Kimora Lee’s work ethic has no limit. After bagging an exclusive contract with Chanel at 13 years old, the supermodel-turned-super mogul has extended her career beyond the runway as fashion designer, perfumista, philanthropist, CEO and creative director of KLS Kimora Lee Simmons, reality TV star and producer (see: Life In The Fab Lane and House of Fab), author and most importantly, mother to her three children, Ming Lee, Aoki Lee and Kenzo Lee, with another bundle of joy on the way. (Whew!)
These days, the mixed-race beauty (she was born to a Korean-Japanese mother and an African-American father) who style OG Karl Lagerfeld once called his muse continues to be an inspiration with her knack for multitasking. Kimora recently hit the pause button on her hectic schedule and e-mailed VIBE some gems on building your brand, juggling multiple hustles and how her kids keep her going.
My MLK Moment (Realizing the dream):
Being given an exclusive modeling contract with Karl Lagerfeld and Chanel as an early teen set the tone for the rest of my career. It was an enthralling experience and a lot of hard work but it left no doubt in my mind that fashion was my future.
An obstacle I am proud to have overcome:
Well, being a model of mixed ancestry may be fun and hot and hip and cool today, but years ago, there were a lot of casting agents and brands that didn’t know what to do with me. Surrounding myself with people who believed in my look and talents converted that barrier into a strong suit – a unique point of difference that I was able to leverage into future successes.
The key to balancing multiple hustles:
It’s easy to get overwhelmed. I try to focus on what’s in front of me and prioritize, and realize that the definition of a “hustle” transcends commas and zeroes. Motherhood is a hustle. Being a working woman is a hustle. Personal finance is a hustle. Being head of a household is a hustle. By the end of the day, we – as women – have worn so many hats just in living our lives that you start to be able to take on more and more. Adaptability is key.
Tips for starting your own fashion empire:
Learn the business. Don’t get so focused on the buzz and the glamour. Learn about distribution and manufacturing. Learn about licensing. Learn about the mechanics of the business. Be well-versed in the economics of the industry, and be willing to hear the word “no” – and then keep going.
Last thing my kids told me that made me smile:
I love asking my kids what I should wear. They’ll go in my closet and lay out their ideas, and I love that their selections reflect their burgeoning taste levels. It’s a hoot because I can see their view of me – and that inspires me.
Advice for being an effective boss:
You’re only ever as effective as your team. So when you recruit, hire and develop talent, keep in mind that the surest way for you to reach the next level is to have strong support behind and beside you. Create an environment where all team members have a sense of growth and upward mobility.
VIBE Presents: In A League Of Their Own
She Got Game: Meet WNBA President, Laurel Richie
One-Woman Show: A Closer Look At Soledad O’Brien
The Blueprint: Karen Civil On Rocking The Industry And Beyond
Poetry In Motion: Ballerina Misty Copeland On Standing Out
Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: Meet Lifestyle Connoisseur, Miss Diddy
Nothin’ But Sweat: Meet Personal Trainer, Massy ‘Mankofit’ Arias
Ladies First: ESPN’s Cari Champion On Taking Charge In A Male-Dominated Industry
Last Laugh: Aisha Tyler On Being A Woman In Comedy
Fortune Cookie: Taraji P. Henson On Building Your Own Empire
High Notes: Meet BMI Vice President, Catherine Brewton
Flex Zone: Meet Hollywood Trainer, Jeanette Jenkins
Down For The Cause: Meet Petals-N-Belles Founder, Damali Elliott
Controlling The Narrative: Meet Marketing Maven, Tricia Clarke-Stone
Electric Lady: Janelle Monae On Starting A Movement
Voice Of Power: Angie Martinez On Making Bold Moves
Homerun Hitter: Egypt Sherrod On Planning Your Next Takeover
Breaking Barriers: Meet First Latina CEO Of Girl Scouts, Anna Maria Chávez
Super Powers: Tia Mowry-Hardrict On Balancing Career, Motherhood And Marriage
The People’s Champ: Meet FYI Brand Communications CEO, Tammy Brook
Red Carpet Slayer: Meet E! News’ Alicia Quarles
Show Girl: Wendy Williams On Leading An Army Of One
First Take: Mara Brock Akil’s Blueprint For Running Your Own Show
Dream Chaser: Food Network’s Sunny Anderson On Being A Jane Of All Trades
Morning Glory: Meet Executive Editorial Producer Of Good Morning America, Santina Leuci
The Perfect Struggle: MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry On Being Okay With Making Mistakes
Mic Check: HLN’s Rocsi Diaz On Making Transitions