical and readers. So we’re branching out, and the line is doing phenomenal.
Can you tell us more about your new luxury goods line, CARGO by Cynthia Bailey?
I decided to launch CARGO as my second fashion accessories product. I travel a lot and love overnight bags and backpacks. I can take the CARGO leather goods and expand it as much as I want to. Currently we have overnight bags, backpacks and toiletry bags.
The great thing about being a reality star or even a celebrity is you have the opportunity to pretty much come up with any product you want to sell, and I don’t think you need a hundred people trying to sell the same lipgloss. What I loved about CARGO was it was something that was uniquely mine and fits with the Cynthia Bailey brand which is all about quality and affordability.
I was going to follow up with hats but hats are coming and watches are coming. I also think I may do caftans and beachwear. How I want to separate myself is to put things out there that are pretty unique and special. I don’t want to run with the pack of the same old, same old.
Your 17-year-old daughter Noelle is the face of the CARGO!
I’m going into my next chapter. My big 5-0 is actually this month so I really feel like I represent the 40 and 50-year-old woman as a fashion and beauty brand, and represent us well. But with the backpacks, Noelle is getting ready to head to college soon so I thought she’d be perfect to represent the younger demographic that I don’t represent.
She’s a classy teenager and definitely represents the brand well. So anything that I do that I want to cater to the younger market, I will definitely involve Noelle in some capacity however she wants to be involved if she’s serious about modeling. She also wants to act, which is what her dad does.
What’s your advice for aspiring models or actors, or even reality stars who want to be in your shoes one day?
I always advise people to go for it! Just go for it. You may or may have success but it may lead you to something else you may want to do. I’d never say don’t do it but I always advise people to be realistic especially with modeling because modeling is a DNA game. I have a child myself who’d love to be gracing the runways in Europe but she’s 5’5” so it’s probably not going to happen so I’m not going to encourage her to be a runway model if she’s 5’5”.
Beauty, hair, all of the above, yes. But I’d never encourage her to do runway. The rules have changed but I’m always going to guide her and anyone else to find their lane because I want people to succeed. I always encourage young hopefuls to just go for it because along that journey, they may find something else that works for them.
For anyone who wants to model but don’t have the look or aesthetic, acting is a perfect alternative because there’s no height or weight requirement. Plus acting is a great confidence builder! Confidence is great in life for how you’re able to represent yourself.
Is there anything else you want to share with our readers?
CB: I also have a foundation. I haven’t talked about it on the show and most people think if it’s not on the show, then we don’t have it. But we have a lot of things going on but we don’t have time to film everything. I do have a foundation called the Be Better Foundation and the mission is to have charity events to support any type of charity I’d like to.
I’m not just an advocate for one thing. If I want to raise money for the homeless or for women out of work, I get to pick and choose the charities I want my foundation to support so that’s why I didn’t choose just one cause. Be Better is all about the world being better, Cynthia Bailey being better and the organization makes the world a better place and giving back.