Iman Mohamed Abdulmajid, known professionally just as Iman, is often referred to as Somalia’s most famous export. Born in Mogadishu in 1955, she has gone on to become a world-renowned high-fashion supermodel, and has set up her own cosmetics business and clothing line. She now boasts a net worth of $25 million.
Iman was studying political science at the University of Nairobi, when she was head-hunted one day on the streets of Nairobi by fashion photographer Peter Beard. Iman – who insists she merely looks typically Somali and has no extraordinary good-looks – moved to the USA in 1975 to launch a fashion modelling career that was to rocket her into the global spotlight. She became one of the most coveted models of the 1970s and 1980s, and was muse to various esteemed fashion designers, most notably Yves Saint-Laurent who created a whole fashion collection to the supermodel. Chronicling her success, Washington Post writer Robin Givhan claims: “She broadened the definition of beauty…She helped to transform fashion into entertainment and models into personalities.”
After two decades in the fashion industry, Iman noticed an ever-growing gap in the market: there were no cosmetic products available that catered for women of ethnic origins. She had spent her whole career assisting make-up artists in mixing cosmetics together in an attempt to match her skin-tone. In 1994, Iman launched her own cosmetics brand, Iman Cosmetics. She was deeply involved in the product development stage – helping to create 4 formulations and 14 tones of foundation liquid. Iman also personally acted as the face of the brand. She went on to secure a licensing and distribution deal with giants Procter & Gamble, shooting her products into the global market. Iman Cosmetics achieved a sales figure of $12 million in its first year alone, and after expansion in its second year sales were an impressive $30 million.
Iman also took dips into the world of film and television, starring in well-known films such as The Human Factor, Out of Africa, No Way Out and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. In 1992, Iman went on to use this cinematography experience in a return to her homeland of Somalia – which since her departure had been ravaged by war, famine and drought. In a project of her own design intended to raise awareness and attract international aid, Iman returned to Somalia with a British Broadcasting Coorporation (BBC) film crew to film a documentary program on Somalia, “Somalia Diary”. Iman stated her aim was to: “let the Somali people speak for themselves”. She went on to explain that: “People get numbed when they see picture after picture, year in and year out, of people starving. I wanted to show that they are not a nation of beggars — that culture, religion, music and hope are still there.”
Iman continues to act in support of Africa, and takes part in a number of humanitarian efforts and chartiable organisations. She is a spokeswoman for the “Keep a Child Alive” project, and is an ambassador for “Save the Children”. She has also taken a stance against the unethical mining and production of minerals and diamonds – ending her contract with the De Beers diamond giant following the company being linked to unethical practices, and going on to take a stand against conflict mineral products by joining the Enough Project.
However, Iman will always see herself first and foremost as a businesswoman. She has told interviewers that she believes herself to be “a very good businesswoman”. Speaking out further about her business management approach, she disclosed: “The natural lioness in me just came out very well. I can delegate responsibilities, but then I let people do what they’re good at and supervise.”