Why you should care
Because she's a multi-talented star.
Kimora Lee Simmons is an entrepreneur, fashion designer, TV personality, author, philanthropist, model — you name it. And she reveals all in an interview with OZY CEO and co-founder Carlos Watson on a recent episode of The Carlos Watson Show. You can find some of the best cuts from the conversation below, and the full interview can be found on the show’s podcast feed.
Carlos Watson: Did [you] think this would take off?
Kimora Lee Simmons: I had no clue, I was a little country bumpkin. “Exotic” — not sure if it’s a compliment. I was odd: I’m Black, “but you’re not” — because she’s Asian. Just the same crazy, vibrant personality. She always wanted to get out. She needed to travel, fashion, the business of fashion. She was bullied, then her life changed overnight. Tried to always think of how she can take her business to the next level, be international.
Watson: So what would have happened if you hadn’t been discovered, do you think? None of us know for sure, but play that game of sliding doors. What would’ve happened if modeling hadn’t come along?
Simmons: I know for a fact, because I do this every day, I would’ve been a doctor. Anybody in my family can tell you, and I know people say this all the time, but mine is really, really true. I am, like, a frustrated, closeted doctor. I know so much about medicine, surgery, drugs, laws, so much stuff. I would’ve been a doctor, which also turns into a vet, as a doctor for animals and I love animals, or I would’ve been a lawyer because I loved to argue and I want to be right. But all of that comes from education, medicine, going to school. I just graduated college a couple of years ago. I got derailed, I always say, hanging out with that bad crew. Look what happened to me.
Watson: How did you get into business in the first place? Because neither your mom nor your dad is an entrepreneur, are they?
Simmons: No. My mom worked many years for the government. Social Security. She’s an immigrant from Korea. She’s Korean Japanese. My dad was very much a businessman. He’s the first Black U.S. marshal.
So yeah, that’s pretty enterprising, and yeah, I think I definitely have that spirit. I have a spirit of a hustler in me. I’m from St. Louis. And I mean that in the good sense of a hustler, like hustle, go get it by any means necessary. Not like hustle hand-and-eye trick. I don’t trick. There’s no tricking going on here, Carlos. OK? It’s all very straight.
Watson: Tell me about the restart of the business. What made you bring back Baby Phat Beauty?
Simmons: Well, we relaunched Baby Phat in general. Baby Phat Beauty is just the latest thing that we’ve offered, but I think Baby Phat in general, we’ve been rolling out for the past good year and a half or so. And I think really right now it’s about retro brands. Baby Phat is very much a legacy brand. It’s a heritage brand. I started out with, well, myself, before I even had any kids, but from when my kids were very young, they’ve been behind the scenes, on the runway, doing everything with me. And now they’ve grown up. They’re 18 and 20, at Harvard and NYU. And they are involved in every aspect of business. So we are minority-owned, women-owned and -run, Black-owned. It’s a great time. It’s a great time to be alive. It’s been a tenuous time, but that’s one little silver lining to my cloud.
And, I don’t know, in terms of fashion and the movement, people love that. And they say what goes around comes around, but yeah, it’s a retro situation and that’s big right now. If you look at fashion across the board, in terms of the fit of your pants, the color, the way the coat is cut, everything is a little bit retro, a little bit like from the past. That’s what’s chic. Even streetwear, even athleisure, athletic wear. Everything is, yeah, it’s retro.
Race and Politics
Watson: What about running for office? Because something tells me you’d be magnetic. People would be covering you all the time. You would have interesting ideas. You’d bring different people to the table. You wouldn’t be afraid of a big idea.
Simmons: But what office would it be and how would I get there? I don’t feel like I’m groomed for politics, but if I could get in there, I would be all those things.
Watson: Tell me about this moment you think we’re in. You have your girl Kamala Harris, Black and Asian. You’ve got Naomi Osaka, the young tennis superstar, Black and Asian as well. You’ve got your boy Tiger Woods, Black and Asian as well.
Simmons: Yes. They’re called Blasians. We are called Blasians — blazing Asians — and some other things too that we probably can’t say because I’m not sure which, where, how this is airing, but let’s just say blazing Asians. We’re Blasians.
Watson: But it literally feels like in a way Kamala Harris is going to open up lots of lanes for people and is going to open up lots of new conversations and thinking about not just gender but race differently. Do you think that that is in some way the future that Blasians may be especially able to bring together various kinds of people?
Simmons: I know for a fact that we are able to do that because I know a lot of Blasians like you just named … and we’re very dynamic and very capable.
You just look right there at how well that all mixes together, yeah, the answer is yes. We’re dynamic. We’re in all walks of life and business and politics. And absolutely, I think that Kamala represents a shift, represents the future, which is what in an odd way was said about me when I was younger, even though we’re talking about politics and mine was fashion, but it was like, “Yes, she is the face of the future.”
I think in that sense, it’s a very good time for us. Maybe that’s too joyous of a word, but that’s our silver cloud, silver lining to this moment. Absolutely, she’s the face of the future. This is the movement of the future. I think in this case, I actually am very hopeful that that will be the case. It’s about what they represent that I find to be so hopeful and I find to be right on message and I find to be the motivating force and the look to the future. Absolutely. It’s what it represents. Not really how old or how did they do this. Nobody’s perfect. I get it.