Today, Norma Kamali is a style icon known for her effortlessly put-together aesthetic (and tortoise shell glasses). But back in the early ’70s when she struck out on her own as a designer, she admits she had a lot to learn. Not just about the fashion biz, but about taking care of herself, too. Here, the Well+Good Council member shares why it’s important to prioritize your personal well-being as part of your business plan.
Here’s what the early of years of running my own business looked like: It’s been too long since I shaved my legs or armpits. My hair is a frazzled mess, and I’m basically wearing a uniform everyday.
I haven’t been eating real meals, there’s no time to see friends, and my refrigerator has ancient condiments and things too old to eat.
My makeup is under-eye concealer, so the circles under my eyes are less dark. My blush is running so low, I use it sparingly. When my nails break, I file them. Even if I could spare the time to have a manicure, I don’t want to spend any money on anything—I’m making ends meet to buy fabric and pay the expenses for the company.
In short, I let my self-care fall by the wayside. I don’t have time, I thought. My only luxury was sleep—and sleepless nights are many when you’re an entrepreneur. You worry about the rent, the bills, the staff (and for a designer, if you can afford to buy fabric). Months would go by like this. It won’t surprise you to learn that I was neglecting myself as well. Poor food choices, irregular eating habits, no supplements, erratic sleep—none of it was good for my health, and none of it was going to enhance beauty.
Poor food choices, irregular eating habits, no supplements, erratic sleep—none of it was good for my health.
One day, I remember having a fitting in my sample room. As I was looking at the mannequin in the mirror to see the silhouette of the dress at a distance, I saw myself in the reflection and thought, What a scary sight. When I went home that evening, I decided I needed to add me to my to-do list.
The following day, I stood in front of the mirror during the daily fitting, and I saw an image of myself that I hadn’t respected for a long time. I was so happy to feel that I looked good! I knew it was partially because I had a good night’s sleep, but there was clearly an attitude I presented that made me feel better about myself.
The next step was necessary: I cut my coffee intake in half (I was drinking 10 cups a day at the time) because I was rattled from the caffeine. When the desire for a cigarette would come, I’d remember the smell and how it made me feel sick. Listen to your body: It’s a lesson I learned then and have never forgotten.
I noticed the difference in how people were responding to me as a result of the way I was now presenting myself. I started taking supplements, and slowly took caffeine out of my life completely. I went shopping for proper food, and I always had my olive oil and lemon ready as my favorite condiments.
I also had another revelation: Whenever I ate a hamburger or meat, I would feel bad. I decided to stop eating meat to see what would happen. The result was amazing. As time went by, I was feeling better and better. The transition wasn’t easy. I needed to find ways to get protein, and lost all my electrified energy without caffeine. The interesting effect of eating in this new way, though, was a new kind of energy that gave me endurance and deeper, healthier nights of sleep. I went to bed earlier and got up earlier. This gave me time to…hello, groom! The business still demanded all my time and energy, but I felt better and looked better.
As the company survived the immediate hurdles, new ideas came flooding in to me, and in turn, they opened new business opportunities. I also realized that selling myself was a big part of my new business. If I couldn’t do it with a healthy, positive look and attitude, I would then be holding myself back. Things were aligning and I was excited about how productive I was in business. Coincidentally, I started dating and found that relating to another human being has so many benefits for mind and body.
To this day, the endurance and stamina I need for all the entrepreneurial highs and lows really depend on quality self-care.
To this day, the endurance and stamina I need for all the entrepreneurial highs and lows really depend on quality self-care. I find myself stronger and able to handle even more difficult challenges without feeling strung out.
As women, we have another layer to consider. As we go through the hormonal roller coaster through each decade of our lives, hormones influences how we feel in our body and in our spirit. In my view, following a lifestyle that protects you as much as possible from all of the external and internal forces is required, and not just a choice.
I learned that, and I keep upgrading by learning more and incorporating all of it into my daily plan. I’m living a creative life, and so grateful to have been given this opportunity. I’m working hard not to squander it in order to reach my full purpose.
As an entrepreneur and designer, Norma Kamali has always found inspiration for her fashion collections in wellness, beauty, and women’s empowerment. These anchors have fueled her creation of the Stop Objectification movement, which encourages women to celebrate their strength and their bodies.
What should Norma write about next? Send your questions and suggestions to [email protected].