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Norma Kamali has always been a conversation starter. Her timeless sleeping bag coats were favourites of Studio 54 bodyguards (as well as aspiring partygoers looking to gain their favour), and now serve as a comforting hug around the shoulders of chilly outdoor diners across the US. She also speaks out regularly on the noxiousness of the fashion system — particularly when it comes to the objectification and policing of women’s bodies.
In the latest episode of the BoF podcast, Kamali takes us back to a time when she hated fashion for its pinned-up restrictiveness, and how London’s rebelliousness rejuvenated her. The designer also unpacks the barriers she had to overcome when creating a fashion line with endurance.
Kamali sees her mission as much wider than just designing women’s clothes. In her new book, I Am Invincible, she writes about her overarching goal of understanding life and love, and giving women a map of how to age with power. “I put everything into it because I also know my purpose is to service women, and I knew that the day I recognised I found my dream job,” Kamali said.
Throughout her career, Kamali prioritised her independence and being able to “have a creative life,” which informed how she grew her business — notably, she was selective when it came to partnerships and expansion. “It wasn’t easy,” she said. “There were a lot of very scary crying on my pillow nights of trying to figure out ‘How do I make this work without having people who are working for me feel nervous or anxious?’ And I found ways.”
Still, Kamali was open to unexpected collaborations. In 2008, she released a line with Walmart that allowed both partners to tap into new markets and grow their customer bases. For Kamali, the partnership changed the way she thought about her business’s future. “I realised the power of e-commerce, and that’s when I transformed my company totally into an e-commerce company … and I will tell you, this year I’m so happy I made that decision back then because that’s how you make it through a year like we just had.”