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Welcome to Racked's first-ever Beauty Week, where in addition to all of our regularly scheduled programming, we'll be bringing you tons of beauty-related coverage all week long. Tune in for plenty of DIY tutorials, this season's best nail colors and hair trends, medicine cabinet snooping, and plenty more. First up: Our interview with Beverly Johnson.
Beverly Johnson image via Getty
Plenty of models are super, but Beverly Johnson is an icon. The first black model to appear on the cover of Vogue, she has since devoted herself to more than just modeling, pursuing everything from parenthood to golf. And after many years of endorsing other peoples’ products, she now stands behind her own. Last month, she launched a line of hair care products for women of color. She told Racked about her new brand and her plans for the future.
What made you decide to launch this line?
Well, I’ve been doing a line of wigs for awhile. But my daughter wears her hair natural, and that’s the thing, even if you wear a wig or a weave you want to take care of your hair underneath. People don’t know that. But I wasn’t sure about getting involved in business. I don’t have an MBA—my daughter [Anansa] has an MBA, so I found a business partner. I said, “eff it, I’m going for it.” Eighteen months ago, this was a dream and an idea, and I was paralyzed by this idea of being in charge, but I went for it. There was a line of products years ago, and when I went to look if they were still in business I found out they were using my name and likeness on the packaging without my permission. [Editor's note: Johnson and her lawyer worked out a deal and she was able to regain control of her likeness and of the products' formula.]
Were there any challenges with starting your own company?
I was used to instant gratification. You show up, you do a job, you get paid. I got a check every quarter. When someone said "Next year, 2012, you'll be in a store," it felt so far away! But I have a great business partner, and he told me that building a business is like building a house, you do it brick by brick. And then I realized why I never wanted to build a house. But we did it. It's painstaking, but what's so gratifying is when you build something yourself, and you build the foundation, and you know that it's strong. And my business partner's now my partner partner. We're boyfriend and girlfriend.
Do you have plans to expand the line?
We also have bath and body, and the first skincare products will be coming out. We plan to do an entire lifestyle brand. I love linens, I love nice sheets, I collect beautiful things, and I want to make them all myself, from the beginning. It's everything I always wanted to do... I used to think I wasn't smart enough to start a brand, I was too old, I didn't know enough about business. But it's never too late to start.
You've been a champion for young, up-and-coming black models. If you weren't going to be the face of your brand, who would you choose?
Jessica White. I like her a lot. And Joan Smalls. She has been called a young Beverly Johnson.
Who is your consumer? Who do you want to see using your products?
I want to see mothers and daughters using my products. I think what happened is that people want to feel like you're doing something for them. It makes them feel, "Wow, she's thinking about me and my needs." My family is multicultural, we have a lot of different women with a lot of needs.
It used to be that models just modeled, nothing else. Now, you have Kate Moss doing a line for Topshop and models branching out into all kinds of businesses. Why do you think this is such a trend?
Some of these girls, they stop booking jobs or they get older and don’t want to work as much, so you need to become independent and create your own jobs. The industry is different than it used to be.
What else is going on for you?
A reality show! It’s going to be on Oprah's network, called Beverly's Full House. I was so scared. My daughter and my granddaughter are on it.