Model-turned-entrepreneur Tyra Banks kicked off Variety’s inaugural Path to Parity women’s summit on Wednesday in West Hollywood, sharing her experiences of navigating the fashion industry before shifting to start her own show and other business ventures.
The Path to Parity summit gathered industry leaders, talent, show runners, producers and legal minds actively working for women’s advancement in the #MeToo and Time’s Up era. Hosted at the Jeremy Hotel in Los Angeles, Wednesday’s event features conversations with industry leader including showrunners Gloria Calderón-Kellett, Kenya Barris and Jill Soloway; attorneys Gloria Allred and Nina Shaw, and Mila Kunis.
Interviewed by Variety’s Cynthia Littleton, Banks carried forth on a number of topics, including sexual harassment in the fashion industry, challenges she endured when she retired from modeling, and lessons she learned from her business ventures.
Banks said her desire to be her own boss came from rejection she faced for her skin color and curvier figure, which she said was not desirable in the world of high-fashion modeling. “Me being a boss came from pain,” she said. “Being told no you can’t.”
Those experiences “created in me an empathy for women and physical discrimination,” she said, adding that she’s inspired to fight each day “for booty. I’m going to fight for brown skin… My pain turned me into a boss.”
Banks shared an anecdote contained in her latest book, an almost tribute to her mother: “Perfect Is Boring: 10 Things My Crazy, Fierce Mama Taught Me About Beauty, Booty, and Being a Boss.”
Banks said that when she began to gain weight and was shut out of working for certain designers, her mother shook her to her senses — literally. Banks’ mother instructed her to write down a list of designers who work with curvier models and also to list models with a “booty” who she should try to emulate. “I’ll be damned if my daughter has to starve for this industry,” Banks recalled her mother saying.
Shifting towards creating her ubiquitous show, “America’s Next Top Model,” Banks said she recalled the strong pushback she would receive in the conception of a show that has now entered its 25th cycle and has versions of the program in dozens of other countries.
“One early producer on ANTM, every editing session, he would combat me. and contest everything,” Banks recalled. “I could tell it was personal, and I was his boss… I did not fire him. I didn’t understand my power, but he was definitely an issue and a problem.”
In 2003, after the show had launched to overnight success, “he came to me and said, ‘Everything that you did was right, and I’m sorry,” she recalled, saying it made her “teary.” “He said, ‘I was being prejudiced because of where you came from, this whole modeling thing… How can she come off a runway and have more instincts than me?'”
Banks also shared that as she has matured as an entrepreneur, she has learned to understand her strengths. “As all of us expand and want to scale, it is so important to find strong people that specialize in those things,” she said. “My strength is the creative side of the business.”