Connie please share your daily wellness routine with us.

I always start every day with prayer and meditation, a morning stretch and then at least 500ml of water

What are your favourite beauty/makeup products and why?

1) Fashion Fair’s Blemish Control Cleansing Foam cleanses thoroughly and minimizes breakouts  2) FF’s True Fix Foundation – each compact has two shades so you can conceal, contour and cover with one product  3) Laura Mercier’s Eyebrow gel

How do you manage stress/relax?

It’s a challenge! I take Pilates classes 1-2 per week.  Most days, I attain at least 10,000 steps a day.  Walking is good for clearing my head, so if possible, I take a late afternoon walk to get my energy level back up.  I’ve recently taken up colouring, which is such a wonderful way to relax and lose myself – just like when I was a child.  I highly recommend the Vogue colouring book.

We have a section on WOW Beauty called ‘What mama told me’ do you have any beauty tips that your mama has shared with you?

1) Always wash the makeup off your face and brush your teeth, no matter how late  2) Always eat breakfast and  3) Never go braless

We also have a section called ‘My beauty journey’. Have you always been a confident woman?

I was always confident about my intellect, but it took a long time for me to become confident as a woman – in all aspects of my life, especially how I looked.  Growing up – with the exception of Ebony and Essence – the media images of beauty at that time offered a very limited view of beauty and it didn’t see anyone with my full lips and kinky hair.  I spent most of my late teens and 20s trying to downplay those features by never wearing lipstick and faithfully relaxing my hair every 6 weeks.  The insecurity was such that I couldn’t leave the house without being perfectly groomed and dressed to the nines.  I would give anything to get some of that time (and money) back now! The biggest step in my beauty journey was transitioning to my natural hair four years ago after decades of relaxing my hair; it has been so liberating! One of the greatest gifts of growing older…finally being comfortable in my own skin. 

Who inspires you and why?

Fearless women, who own their truth and don’t feel the need to shrink themselves to make others comfortable; women like my mother and grandmother.  My grandmother dropped out of university when she got married at the beginning of the Great Depression and had 3 small children at home by the time my grandfather went away for World War II.  She returned to finish her degree during my mother’s final year of university, started a teaching career in her early 40s and got a masters degree in her 50s.  After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, she was the first person on her street to move back into her home – less than a year later.  We lost her in September at the age of 96; the void left in our lives is huge.   

My mother got pregnant with me at the beginning of her second year of medical school; she and my father were newly married and both studying in different cities.  With his support and that of my grandparents, she completed her education on schedule.  She said knowing how hard her parents had worked to get her there, that she never considered doing anything else but finishing. Both women taught me that I can do anything I want if I’m willing to work hard for it and help others along the way.

Do you think that how women define their beauty is changing to a more individual approach or are we still being dictated to by the media?

Absolutely!  We owe a great deal of thanks to YouTube and reality TV shows, like America’s Top Model and even The Kardashians,  for helping people embrace a broader definition of beauty.  However, there is still a long way to go.  For all the media gushing about Lupita N’Yongo, we still haven’t seen her in another movie role; one where she is playing a modern day woman who is strong and capable and is the love interest.  Right now, Viola Davis of How to Get Away with Murder is the only dark-skinned woman in a starring role – thanks to the vivid imagination of the very gifted Shonda Rimes (who also gave us another fierce black woman in Scandal’s Olivia Pope).  We need to see many more darker women of African and Asian descent highlighted in the media, both real and fictional, to counter the “dark = ugly” narrative.  It’s this narrative that is driving the horrible skin bleaching phenomenon that seems to be growing in popularity in Africa and South Asia.  It is such a reflection our self-hatred.  It’s heartbreaking when people cannot see their own beauty.

What has been one of your favourite beauty advertising campaigns in recent months and why?

The Dove campaigns are fabulous!!  They have helped to broaden the defined age and shape beauty.  The Nars campaign using ageless beauties like Tilda Swinton and the Dolce and Gabbana commercial featuring Sophia Loren have been groundbreaking.

How has your career enabled you to continue your impressive work of empowering and enabling women?

Ironically, I started my career in one of the most male-dominated industries of all – investment banking.  That was the first time that I was really aware of my gender as a possible liability.  It helped to forge links with other women in the same position.  Ten years later, I had the privilege of working for my mother, helping her to restructure the leadership of the health and social care organisation that she founded in preparation for her eventual retirement.   So many of the staff were women, many of whom grew up in the council estate where the organisation’s headquarters was based.  Most had had their lives derailed by just a few bad choices.  We set up flexible working to enable many of them to finish their educations and gain new skills.  It paid such dividends: 18 out 50 employees got some additional training including four who finished their university degrees.  Even better – of those four, all of their daughters – six in total – finished their university degrees; the cycle of poverty was broken! 

Since I coming to the UK in 2002, I have really focused much more on empowering women in all of my work from trying to change systemic inequalities in the NHS to helping Cherie Blair decide on the remit and initial programming of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women to helping to reposition Fashion Fair.  (I’ve become a mid-life feminist!)  At Fashion Fair,  I always tried to find diverse (race, gender and age) candidates for every open post, especially management position; so many of the large multinational brands that are now seeking the business of women of colour have few or no women of colour beyond the store counter.  We also used black –owned & female-owned businesses where possible – from cupcakes for events to photographers. 

 Do you think that social media has helped to push the cause of being more inclusiveness in the beauty industry?

Without a doubt, it has changed the beauty landscape and empowered women of colour to speak out.  This has helped create communities of like-minded people, further leveraging their influence.  Bloggers are now bigger influencers than celebrities!

Was being in the beauty business always your dream as a little girl, or did you have other plans?

No, I didn’t think of beauty as a business growing up. It wasn’t until university that I even gave it any consideration when I interned at Macys  It was a fun summer, but ultimately, I decided on finance and operations for a career.  I love that the opportunity to lead Fashion Fair brought me back to my retail roots.

How much of an influence do you think that your upbringing has had on the leader that you have become?

A great deal! My parents were both first-born children and I’m the first-born, so the expectations were set very high.  I can remember bringing home grades and having four As and a C+; they both focused immediately on the C+!  I think those high expectations made me always demand the best from myself and from my teams.  However, over time I learned the importance of praising the As before focusing on the C+.

Do you have a favourite saying or quote?

I just started on my vision board for 2016 and these three are my themes for the year.  I couldn’t choose a favourite.

What does the Lord require of you?  To act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” Micah 6:8

 “”The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate” Oprah Winfrey

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom

Thank you Connie