Supermodel Winnie Harlow is known for her high-fashion looks on the runway — but the 27-year-old is adding a new title to her resume: business woman.
Harlow, who has the chronic skin condition vitiligo, launched her sun and skin care line, CAY Skin, in early March, but the journey began three years ago with Harlow calling the venture her “pandemic baby.”
“It all stemmed from a photoshoot that I had in 2018 where I got horribly burned on a beach shooting from sun up to sun down for two days in a row — no one wanted me to apply sunscreen because of the blue and purple cast that it created on my skin,” Harlow explained in a new interview with Yahoo Finance Presents.
The model went on to describe how the sunscreen-less shoot left her with the “worst sunburn” of her life, yet the experience also inspired her to create her company.
“I started thinking, ‘Why is there nothing on the market that not only protects your skin, but also looks amazing on skin and makes you feel confident to show more skin?'”
Harlow credits her Jamaican roots and early childhood days in the Caribbean as other catalysts for her brand, calling it a “two-fold” journey in which “sunscreen has always been a big part of my life.”
“My parents used to slather sunscreen onto my skin, but I even remember back then hating wearing it because of that same purple and blue cast,” she explained.
[CAY Skin] is a merge between sun care and skin care…Winnie Harlow, Supermodel & CAY Skin Founder
In recent years, there’s been an explosion of celebrity beauty brands with Kim Kardashian, Kylie Jenner, Jessica Alba, Lady Gaga, and Scarlett Johansson all putting their names behind big makeup and skin care lines.
But Harlow doubled down on keeping CAY Skin as authentic to her own experience as possible — adding that that authenticity helps the brand stand out among competitors.
“The most important thing for me when creating this business was one, creating something from scratch and two, that it was really true to me,” she said.
“It’s something that I have experienced my whole life, especially having vitiligo and my family wanting to make sure that my skin was protected. I feel like it’s a place where I have a lot of ground to stand in,” she continued, emphasizing that nothing else on the market measures up to the products she’s created.
With ingredients ranging from aloe vera to sea moss, CAY Skin is “not just a sun care brand but a merge between sun care and skin care,” she reiterated.
‘I hope it inspires’
Ahead of CAY Skin’s launch, Harlow raised $4.1 million in a January seed round.
The fundraise makes her one of only about 100 Black female founders to have raised more than $1 million in venture capital funding, according to Fortune — a jarring stat the model hopes to change.
“It’s insane to me, as a woman of color, seeing how we are not supported.”
Harlow said she hopes her business can inspire other Black female entrepreneurs to continue to strive toward their goals and find their passions.
“I hope [CAY Skin] inspires just to show that it is possible…you have to put that time in and that research into something that you’re passionate about, and just be willing to learn,” she advised.
The model revealed she experienced multiple rejections during the financing rounds, almost to the point where she felt like her dream of CAY Skin would not come to fruition.
Ultimately, though, Harlow knew the business was something she “could not give up on,” saying she refused to take no for an answer.
Her modeling background helped with that mentality as she was rejected at multiple agencies in the beginning of her career.
“No one knew where to place me. Agencies didn’t want to sign me because they didn’t know how to brand me…but I said to myself, ‘You know what, I’m going to take that, and I’m going to prove you wrong.'”
Harlow, who got her start on Tyra Banks’ “America’s Next Top Model,” surged to the top of the modeling and fashion world in a relatively short amount of time, gaining an immense following as an advocate for self-acceptance and self-love.
Currently, she has nearly 10 million followers on Instagram (FB).
“I think it’s always important not to forget to be a voice for those who are walking in the same footsteps that you once were,” Harlow said. She added that she constantly speaks out when it comes to further representation within the industry, such as more education on protecting, maintaining and styling Black hair.
However, the model believes it’s also “important to acknowledge the changes,” saying she’s seen the industry evolution first hand — and the impact that it has had on underrepresented communities.
“Every time I [see myself] on a cover, I’m able to know that there’s a little girl who is bullied or feels different and I get to be that representation that I never got to see with my own childhood,” she reflected.
“That is amazing.”
Alexandra is a Senior Entertainment and Food Reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @alliecanal8193