Iman recalls going months without modeling after demanding that she be paid the same wages as white models

Iman is revered as one of the most seminal black supermodels in fashion history. When the Somali-born beauty was 19, she was signed to leading modeling agency Wilhelmina. She debuted in Vogue when she was 20.

Though she’s since achieved iconic status, Iman can still remember a time when she and other black models were viewed as inferior. That’s partly why the fashion pioneer has worked on the production of Supreme Models, a documentary series inspired by journalist Marcellas Reynolds’ book of the same name. The six-part series chronicles the cultural influence of black models in fashion and their fight for justice.

Iman Photo: The_real_iman/Instagram

Justice is something Iman has fought for since the beginning of her decade-long career. After moving to New York in the 1970s, the founder of Iman Cosmetics found that she was earning less than her white peers. And instead of accepting the “completely racist” low wages, she demanded that anyone who hires her for her talents reward her accordingly.

“I said, ‘Let me just emphasize it and tell you in a way that you can understand: I want to be paid for services rendered. So if I’m doing the same job as a Caucasian model, I want to be paid exactly the way she’s paid,'” she told PEOPLE, recalling a conversation she had with her modeling agency.

She continued, “I said to her, ‘Call me when they’re ready to pay me.’ It took them three months, but they started paying the same amount.” This win, along with her desire to help other black models get a decent wage, led to Iman helping found the Black Girls Coalition in 1988 establish.

The organization, which still exists, was co-founded by model Bethann Hardison. “We were able to highlight the disconnects in the fashion industry, especially when it came to black creatives, and then we saw incremental changes,” Iman added.

Iman and several other fashion figures such as Joan Smalls, Chioma Nnadi, Anna Wintour, Duckie Thot and others lend their voices to the discussion. The first two episodes can be seen on Vogue’s YouTube channel. New episodes will be released every Monday in October. Iman recalls going months without modeling after demanding that she be paid the same wages as white models

James Brien

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