Models Inc.

After the lights went down on their runway careers, these former fashionistas stepped into the role of business owner

by Time Warner. At some point while we were there, Time Warner did the deal to buy the first 49% of Essence,” Smith says. “Then they kind of were alluding to ‘Would you like to bundle in or do something together?’ And I said no, because we’re very different magazines.” The deal fell apart after just three issues.

The last piece of the puzzle is merchandising. Smith has had a line of housewares at Bed Bath & Beyond since 2001. Before the retailer came along, she turned down numerous offers because the timing and deals weren’t right. “It’s taken me longer, but I’ve done it my way, and the business is 100% African American- owned,” Smith says.

The projects currently under development at B. Smith Enterprises are staggering. Smith’s husband and business partner, Dan Gasby, a former television executive, is in negotiations for a second TV show. They’re looking at properties in Atlanta for a fourth restaurant, with plans of opening three to four new restaurants a year. In addition, there are plans to syndicate the radio show, publish more books, relaunch the magazine, and start clothing and furniture lines.

Although Smith would not reveal her company’s revenues, its products and other offerings do a brisk $75 million in sales. “As we’re growing, we’re going to be bringing on experts in the fields that we are moving into. We’re taking it away from being a mom-and-pop operation to being a real, formal business.”

Iman: The Face of Beauty, Iman Cosmetics, Skincare and Fragrances. Iman often tells the story of her first modeling gig, for Vogue in 1976, during which the makeup artist asked if she had brought her own foundation. “I was 18 years old, I’d never worn makeup in my life, and I had no idea what he was talking about,” she says. So he used what he had, and the Somali-born beauty was shocked to see a grayish face staring back at her from the mirror.

“I remember thinking that I really have to understand and learn quite fast the art of foundation, because as a model, my currency is my image. It’s not really how I look in real life; it’s how I look in pictures,” she says.

She began mixing and matching her own foundations, becoming an expert in the process and the envy of other black women, who constantly stopped to ask her what brand of makeup she was wearing. After she retired from her 14-year modeling career, Iman decided to try her hand at cosmetics. “If I needed it and couldn’t find it in the marketplace, surely there are others who need it and can’t find it because it doesn’t exist,” she says.

Launched in 1994, the IMAN brand ( was an instant hit, with retail sales of approximately $20 million. Three years after its launch, the brand went international, selling an additional $10 million in the United Kingdom, Canada,

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5 Responses to Models Inc.

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