“I’m freaking out.” “She’ll be here any minute.” “She’s a legit mogul.” “She lectures at Stanford!” “Wait…here she comes.”

Whispers we heard as ten girls sat in a circle waiting for supermodel, entrepreneur and all-around icon Tyra Banks to enter the room. They couldn’t believe their luck. In launching the Spring 2020 collection on March 5th, global brand Nine West was introducing a new Innovators campaign to highlight groundbreaking women like Banks, and high school girls were in the room.

Dazzled by ABG West’s Style Studio, awed by the bright collection and ready to leap out of their seats when the legend arrived, the girls’ voices grew louder until Tyra Banks turned the corner.

And then things got real.

Real, because the giggles turned into a stream of genuine questions. Real, because authentic answers were given with such candor and humor you would have thought a big sister was advising the group. Real, because their role model was in the room and a mentor had been found.

Which was exactly what Nine West had in mind. “The Spring 2020 campaign, appropriately titled, Innovators, celebrates visionary women who never stop dreaming, creating and leading the way,” noted a Nine West spokesperson at the campaign launch in West Hollywood. “Like Banks, these amazing women embrace sisterhood and inspire others around the globe to take on the world in style.”

Banks agreed, proclaiming, “I’m excited to continue this partnership with Nine West, a brand that is committed to empowering the modern woman and giving her the confidence to take on her nine-to-nine lifestyle in the fiercest fashion.”

“This collection is inspired by powerful female innovators and trailblazers who are not afraid to speak their minds,” she continued. “I’m thrilled to be the brand ambassador and to launch this collection for International Women’s Day.”

(Photo by author)

And on International Women’s Day or any day, high school is not too early to be inspired by this message. In fact, it’s the perfect time. Here are a few things Tyra Banks wanted the girls in the room, and girls everywhere, to know:

About breaking barriers:

“There was a time when I was told I couldn’t do certain things because of my skin color or I couldn’t walk on a certain runway…and I can laugh now but there were a lot of tears over that. From there, the passion came.

About finding strength:

“Find the people that — no matter what — you can be honest and real and raw and cry with, and they will lift you up. And it doesn’t have to be a parent, or even a friend. It can be an auntie, a cousin, a pastor or a rabbi…just somebody in your life you can go to.”

About innovation:

Even before reality TV was a thing, I wanted to combine different ideas in the modeling industry to create America’s Top Model. Now my new destination ModelLand is about expanding beauty and extending the model experience to all ages, shapes and sizes. It’s a first.”

About being a role model:

“Yes, I have my own story, but there are so many other women and young girls that have that story. And I felt it was my responsibility to do something about it. I needed to start an organization for young girls to build self-esteem.”

There was more. The conversation ranged from social media pressure (it’s ok to unfollow) to real-life stressors (same idea: it’s ok to lose toxic friends); it touched on ambition (I knew exactly what I wanted), preparation (I studied at the fashion library before every single show) and Girl Scouts (I remember like it was yesterday – I loved it! The badges, camping…all of it).

Underpinning it all, though, was a current of empowerment.

The message that today’s girls are not too young to be taken seriously by a legend or a label – and that trailblazers like Tyra Banks and Nine West care about what they think.

(Courtesy of ABG/Nine West)

Launched in time for International Women’s Day and in continued celebration of Women’s History Month, the Nine West Innovators campaign wants girls to know that ambition is good, that creativity is key, and that mentorship matters.

In other words, girls – walking a path paved by groundbreaking women can help you reach your goals. And standing in the shoes of icons is a great way to start.

Être is a mentorship platform for today’s motivated girls. We are grateful to Tyra Banks and Nine West for inviting us into the room and for inspiring tomorrow’s innovators. Shop the Innovators campaign HERE and learn more about ModelLand (opening on May 1, 2020 in Santa Monica, California) HERE.


  • Illana Raia

    Founder & CEO


    Recently named one of the first 250 entrepreneurs on the Forbes Next 1000 List, Illana Raia is the founder and CEO of Être - a mentorship platform for girls. Believing that mentors matter as early as middle school, Illana brings girls directly into companies they select to meet female leaders face to face. The goal, as Être's French name suggests, is to help today's girls figure out who they want to be.    Named a Mogul Influencer in 2017, Illana appeared in the HuffPost "Talk To Me" video series, participated in the 2018 Balance Project Interviews and the 2019 #WomenWhoRock campaign, and has been featured on Cheddar TV and podcasts like The Other 50%, Her Money, Finding Brave and Women To Watch. Illana has authored 50+ articles for Thrive Global, HuffPost and Ms. Magazine, and her award-winning book Être: Girls, Who Do You Want To Be was released on Day of the Girl 2019. Her next book, The Epic Mentor Guide, is scheduled to arrive on International Women's Day 2022.   Prior to launching Être in 2016, Illana was a corporate attorney at Skadden, Arps in NYC and an occasional guest lecturer at Columbia University. She graduated from Smith College and the University of Chicago Law School, and remains unapologetically nerdy.