Supermodel and Cay Skin Founder Winnie Harlow Talks the Business of Beauty
Winnie Harlow took the fashion world by storm as soon as she sashayed her way onto the scene. The 28-year-old Jamaican-Canadian beauty got her big break on the 21st cycle of America’s Next Top Model in 2014.
Instantly, she became a standout contestant and fan favorite who refused to let vitiligo, a chronic skin condition and auto-immune disease, hinder her from pursuing her dreams.
Following the show, Harlow was tapped as a brand representative for Desigual and appeared in advertising campaigns for Fendi, Marc Jacobs, Tommy Hilfiger, Diesel, Swarovski, and MAC. She also made history as the first model with vitiligo to walk in the coveted Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show in 2016 and went on to grace countless magazine covers, including Vogue, Harper’s Baazar, and Elle.
Now, after redefining the face of beauty, the 5’9 supermodel is making her mark in the beauty industry with her new skincare line, Cay Skin, which promises to protect all skin tones and shades from sun damage.
“I created Cay Skin to ensure that everyone has access to clean sun care, no matter their skin color, condition, or type,” Harlow told BLACK ENTERPRISE in an email. “It was important for me to create a brand formulated for people who, like me, dislike the feeling of heavy sunscreen, with pore-clogging ingredients, and the white cast it leaves.”
Harlow says she was inspired to launch Cay Skin last year after getting a severe sunburn during a tropical photo shoot back in 2018.
“I had a two-day shoot in the Bahamas from sunup to sundown, and I was asked to skip sun protection to avoid the awful white cast that traditional sunscreen would leave on my skin. I ended up severely sunburned and was forced to seek emergency medical care for extreme pain and severe inflammation,” she said.
In addition to enduring physical pain, the sunburn permanently altered her vitiligo pattern. “That experience changed my life, and, since then, it became my mission to create superior products for everyone—skincare that is sun care—with no compromises.”
Cay Skin includes SPF-enriched body and face products packed with nourishing ingredients like sea moss, a nutrient-rich seaweed containing 92 minerals; hydrating tropical plant nectar; and Kakadu Plum, a rich source of vitamin C and a powerful antioxidant that brightens skin. Some of the most popular products from the line include the Isle Glow Face Lotion SPF 45, Universal Mineral Face Lotion SPF 55, Isle Body Oil SPF 30, Isle Lip Balm SPF 30, and Deepwater Body Créme.
BLACK ENTERPRISE spoke to Harlow about her entrepreneurial journey and the importance of diversity in the beauty and fashion industries. See what she said below.
BE: What inspired you to become an entrepreneur?
My experience on that shoot really empowered me to make a change in the industry. Growing up visiting my dad in Jamaica, sunscreen has always been something that’s been really important to me, and I was determined to create a solution for the issue of it leaving a white cast. I want people to feel comfortable and beautiful showing their skin while also being protected from the sun. This process has been unlike anything else in my career because every step of the way, I am involved, so while it’s been a lot of work, it’s been the most rewarding because it’s a product that I truly created from scratch.
BE: You’ve raised $6.5 million from investors to start this company. What was that process like?
The fundraising process was unlike anything I’ve done before! Looking back, I think my passion and my belief in this brand was truly the most successful tactic. It’s so easy to slap your name on a product, but when you really believe in your product, it’s so much easier for others to believe in you, too.
BE: What would you tell young people struggling to embrace their differences?
I was bullied and taunted so much growing up, so I understand firsthand how it feels to struggle to embrace your differences, but these differences don’t define us. Headlines and reports have often referred to me as someone who “suffers from vitiligo.” I don’t suffer from this; I am a model. And I happen to have vitiligo. And it’s important to remember that our differences are what make us unique and beautiful.
BE: Why are diversity and representation important in the fashion and beauty industries?
I think often people look at diversity and representation as a box to check. We are all unique and different, and if we don’t embrace that, what do we have? I often hear the term “new norm” around inclusion and diversity, but really, this is the norm and always has been; it’s just finally coming to the surface. Avoiding tokenism or one-off trends is really important to me—I want to use my diversity to help make meaningful and impactful changes that truly open doors and change the beauty landscape.
BE: You’ve graced the cover of countless magazines, launched your own beauty brand, and changed the face of beauty. What’s next for Winnie Harlow?
I am constantly on the move between my modeling work, fashion appearances, and work for my brand Cay Skin—and I don’t foresee myself slowing down anytime soon. We have new products launching for Cay Skin in 2023, and I can’t wait for everyone to see them. There’s still so much I would like to develop for the brand, and it’s been such a fantastic journey; I can’t wait to see what happens next!
This interview was lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
Watch Winnie Harlow’s full interview on The New Norm With Selena Hill below.