While most fashion models are slowing their careers down by age 25, Bronx-born Tomiko Fraser Hines was just starting out. After being told constantly that she could have a successful career as a model, the brown-skinned beauty eventually quit her job as a secretary in favor of a more flexible gig as a waitress, and began pursuing supermodeldom. Eventually, she signed with renowned FORD agency and began booking commercial and runway work here and abroad, in addition to features in a plethora of magazines and catalogs, as well as campaigns for the likes of Tommy Hilfiger and Old Navy. Most people know her for being the first African-American model to land a contract with Maybelline Cosmetics- at age 31, no less!
After taking a hiatus to focus on family, wellness and her advocacy work in women’s empowerment, Tomiko is baaaaaack, and candidly talks with us about why at 50 years old (Happy Birthday Mama!) her career is on fiyah!!!
Starting your career later than the average model, were you marketed differently from your peers? If so, how?
I followed the instruction of my agent who told me to lie about my age. I was told to say that I was 19, which is a very difficult facade to live by. A 25-year-old is much more mature acting than a 19-year-old. But, I understand why I was advised to do so. 25 in model years is pretty much saying you are 50. Many clients never asked my age and just assumed I was younger because I looked younger. It wasn’t until I was 40 and was moderating an empowerment session for young girls when a little girl asked my age that I told the truth. It would have been contradictory for me to preach to her to be her best and most truthful self when I wasn’t doing the same. I haven’t lied about my age since.
What would you say are your career highs?
Most people know me for my work with Maybelline but one of my most cherished memories was walking in a Chanel fashion show in Europe. It was such a huge deal for me because I am a commercial model so doing a runway show, for Chanel, was my editorial moment. Maybelline was the greatest blessing because they hadn’t contracted a model of color to be the “face” of their brand. I was the first. My campaigns were so successful that when they had to go into a different direction for re-branding purposes, we negotiated a new deal with me as a brand ambassador. I spoke all around the world to young girls and women. That’s how my women empowerment work started.
I was going to ask how you got into philanthropic work. Can you talk about that?
I moved to LA in 2001 and not being in the fashion capital, my work slowed down so I had more time to focus on my work with Maybelline. Being in the modeling industry, you’re judged on your physical beauty and that can be hard. It was important to me to encourage women to focus on inner beauty and overall wellness because that’s what sustains you. I’ve done Goddess Gatherings for years now, which are basically girl power sessions.
|Tomiko & husband Chris|
Aside from your women empowerment work, I read that you are an advocate for Lupus and Infertility. How did that come about?
All of the work that I do is related to a personal experience. My women’s empowerment work and brand ambassador work was happening simultaneously. And by that time, I was focused on starting a family. I met my husband Chris in LA, we married and had trouble getting pregnant. By the time I was entering my mid-40’s, we decided to do In Vitro and were fortunate enough to have twin boys, who are now 5 (Bryce and Kaden). There’s such shame affiliated with infertility and it shouldn’t be. How you choose to build your family is your choice and it should be celebrated. I share my story to help others and to remove the stigma. Stigmas and shame can damage not just the woman, but the family unit overall.
|Tomiko (right) & sister Shneequa (left)|
Lupus also affected my family. My sister, who is now deceased, was 26 when she was diagnosed with lupus. She was normal and out of nowhere had a mental episode and it was discovered that she had lupus of the brain and had to be in assisted living. I called the Lupus Foundation myself because I wanted to learn as much as I could. That led to a 10-year partnership. I wanted to help bring them more money and resources to help, especially because it affects African Americans at higher rates.
Outside of your philanthropy and modeling, what else did you do in-between?
I consider myself an artist and have had an acting career also. I love both acting and modeling. It’s two different forms of expression that have complemented each other well in my career. My work as a model helped me to become comfortable in my body to express myself as an actor. My work as an actor helped me to emote better through my photos.
|Tomiko making it look effortless (via her IG)|
What made you decide to return to modeling full-time?
I wasn’t checking for the industry anymore because I refused to conform. If I were going to return, I had to be accepted as myself: natural hair, curvy and 50. I did an international Lancome commercial 2 years ago with Julia Roberts that highlighted aging. One of the women in the commercial I recognized from my earlier modeling days and she told me about a new agency, Iconic Focus, for models 40 and over. I researched them, took a meeting, and have been signed since. I have been working like crazy and it’s been amazing!
What’s the difference between modeling now versus earlier in your career?
The difference in my career now is that I am 100% me. I am 50 and proud, and no longer lying about my age. My hair is black girl magic natural and short, my hips are wider and I love it! I don’t think this would have been possible without the way in which people have advanced. Society is changing, women are speaking up more and audiences want to see themselves represented in various forms. They spend their money where they see their truth represented. There’s more demand from the audience.
What’s next for Tomiko?
Chicos is a client and I love working for them and what the brand stands for. I am looking forward to expanding that relationship, hopefully into me being a spokesperson for them. Outside of modeling, I continue to do my Goddess Gatherings and women’s empowerment. I would love to have a lifestyle brand because I share so much on my social media in terms of my career and family and am big on helping others. Although I refrain from watching reality tv because I don’t consider it an uplifting experience, I would love a reality show based on sisterhood and support to coincide with my women empowerment work. Taking it a step further with my commitment to empowerment and wellness, I am a Certified Reiki, which is energy healing work and I have been doing that for a little under a year. I also conduct one-on-one empowerment coaching sessions with women and practice intuitive guidance, a gift I discovered I had 6 years ago.
My family comes first as a wife and mother. My husband Chris and I are coming up on our 12-year wedding anniversary and he is truly the backbone of our family, my greatest source of strength. Raising our beautiful twins in a healthy home centered on wellness is paramount.
With everything that I do, my ultimate goal is to be a source of love and inspiration.
|Tomiko, husband Chris and the boys|
Are you pursuing a dream career ‘late in life?’ Tell us about it!