SUPERMODEL AND SKINCARE FOUNDER WINNIE HARLOW IS CHANGING THE FACE OF BEAUTY—AND DRIVING THE IMPORTANT CONVERSATION FOR INCLUSIVITY ACROSS INDUSTRIES ALONG THE WAY.
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Growing up with the autoimmune disorder and skin condition vitiligo, Winnie Harlow’s parents always emphasized the importance of sun protection. The Jamaican-Canadian model was born in Toronto but spent her summers on the beaches of Jamaica. Yet an all-day beach photo shoot changed the course of Harlow’s career—expanding her trajectory from supermodel and inclusivity advocate to beauty boss.
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“I was on set in 2018 on a shoot on the beach,” she shares. “We shot for two days from sunup to sundown. No one on set wanted me to reapply sunscreen, because it was leaving a blue-purple cast on my skin. So I decided to agree with them and not to do it because I didn’t like the way it looked either—or the way it felt.” Harlow says that by the end of the second day of shooting, she had the worst burn of her entire life that resulted in severe, permanent skin damage and required medical treatment. “It was at that moment when I realized that there was nothing on the market that not only protected me the way I wanted but also made me look and feel beautiful,” she says. “I felt like there was a gap in the market for something that protected your skin… and was also gorgeous on the skin—so I created Cay Skin.”
Chanel swimsuit and jewelry, chanel.com. PHOTOGRAPHED BY CLIFF WATTS
Spending her summers in her father’s native Jamaica and now today constantly shooting as a top model, Harlow has always been in the sun. “It was something that was personal to me,” she says of her lifelong use of suncare that made the need in the market so apparent. Inspired by her Caribbean heritage and her vitiligo, the model unveiled skincare, suncare and body-care Cay Skin (cayskin.com) this spring. The vegan, cruelty-free, reef-friendly line features island-based ingredients suited for all skin types and tones. The range of lightweight, breathable formulas are comfortable to wear and are specifically formulated for all skin tones and types— including sensitive skin like Harlow’s. Island-based botanicals (like aloe stem cells, hydrating nectar and sea moss) nod to her Jamaican heritage.
The outspoken inclusivity advocate has been surrounded by beauty from the start, growing up in her mother’s salon. “It influenced my ideas of beauty and self-care, because I got to see women come into my mom’s salon and leave like 10 times happier,” Harlow says. “Not just from their beauty experience and leaving the salon with a new do, but also I feel like the salon is kind of a source of therapy. Seeing women come together and empower and uplift each other—and also leave more banging—was a beautiful thing for me to see as a young girl.”
Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello jumpsuit, ysl.com; Cay Skin necklace, cayskin.com; Valentino platforms, valentino.com. PHOTOGRAPHED BY CLIFF WATTS
Harlow has shared that her childhood had its challenges, with others often bullying her. “I think it built strength within me,” she says. “The same strength that I have today is the same strength that I built within myself when I was young.” Harlow hopes to help others who might be enduring the same sort of bullying she did as a child. “My mom always said, ‘This too shall pass.’ And I think it’s really something that I didn’t understand as much when I was a kid. But I do as I get older. Because you always feel like whatever you’re going through is the most detrimental thing… But things can always be better and things could always be worse. Life is full of ups and downs. So this too shall pass. Things will be better.”
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Harlow considers her role as an advocate for inclusivity a great honor. “I’m honored,” she says. “It’s amazing to be representative of inclusivity… Remembering looking out into the world and feeling like I was the only person with vitiligo, and now seeing so many different people being represented on different platforms (TV, magazines, movies, whatever the case)... it is really beautiful to me. And being a part of that, at the forefront of it, is a big honor to me because there was no path to walk. I had to make a path for myself. And now that people are following suit and doing the same, it’s really beautiful to me.”
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“I hope my legacy is being a boss ass bitch. Honestly, being able to come from a small town outside of Toronto—where there were a lot of bad things going on in my neighborhood—to now be able to take care of myself, my family, create a business (the first hopefully of many). I just hope to leave a legacy behind of generational wealth—especially as a Black woman as that’s not necessarily in the cards for us always because we weren’t given the same start as others were. In order to break that mold, I’d love to continue to create businesses and become a bossy mogul supermodel and multi-hyphenate.”