When it comes to American fashion designers, Norma Kamali is a force to be reckoned with. The CFDA-winning designer has been creating high-style clothes since the 1960s, and has contributed to a definitive part of pop culture by designing the red one-piece bathing suit worn by Farah Fawcett in the iconic 1976 “Charlie’s Angels” poster, which now is on display at the Smithsonian. Other contributions that Kamali’s made to the fashion world include her infamous sleeping bag coat, garments made from silk parachutes, and her use of shoulder pads in the 1980s.
Kamali was the first designer to create an online store for eBay, and she also contributed to bringing style to the masses by created an affordable collection for Walmart in 2008. We caught up with New York-based designer to get the scoop on some invaluable style advice, and the one item she can’t live without.
Be honest: On a scale of 1 to 10, how hard is it really to start your own business, and why?
Very much a 10. But if you think it’ll be hard and get discouraged it means you don’t want it badly enough.
What’s the best piece of advice, career-wise, you’ve gotten to date?
The experience gained in making mistakes is more valuable than the successes. You lean the most important asset you have in your resilience and your ability to act fast to make change and move forward.
What was a specific challenge you overcame when venturing out on your own?
I think it’s a constant challenge I face because of my interests and personality. It’s very important for me to not be too far ahead of the curve. Timing is everything. I get so excited by new ideas that I dream up, but I must keep myself sober—not jump into each of them because there may not be an audience for the concept.
What was your “a-ha!” moment when you knew it was time to start your own business?
I was in London in 1967 and I thought: I’m ready to do this myself! I fit the right mood. My personality found a time and a place where I blossomed so I rented a basement store for $285 dollars a month and decorated it Salvation Army-style with attitude. I was 22!
What advice would you give your younger self?
I think it was soooo lucky. I was in the right place at the right time, and I’ve had a career designed for my personality. I work hard but my younger self thought she was so much smarter than I do now and that false sense of intelligence actually worked for me, [otherwise] I would have been too afraid to take on challenges.
How about advice to women looking to build their own successful businesses?
Know thyself. My 6th grade teacher, Mrs. Kaplan, wrote that in my yearbook an it’s really so important.