Norma Kamali, Fashion Icon
Innovator, inventor, icon: heavy-weight words that accurately describe the legend that is Norma Kamali. The fashion designer can be credited with steering fashion toward the casual-as-chic trajectory it's on today, as her athletic influences put her on the map in the 70s and early 80s. From her prolific designs (from her swimwear to that famous sleeping bag coat), to her dedication to wellness (waaay before it was even a "cool" thing) the woman is epic; and at 72 (!), she continues to stay ahead of the curve (she just recently shot her latest collection from her personal Iphone). Her career makes her a legend without question, but it's her general outlook on life—one marked by discipline, compassion and creativity—that make her a woman we aspire to emulate.
We love to hear founders stories directly from them. Can you tell us about your journey to where you are now and about some of the challenges and surprises you've had along the way?
This is my 50th year in business! Yikes did I just write that? It's truly been five decades of perpetual change.
1. First you go through discovery. [You ask] Who am I, what is my purpose, and how can I create a platform to express my ideas.
2. Then once you’re acknowledged, you have to build on the recognition to confirm credibility.
3. Next, as you grow you learn from the challenges of growth. This is a critical step because every misstep helps define the next phase— if in fact, you can make it to the next phase.
4. Finally reinvention is a must in order to stay relevant.
How did you overcome those challenges and or surprises?
A word of advice when everything seems like it’s moving smoothly— beware! Be prepared to meet your next challenge because it will always be there. It is the process. I can attest to countless challenges from not having enough money to grow, to resisting investors for the sake of creative freedom. Then, you add maintaining the physical space you are in, managing a staff and team that help you reach goals— to the ultimate challenge of picking good partners for collaboration. There have been so many and there are challenges now, and more to come, but I treat them all as a fact in doing business. I do, however, anticipate as much as I can, try to avoid surprises and have back up plans in place.
What's a high point moment in your life, greatest satisfaction and /or achievement?
The high point for me is usually the last thing I did that was new, and adventurous, and opened a door to more exploration!
Can you tell us about your exercise routine? I read that you workout daily and do mainly Pilates and Physique 57 after hurting your meniscus... how has this helped your body (and mind) transform?
I love working out. I have a lot of excess energy and when I work out, it is a great release for mind and body. I love feeling strong and I love competition, even against myself. When I push myself in my workout and accomplish new workout goals it supports my overall goals and dreams. The mind / body connection is amazing!
There was a time in your life when you smoked cigarettes and indulged in the occasional bacon cheeseburger. What made you switch to being vegan/raw/vegetarian/plant-based? What changes have you seen in your body?
It’s so hard to believe that, but it’s true. While I didn't smoke for a long time, the idea of doing that is so hard to imagine now.
The information available now about toxins in our lives is easy to access. The same holds true for the food we eat. One day, I had an epiphany! Truly, one night I woke up, smelled cigarettes in my hair and on my skin. It made me feel sick to my stomach. I took a shower washed my hair and then I smelled my sheets. I changed the bed and that was it. I never smoked again! Literally, at the same time I couldn't eat meat without feeling uncomfortable. I then realized I was lactose intolerant. Done: no meat, no dairy, no smoking all in 1980! It must have been an angel protecting me but within one week this all came together with no intention on my part to change. I guess you might want to listen to your angels!
I love to eat and I love fresh raw foods. I switch on and off with fish (mostly salmon). I love the idea of eating fresh vegetables, and that’s why summer is my favorite season (among many reasons).
We need all the beauty advice you can give us! You have the best skin in the business and have been practicing wellness rituals for a long time, even before it was a trend. We also heard you swear by olive oil!
Women everywhere in the wellness world understand that good fats are great for your skin, brain and body function. Yes, I love olive oil on everything but I also love nuts and avocados as well. So first and foremost, what you put *in* your body is even more important than what you put on your body. Staying hydrated is another great tip. The weather can dehydrate but also caffeine is another diuretic that affects the look of the skin. We all love the sun but one day you will get a sunburn and you will see your face crinkle and then the lines stay and they don’t go away when the tan disappears. Sorry— sad but true.
Then collagen boosters like bone broth are worth looking into. I am a vegetarian but have started bone broth and feel so good. I add turmeric and tons of ginger so it is an anti-inflammatory and collagen booster at the same time. Inflammation ages the body so both work nicely together in the bone broth. Exercise gets the blood flowing and everyone always has glowing skin after a good workout.
Besides acupuncture and meditation, what other wellness practices do you do?
My three best wellness tips, in order of importance:
2. Health food
3. And exercise — do this every day and then anything else is a bonus!
Can you share your morning/night time rituals? And the products that you use every single day?
I’ve used a cream made from calcium and olive oil everyday for the last 17 years. I use it to clean my skin at the end of the day and I use it to remove mascara and any makeup I might be wearing. I then use it at night as a moisturizer, and in the morning after my shower. I use it on my body as well. I’m reformulating the booster cream and we’ll have an updated version by next year. Once you start using it, you can’t give it up. I use it in the shower after I wash and rinse— I then take the cream and massage it into my skin as I step aside from the shower head. Then, I pat dry and it keeps your skin moisturized all day.
You've been a pioneer in so many different fashion movements from athletic/sportswear, to high-cut bathing suits, to styles that celebrate all womens' body types. What are your thoughts on trends and styles today? How does it feel to have your styles so greatly emulated? What's next?
The most exciting trends [right now] are in the active athleisure influences in fashion— layers of textures and comfortable styles that can be worn anywhere at any time and any season. I am lucky my influence is still alive and well in fashion. Fashion now, and forever going forward, will include fitness, health, and style.
Any advice or tips on how we can advance, support and empower other women in business?
Share stories. Mentor those coming up behind you and never stop asking for help, and for answers.
What about advice you would give to your younger self knowing what you know now?
The process was too important to give up or change any step along the way... the good, the bad, and the ugly were all worthwhile.
What do you want your legacy to be?
I am working on stopobjectification.com and need to make big moves. We all have stories of incidents of objectification. They are humiliating, embarrassing and are the secrets we keep that erode our self esteem. By sharing our stories we free ourselves of the insidious effect objectification has on our self esteem. Let's inspire other women with our stories, and let's free ourselves of the negative impact on our self-esteem which prevents us from reaching our potential. Please come to the site and share. Every woman on the planet has been, and still is objectified.