In February 2011, Tyra Banks set a major goal for herself: to attend and graduate from the Harvard Business School. The former swimsuit model and entrepreneur enrolled in a management leadership program at the Ivy League institution to strengthen her business skills, and graduated this February. Born in Inglewood, CA, Banks, 38, has cultivated a catalogue of endeavors over the past 20 years that’s far beyond her runway beginnings. In fact, the Daily Mail recently ranked her among the richest supermodels in the world with a reported net worth of $90 million. Banks has taken on acting, producing, directing, publishing, and promoted ideals of a positive and healthy self-image along the way. BlackEnterprise.com Decodes Banks bankable brand. —Danielle Kwateng
Although she enrolled in Loyola Marymount University, Banks booked her first modeling gig before she even stepped on campus. Only 17, the 5’10”, green-eyed beauty dropped out of college to join Elite Model Management. She flew to Europe and did 25 shows in her first runway season. Since then, Tyra has appeared on the covers of Elle, Maxim, Details, Seventeen, Shape and Harper’s Bazaar. In 1994, Banks was named as one of People’s “50 Most Beautiful People,” and, by 1996, she appeared on the cover the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue, alongside model Valeria Mazza. The following year, she became the first African American woman to pose alone for the sports publication. Tyra’s appearance on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue helped transform the publication into the single best-selling magazine under Time Inc.’s publishing house. She went on to ink an exclusive contract with Victoria’s Secret, becoming the first Black model to appear in their catalogue.
Banks acquired her first acting role in 1993 on NBC’s Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, playing Will Smith’s girlfriend, Jackie Ames. At the time, the show was the highest-rated primetime comedy series among teenage viewers. Open to the idea of acting, Banks went on to snag a number of television roles on shows such as New York Undercover, Soul Food, Felicity and American Dreams. A few years later, Tyra began dating director John Singleton, which many believe prompted her to pursue big screen roles, landing her supporting roles in films like Higher Learning, Love and Basketball and Coyote Ugly, which grossed $113,916,474. Then, in 2000, Banks teamed up with Disney to star alongside Lindsay Lohan for the made-for-TV-movie, Life-Size. Although critics believe acting isn’t her strongest suit, Banks continues to go for smaller roles on television.
As reality shows were just gaining momentum, Banks created, produced and hosted the first modeling competition, America’s Next Top Model (ANTM), in 2003. Run through Bankable Productions, a film and television production company, it was one of the CW’s (formerly UPN) highest-rated programs. MSNBC reports that Tyra grossed $30 million in a 12-month period, largely from her television credits. Now in its 18th cycle, the competition has launched the careers of Toccara Jones, Yaya DaCosta, Eva Pigford, Brittany “Bre” Scullark and many others. As the catalyst to a rising model’s career, ANTM is syndicated in more than 100 countries, and was recently clocked at making $61,315 per 30-second commercial slots during the 2011–2012 television season—the highest of any series on the CW. In 2005, she launched the daytime television show, The Tyra Banks Show. With both of her shows, Banks sustained a collective, weekly viewership of 13 millionfans, and made an estimated annual income of $18 million from television and earned two daytime Emmy Awards.
THE REAL DEAL
In 1995, Cover Girl became Tyra’s first lucrative, multi-year spokesperson contract, branding her name and face on television and print ads nationwide. Ten years later, Banks used her Proctor & Gamble endorsement to launch the cosmetics brand as the title sponsor for America’s Next Top Model. Additionally, Tyra signed on to a number of television and print ads for companies such as Nike, Tommy Hilfiger, Yves Saint Laurent, Ralph Lauren and Dolce & Gabbana. Although she spent some time away from endorsing brands to establish her own projects, Banks signed with IMG in 2010, reportedly to garner endorsement deals only. But before signing with IMG, she launched Bankable Enterprises in 2007. The company serves as a business outlet to “anchor her expanding business interests,” which includes Bankable Productions, Bankable Digital and Bankable Studios.
FIT TO PRINT & PROFIT
At the age of 24, the barely legal supermodel released her first book, Tyra’s Beauty Inside & Out, under Harper Collins’ Perennial imprint. The book offers step-by-step makeup tips with accompanying before-and-after photos; as well as advice on how to obtain natural beauty through a healthy diet and exercise, and avoidance of drugs and alcohol. While already working as a contributor for Vogue Italia online, Banks partnered with Demand Media in June 2010 to launch her own beauty and fashion site, TypeF.com. In May 2011, Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House, announced its partnership with the ambitious media mogul to release a three-book fiction series. The first novel, Modelland, was released five months later, and penned as a young adult fantasy novel that expands the definition of beauty. Not only did the book become No. 1 on Barnes & Noble charts, it debuted at No. 2 on The New York Times Bestseller List.
At just 18 years old, Banks established the Tyra Banks Scholarship to help young Black women attend her alma mater, Immaculate Heart High School, a private school in Los Angeles. She also began acting as the spokesperson for The Center for Children and Families in New York. Then, seven years later, in 1999, the supermodel started The Tyra Banks TZONE Foundation, an organization focused on developing teenage girls’ independence, confidence and self-esteem. Continuing with her positive image encouragement, in 2007, Banks initiated her “So What” campaign, which promoted positive body images, and encouraged women to stop obsessing over the flaws in their appearance. All this took place after a beach-body photo of Tyra “caused a tabloid frenzy,” according to ABC News. Always heavier than most mainstream models, Banks has been candid about her weight and maintaining self-esteem. For the campaign she and hundreds of women marched through the streets of Los Angeles bearing their midriffs in a “Belly Brigade.”