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Iman is a retired supermodel from the country of Somalia. She's married to rocker David Bowie.
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Over the years, Iman made several film appearances, but the big screen failed to fully capture her grace and energy. She found a far more worthy outlet for her talents, however, in 1992, when she convinced the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) to let her take a documentary film crew to Somalia, which had been ravaged by war, drought,
and famine. Iman decided that her status as Somalia's most famous expatriate could be leveraged to help raise awareness of the tragedy and bring in more international aid. As she explained to People writer Ron Arias, she set out determined to "let the Somali people speak for themselves. People get numbed when they see picture after picture, year in and year out, of people starving. I wanted to show that they are not a nation of beggars — that culture, religion, music and hope are still there."
Iman and the BBC crew arrived to film Somalia Diary just weeks after her honeymoon. It was her first visit in 20 years, and she barely recognized places like Baidoa, where she and her family had vacationed when she was a child. Instead of a thriving market town, she found emaciated people clothed in rags, and adolescents toting automatic weapons. "It reminded me of the movie Mad Max, " she told People. The making of Somalia Diary proved a dangerous and difficult time, but Iman was also able to visit family and even her former childhood home in Mogadishu, in which three refugee families were by then living. On one day of filming, she and the crew followed the bus that went through the town collecting the day's fatalities. "[T]hat was the worst part," she said in the People interview with Arias. "I stopped because I couldn't go through the whole thing. The count was 70 dead that day, and most of the bodies I saw in the sacks were children under 10."
In 1994, Iman launched her own line of cosmetics for women of color. She had long been frustrated by the paucity of products for black skin. "I would go to cosmetics counters and buy two or three foundations and powders, and then go home and mix them before I came up with something suitable for my undertones," she said in an interview with Black Enterprise writer Lloyd Gite. Teaming with Byron Barnes, a onetime makeup artist who had helped create a previous line of cosmetics for women of color, Iman came up with an innovative product line, and packaged it with her own name and very recognizable visage. The Iman Collection was aimed at all women of color — Hispanic, Asian, Native American, as well as black — and was sold at J.C. Penney stores across the United States. Like her modeling career, Iman's newest venture was an immediate success, but she soon realized that a company as small as hers did not have the capability to expand. The Iman Collection had neither an advertising budget nor a sales staff, and when its products sold out quickly, it took weeks to restock. Poor planning also hampered the business in the first year — for instance, there were not enough products for Asian skin types in West Coast stores, while too many languished on store shelves in the Midwest.
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