Whoever told you it was too late to follow your dreams was a damn lie, and Rihanna's latest handpicked Fenty model, 67-year-old JoAni Johnson, is proof of this fact. After walking on the runway for the very first time only two years ago, the recently widowed supermodel is taking the taking the fashion industry by storm and living a life with no regrets.
Although JoAni had always wanted to be a model, she never imagined that her dreams would come to fruition when she was a retired mother of an adult daughter, but God works in mysterious ways. One day, while taking a walk in the park with her late husband, JoAni was approached by an Allure employee who captured her in a video that would later go viral and changed her life forever. Since garnering over a million views after her street style video feature in the publication, the Harlem-born hero has been securing the bag in a major way by working with industry giants like Eileen Fisher, Tome, Chris Peters, and now, Rihanna.
Now, able to tell her story and the stories of other women who have been discriminated against based on race, age, or sex, JoAni isn't taking any sh*t, and behind those silver strands of strength lie a world of love, pain, and perseverance that she refuses to let the world ignore.
Here's everything you need to know about this 67-year-old savage who's taking on the fashion industry one runway at a time:
Her Late Husband Is Her Inspiration
Having money, time, and resources is definitely important when launching a career, but the most important thing to have is your "why". It's important to ask yourself why you get up in the morning and work hard, or why do you refuse to give up, because in those moments you don't feel like getting out of bed and you do feel like giving up, this will certainly come in handy. For JoAni, her "why" was her late husband of over 20 years who inspired her to let the Allure representative film her in the first place.
"I didn't want to. But my husband said, 'C'mon, let her take the photo.' I asked my husband first and, again, he said, 'Go ahead, just try it.' I didn't know what they wanted. I was semi-retired and working on my tea blending business."
She explained that while he was alive, the best part about walking the runway was seeing him on the sidelines cheering her on, and I'm not crying, you're crying. After his death, JoAni continues to live out her dream in his honor because according to her, he will always be her reason. She told Refinery 29:
"All of this is for him. My husband was the most wonderful man I could ever imagine. There are so many times that I know that he's with me. On my last shoot, for example, they put on a song that was something that we used to listen to together — I knew that he was there."
Her Mother Was A Jamaican Immigrant
Nobody knows discrimination in this country like a person with brown skin, and this was especially true for JoAni's mother, who was an immigrant from Jamaica. The model explained that it was her mother's perseverance that inspired her to press on despite critics of her age.
"I think of my mom, she's 90 years old, and when she came here from Jamaica she couldn't get a job because they said her accent was too thick….We've faced a lot of challenges, We all make it through. I consider it a blessing for everyday that we make it through."
She's Only 5'4
I'm no modeling agent, but I'm almost positive that the standard for a runway model is tall, slim, all breaks, and no curves. Growing up in the 60's and 70's, this stigma was also present. There was only one perception of what a model should look like and it didn't look like Jo, and it ultimately led her to give up her dream altogether.
"If you would have asked me if this would be part of my life today, I would have said no way. When I was younger I wanted to model desperately, but at the time the rules were so stringent, I was up against the Pat Clevelands and Beverly Johnsons of the world, and it didn't happen because I didn't meet the height requirement…So I ended up working in showrooms and so forth. I worked in the fashion industry for 13 years and eventually left."
But thanks to brands like Fenty, who prove that inclusivity is more than a trend, JoAni finally has her shot. Don't call it a comeback.
She Worked As A Receptionist Before Retirement
With timeless beauty and charm like JoAni's, a woman could sell ice to an eskimo; or in her case, get a job as a receptionist even though you never learned to type. After leaving her job in the corporate fashion industry, JoAni made an attempt to jump back into the workforce. To her surprise, a lot had changed since she was in school. She explained:
"Every place I went to, they'd ask me, 'Can you type?' And I couldn't type. When I was growing up, my mom said, 'Do not learn how to type! If you learn how to type, that's the only job they're gonna put you in. You don't wanna be a typist.' So I never learned how to type. I said, What am I gonna do?"
A setback is just a set up for a come-up, and JoAni knew this when she went back to school to learn how to type her ass off.
"But then I said, I know what I'm gonna do: I'm gonna be the best damn receptionist they've ever seen. And I was."
Steeping Hot Tea Is Her Passion
Along with being an international supermodel, JoAni has another riveting passion in her life: blending tea. The Fenty model dove into her craft 15 years ago by hosting afternoon tea parties while still working her corporate job in New York and became a certified tea blender in 2006.
Featured image by Instagram/joanijohnson6000.