This article was last updated on April 16, 2022
For someone who didn’t plan on being in fashion — or have much in the way of a plan when she started out — Norma Kamali has had an incredibly successful, rich career in the industry. The originator of the sleeping bag coat, high-end sweatshirts, and athleisure (Yes, we’re giving her that honor!), Kamali has proven that unconventional thinking can pay off big time. But, her path was a winding one; through a series of setbacks and second options, Kamali emerges as one of the most influential feminists working today in fashion…and boy, does she work.
“Don’t not give 150%. The key is to really just give everything. Like, really, really give it all, so that you get back a ton,” Kamali says. “I think that’s what the misunderstanding is. When you’re younger, you just want to get, but you don’t get unless you really put a lot into it.”
Listen to Unstyled, below, as Kamali takes host and Refinery29’s global editor-in-chief and cofounder Christene Barberich through her remarkable life journey, from being a Club Kid of the ’60s who sewed herself into pants because she didn’t want to mess with zippers to a design world icon helping fellow women break out of objectification.
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The key is to really just give everything, like, really, really give it all, so that you get back a ton
Let’s talk a little bit about the beginning, where Norma came from.
“I grew up in a house with a very eccentric, fantastic mother who was difficult because of her eccentric tendencies, but so talented at the same time that the influence was profound, and definitely made a lifetime impression. I think that, more than anything, had the biggest impact on everything I do, even today, and had she been born at another time, she would have been hugely successful because she was also very smart with money.”
You said when you took that job at the airline company, you decided you were gonna be great. What does that mean? How do you, how does one decide to be great?
“First of all, the environment was the antithesis of every dream I had; it was cubicles with people sitting behind computers, and conveyor belts, and just headsets on, and just nothing creative at all about it, and I didn’t want to reject it. I didn’t want to harrumph my way through it. I wanted to really accept the fact that this was gonna be good for me, and I better get the most out of it. I didn’t know how much I would get out of it, but I thought it, and I have a competitive spirit, so I thought, I want to be the best, so how do I be the best? What do I do? If they liked oranges, I made sure there were oranges in every ro