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Joshua Abramovich

As the end of Brown Fashion Week approaches, this year’s speaker series has remained informative, inspiring, and certainly entertaining. On March 15, Fashion@Brown was grateful to host Beverly Johnson, the iconic model, author, advocate, and businesswoman. She and Dori Walker, ‘24, talked about success, discrimination in the fashion industry, and what it means to achieve as a person of color.

To start, Walker asked what Johnson’s biggest challenges were in business. She responded that as a model, you’re an independent contractor. Hence the saying, “You eat what you kill.” To succeed, Johnson said she composed a team of intelligent individuals in business. Also, she encouraged the audience to celebrate the small victories along their journey. Waiting to get into your dream school isn’t guaranteed, but enjoying the small moments that go well can support your momentum. In addition, while many criticize corporate America, Johnson said she would have liked to work in that sector if she were to start over. “You need that understanding of how corporate America works to get your business to that level.”

After years of working with companies and understanding their structure, Johnson has become an advocate for diversifying top-level positions. Furthermore, she discussed how the board of directors set policies, however, they are mostly composed of white men. As a result, they often solve problems using their own methods rather than hearing ideas from people of color. In response, Johnson hopes to see more diversity in c-suite positions.

As such an accomplished individual, some may wonder what led Johnson to change the modeling industry. As a kid, she aspired to become a lawyer. Meanwhile, she focused on swimming, practicing with her team before and after school days. The perseverance paid off, as Johnson and her teammates won a great deal. It was this experience that taught Johnson discipline, which carried on to her modeling career. Also, as a swimmer, she had blinders and stayed in her lane. When many people, including modeling agent Elein Ford, told Johnson that her aspirations were too ambitious, she accepted that others are in their reality and that she doesn’t have to accept theirs. This mindset paid off, as Johnson did accomplish many of the goals she set for herself.

One of Johnson's aspirations was to be a top model. After landing on the cover of Vogue, she definitely achieved that goal. Walker asked Johnson what it meant to be the first black woman on the cover of the magazine. She answered that it was powerful, as people were saying black is beautiful. At the same time, the two spoke on the over-use of black firsts that can overshadow the achievement of the individual and how the goals of people of color are like everyone else. Furthermore, making the cover was a life-defining moment for Johnson, as well as a celebration that the fashion industry was becoming less discriminatory.

At the end of the conversation, Johnson was asked about her most recent venture: walking in Spring 2022 New York Fashion Week. She explained that when Conde Nast interviewed her last year about her infamous cover, she insisted on wearing clothes by Sergio Hudson. Soon after, the designer called Johnson to request that she model in his show. She then went to Paris to learn how to walk down the catwalk. This comes to show that Johnson has stayed open to trying new things, allowing her and her career to prosper.

All in all, being able to hear about Johnson’s triumphs and advice was illuminating. Fashion@Brown hopes that her words will encourage students interested in modeling, entrepreneurship, or being a change-maker.

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