We remember her as being the outsider: a soft-spoken, sweet young girl from the hard streets of Detroit. A punk and a rebel who didn’t seem likely to win America’s Next Top Model‘s 4th cycle. But her pictures and her poise pulled her through, and not only did Naima Mora win that cycle of ANTM, she’s become one of their biggest success stories to date.
A busy model who has appeared on the covers of dozens of magazines and catwalk shows, Naima has also been in demand on TV: she appeared on the second season premier of Veronica Mars, on the runway for Project Runway, was a judge of the Miss Teen USA Pageant and has appeared on The Tyra Banks Show.
The exotic beauty’s acting skills were also seen in the independent film Sarbanes-Oxley, and she’s written a book called Model Behavior about her experiences in the industry. The multi-talented star will be doing a tour to promote the book later this year, and will also be on tour with her band, Galaxy of Tar.
A lifelong Buddhist and vegetarian, Naima is one of the ‘greenest’ models we’ve ever met, and a perfect candidate for a Vie en Vert interview.
What is the earliest memory you have of being in nature?
There was a magical little island on the Detroit river where I grew up. It was called Belle Isle. I loved getting lost in the trees and foliage and left to the devices of my imagination as a child there. We would have family pick nicks and my twin sister and I would run off finding beautiful little pieces of beach glass, shells and fish bones.
Has the natural world inspired your work, in any way?
Nature inspires me daily. It inspires my life as a whole, let alone my work. The working of the universe are a fathom to me. The sun reminds me everyday of how large the universe really is, and how special we are to be a small but precious part of it. I find mysticism in nature, and it directly lends itself to my work as a model when I’m working out doors for a photo shoot; as a writer when I write in my favorite rose gardens; and as a musician when I listen to the sounds around me and the music that nature creates.
What’s the most positive thing you do for the environment in your daily life?
Well I recycle avidly and I really try to inspire those around me to remember the beauty we deserve in life. When people feel they deserve beauty in their immediate environment, they take better care of it. Then their perception of the global environment becomes more finely tuned as well.
What’s your greatest eco ‘sin’?
Probably my car. The pollution of car exhaust is super bad in Los Angeles. I really want to get an electric car soon.
What would be your eco-friendly dream travel destination?
My twin sister, Nia Mora is a photographer and film maker. She has been traveling the south pacific for the last three years documenting the people and culture of the islands there. She tells me stories of how people live off the land and share food with their neighbors. I would love to visit one of these islands in the French Marquesas.
What are you proudest of so far in your career?
Well, I have been super fortunate to have accomplished so much in my career. A lot of people think that because you’re on TV, success is handed to you. But I’ve worked really hard to book the campaigns, spreads, covers that I have, which I’m super proud of! In the last two years I’ve been focusing my energy on really inspiring young people with my successes. One of the the things I’m most proud of is the TEDx TALK performance I gave last year on the topic of inspiration. Another is becoming a published author of my first literary work, Model Behavior. The book is an inspiriting one for young people, based on my life experiences in the fashion industry, and it’s also really beautiful, with full graphics of some of my best photo shoots. I am so excited to be partnering with the Barbizon School of Acting and Modelling doing book tour dates this summer and fall!
What are your favourite ‘green’ skincare, food, home or fashion brands?
I was just introduced to a beautiful skin care line called De La Terre. Its all organic and so healing. They also make skin clarifying tea which I love. I live in Los Angeles, California and love to go wine tasting with my other sister, Ife, who lives here. She’s an incredible singer song writer, and also sommelier. We drive up to Malibu and visit the organic local vineyards for wine tasting.
Which high profile person trying to make a difference do you most admire, and why?
Michelle Obama of course. She has made tremendous efforts in influencing the health of the country where I was born and live in. Her healthy food initiatives in schools is tremendous in my opinion. I am avid about healthy and good eating. So many health concerns can be healed and addressed with a healthy, organic change in diet. The First Lady also is an iconic figure in fashion.
When and where are you happiest?
I am happiest with my family. My mother and sister just moved to Los Angeles and it has been a dream come true. With so many big life changes I have in my career and life right now, their support has been so amazing. When I’m with my family, eating a good meal is when and where I am truly the happiest.
For which cause would you die, if any?
For compassion. I am a Nichiren Buddhist and I practice with the Soka Gakkai International, an organization dedicated to spreading world peace through the ideals set forth in the Lotus Sutra that all people have the potential to be enlightened just as they are. That their lives are limitless vessels for happiness and joy. Every day I try to live my life with the compassion of the Buddha. To see other people as Buddhas and treat them accordingly. Humanity has dignity and an unspeakable value as precious living beings. I would die for compassion. We need it if we are going to move into a generation of world peace.
Which environmental issues are most important to you?
I grew up in the inner city of Detroit, Michigan. There were some parks that were really nice, but as a child I really wanted to see more beautiful parks in urban areas that uplift the idea of life and beauty in a community. The immediate environment of where children are raised is very important and it should reflect an attitude that their lives are important and deserve value and beauty.
Other than that, GMO’s have been a major issue in the world and United States. I don’t think that major food producers should be growing them at all. Manipulating the genetic makeup of food disrupts the digestive metabolism of living beings, making them ill. We have to make a stand for our health and really push for the production of organic foods again.
What’s the main thing you think we all need to do to ensure a better future?
Love our selves and love each other. Its easier said than done. But to really love a stranger with the same care and respect you would a dear loved one, is a sign of compassion that I think will move the world toward a future of greater peace- one person at a time.
Images: courtesy Naima Mora and ANTM