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Iman: 'I Had to Divorce Myself From Fashion'

At a panel with Dylan Lauren and Coco Rocha, the fashion icon explains what it takes for women entrepreneurs to succeed.
(L-R) Iman and editor-in-chief of Glamour magazine Cindi Leive attend the 'Secrets Of Start-Up Queens' panel hosted by Glamour magazine.
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Iman never aspired to become a fashion icon, but when she was approached by world-renowned photographer Peter Beard, he made her an offer she couldn't turn down. 

"At first I said, 'I'm not that kind of girl,'" she joked at the Secrets of Start-Up Queens panel held in New York yesterday. But by her third day visiting the U.S. in 1975, she realized she was that kind of girl--one who could pocket enough cash to cover college tuition and pose for the likes of American Vogue alongside Beverly Johnson. 

On Wednesday night, the Iman Cosmetics founder and four other panelists--model Coco Rocha, Dylan's Candy Bar's Dylan Lauren, SoulCycle co-founder Elizabeth Cutler, and Refinery29 creative director Piera Gelardi--discussed the ups and downs of pursuing your own business venture.

Lauren said her biggest challenge was convincing people her mega-successful Dylan's Candy Bar was not just a store, but a lifestyle. "What Dylan's Candy Bar is about is merging fashion, pop culture, and art," she explained. 

She also admitted she hates the process of firing and managing people. "I wish I could just live in Candy Land and enjoy it," she shrugged. 

SoulCycle's Cutler faced a more relatable battle--finding affordable studio space in New York City. After combing through Craigslist, she found a "rear lobby" on West 72nd Street that was so obscure, she was amazed when people walked in. "We'd give them whatever they wanted, we were so happy," she said. Customer service has become her brand's hallmark. 

Rocha said she learned not to expect people to take care of her--and to explicitly get in writing what she would do as a model, and what she won't. (Rocha is a Jehovah's Witness, and won't pose nude, for instance.) 

When Iman launched her eponymous cosmetics line in 1994, she made a point of becoming knowledgeable about a new market. To that end, she said she purposefully "divorced herself from fashion."

As an entrepreneur, "you really need to know what you're talking about," she said. "I stopped reading books, and I started reading the Census Bureau, and you know how boring that is."

She stopped attending fashion parties and would only go to executive business events, "and network not with fashion models and photographers, but business women." 

Choosing not to lean on her celebrity status and reach out to mentors worked in her favor--today the model-mogul's net worth is an estimated $25 million and her brand is visible in retailers as far-reaching as Target, Walmart, and Walgreens. 

Last updated: May 30, 2013

JILL KRASNY | Staff Writer

Jill Krasny is a staff writer for Inc. magazine, where she covers the intersection of entertainment and startups. Prior to Inc., she was a writer for MTV and Esquire and an editor at TheStreet. She is a graduate of the University of Southern California with a degree in communication. She lives in New York City.




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