When Tyra Banks makes her way to Fresno for the sold-out Central California Women’s Conference on Tuesday, she plans to set the tone as the keynote speaker.
“(It’s about) not taking ‘no’ for an answer and being the first at something,” she said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles. “Breaking down walls, breaking out of beauty boxes and cookie cutters.”
The conference’s theme, “breaking boundaries,” is familiar territory for Banks.
In 1997, she became the first black model to land a standalone cover on Sports Illustrated and has spoken up for inclusivity in the fashion industry.
Since retiring from modeling 13 years ago, she has worked on a myriad of projects, including co-creating “America’s Next Top Model” and hosting “The Tyra Banks Show.”
The supermodel-turned-entrepreneur has also used her time to teach graduate business classes at Stanford University.
“I don’t have a speech where you’ll see me reading word-for-word or anything like that,” she says. “I’m telling real stories and being real nimble and in the moment.”
Banks, 45, has made a return to modeling this year, posing again on the cover of Sports Illustrated, proving models can be all ages and sizes.
Coming out of retirement means she will be working on some modeling projects soon. She was recently announced as the face of Nine West.
Her latest venture, Modelland, is set to open in Santa Monica in the winter. The theme park will allow people to experience a fantasy version of themselves.
“This is something I’ve been working on for 10 years,” she said, “so I’m super happy to see that it’s finally going to be reality.”
Being relatable and working smarter
Banks finds being in the spotlight gratifying.
“I love public speaking,” she said. “It’s not just me giving advice to them and helping them. I don’t think the audience realizes how much they help me.”
As her modeling career took off in the 90s, Banks wanted to put her influential voice to good use.
“In the fashion industry, I was a weirdo,” she said. “Like, ‘what is she talking about? Why is she telling everyone her hair is fake?’”
But that’s what she says made her relatable to people outside the industry.
Banks said although there are more opportunities for women entrepreneurs like herself in 2019, “there are things that set us back, of course, politically, socially. By no means have we arrived.”
“That pay gap is still ridiculously large,” she said. “Just certain things that I even see being a female executive producer and a business owner, that compared to certain men I have to fight for and be very, very adamant about sticking to my guns. Not necessarily for my own gain, but for the people after me.”
Banks’ life as a mother to her 3-year-old son has taught her to work smarter. “Before I was a mom, I would just work constantly non-stop,” she said. “Now, every day I leave the office at 5 or 5:30 to get home to my son.”
Tyra’s connection to Fresno
Banks says she has a connection to Fresno – some of her family lives in the city.
“My dad asks me every year to come to the family reunion and I just haven’t come. It’s all about the food,” she joked. “I have to see what the menu is ahead of time.”