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How Kimorah Lee Simmons Empowered Women through her Iconic Fashion Label Baby Phat

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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Mich chapter.

Beginning around 2020, there appeared to be a resurgence in Y2K and McBling trends; People started to once again wear low rise jeans, velour tracksuits (including me, I still have two of them), and butterfly clips. Brands like juicy couture, Von Dutch, Ed Hardy, and Baby Phat became highly sought-out items on websites like Depop and Poshmark. Baby Phat, a clothing brand that peaked in popularity in the early 2000s, captivated my 15-year-old heart. I was obsessed with both the label and the creator, model turned businesswoman Kimorah Lee Simmons. Here is the story behind the face of the brand.

“I wanted to offer women the clothes that would make them feel as fierce as I did […] Not every girl can afford a pair of Cavalli jeans, but I was pretty sure I could make a jean that looked just as good”

Fabulosity: What It Is & How to Get It by Kimorah Lee Simmons

Kimora Lee Simmons is a model, author, media presence, and the creator of Baby Phat. She was born in the late 1970s, in St Louis Missouri, and grew up there as an only child with her mother. She was inspired by the luxurious and colorful imagery of the 80s; Wall Street women in padded power suits; Jennifer Beal in Flashdance, and icons of the decade including Janet Jackson and Madonna. As a young girl, six feet tall with big curly hair, part Japanese-Korean and part African American, she struggled to fit in with her peers, and was consistently the target of physical and verbal bullying. But when her mom signed her up for modeling school to help build her confidence, the features that she was once teased for were celebrated. At a modeling convention in Kansas City, she was scouted by an agent and invited to launch her modeling career in Paris. After begging her mother, the summer before she started high school, she was off to Paris! There she found success at the age of 13; Kimora booked German Vogue, Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Chanel, Cristian Lacroix, and Valentino.

Baby Phat was created in 1999. Phat Farms, a mens clothing company founded by Russell Simmons, ex-husband of Kimora, planned to launch a women’s collection that year. Kimora took the lead, creating a famous Baby Phat cat logo, and with a small team, threw together women’s outfits to be featured in the Phat Farm’s menswear show.

“I’m a big advocate of having fun with fashion. Sure, I know clothes are not going to save the planet! But if you love fashion and care about fashion, then letting yourself get excited about costumes and adornment is a way of getting juiced; ready to take on the world and excited about your own potential.”

Fabulosity: What It Is & How to Get It by Kimorah Lee Simmons

Baby Phat took off in popularity and was worn by celebrities such as Missy Elliot, Lil’ Kim, Jennifer Lopez and Aaliyah. Merchandise included bedazzled puffer coats, mini skirts, faux fur coats, and later expanded to include shoes, jewelry, cosmetics, lingerie, handbags, and fragrances – of course with rhinestone detailing, fitting of the early 2000s. Baby Phat celebrated urban and hip hop culture, which has often been on the receiving end of negative criticism.  She also wanted to create affordable and accessible pieces for women that were realistic to various lifestyles. Baby Phat was especially important for girls and women of color, as the brand celebrated Black identity and style and featured inclusive casting.

As a young girl, the reason I admired Kimorah so much was because she was unafraid to be her true and authentic self, and she wasn’t afraid to take risks and take up space in an industry that was not exactly friendly to diversity.  Now as an adult, I try to carry these lessons forward in every space I’m in.

Saran Kaba

U Mich '27

Saran is a freshman at the University of Michigan who aspires to be a social worker and public health professional. She loves baking, fashion and pop-culture.