Naomi Sims - 2005
Naomi Sims - 2005

Naomi Sims, the world’s first African American Super Model, businesswoman and author, died Saturday after a long battle with cancer. She was 61.

Naomi Sims ruled the fashion industry for five straight years; appearing on the covers of some of the most popular magazines of the late 1960’s and mid  1970’s. Sims was sought after by the industries brightest designers such as Halston, Teal Traina, Fernando Sanchez, and Giorgia di Sant’ Angelo. Famed designer Halston once told the New York Times in 1974 that “Naomi was the first. She was the great ambassador for all Black People. She broke down the social barriers.”

Essence magazine commented on Naomi’s legacy in the 1970’s by acknowledging that before Sims, “never had a model so dark-skinned received so much exposure, praise, and professional prestige.” In 1969 and 1970, Naomi Sims was voted top model by International Mannequins and received numerous accolades and awards for her ground-breaking achievement.

However, Naomi Sims would say in various interviews that the road to major success was quite bumpy at best. Darker-hued African American models rarely were hired by designers or advertisers for print work. It was only through an entrepreneurial spirit that Sims’ modeling career took off at all.

Naomi heard that a former model was starting a modeling agency. Naomi made a deal with the agency owner. She would shop her head shots to various ad agencies and businesses. On the back of the pictures would be the former model’s new agency contact info. The plan worked. Within days, the new agency garnered a massive surge in clientale and Naomi Sims was the reason why. The owner of the agency’s name? Wilhelmina Cooper. Willie, as she was loving called by those who knew her stated that Naomi “could make any garment, even a sack cloth, look sensational.”

But after five whirlwind years on the top of the fashion world, Naomi Sims left it all behind. “Modeling was never my ultimate goal,” she said in an interview. “I started to model to supplement my income to go to college. But the idea of starting my own business had always appealed to me.” Thus the Naomi Sims Wig Collection was born. Sims noticed the need for  high quality wigs produced for African American women that appeared and felt like African American hair. After much experimentation in her own kitchen, Naomi Sims perfected a synthetic wig that had the same texture of naturally coarse hair.

The Naomi Sims Collection was a hit with African American buyers and  became a multimillion dollar business with Sims expanding into the world of cosmetics and fragrance. Naomi Sims authored four books:

1976All About Health and Beauty for the Black Woman

1979 – How To Be A Top Model

 1982 – All About Hair Care For The Black Woman

1982 – All About Success For The Black Woman

Naomi Sims is survived by her son, Robert Findley, one grandchild, and a sister.