Naomi Sims, the first black supermodel, on the cover of LIFE in 1969. Photo: Yale Joel, Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

While the fashion industry continues to struggle with diversity on the runways, supermodel Naomi Sims passed away at the age of 61 in Newark, NJ.

Known as the "first black supermodel," Sims lost her battle with cancer, reports the New York Times.

Sims grew up in a poor, mostly white neighborhood in Pittsburgh, PA and at 18 moved to New York City to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT).

She started modeling to support herself, but it wasn't smooth sailing at first: She was told by every agency that her "skin was too dark," reports the newspaper.

So, she struck out on her own and started approaching photographers directly (talk about pro-active!).

Sims went on to model for designers including Halston, who in a 1974 New York Times article, said the following of the long-limbed beauty, "Naomi was the first. She was the great ambassador for all black people. She broke down all social barriers."

She soon landed campaigns for AT&T and was modeling for Bill Blass, then Sims made history when she appeared as the first-ever black model to grace the cover of Ladies' Home Journal. It was November of 1968 -- the middle of the Civil Rights Movement.

But after five years, Sims grew bored of the industry and decided to start a wig-making business, designing styles for black women. It eventually turned into a multi-million dollar company.

Ever the forward-thinking pioneer, the supermodel told The NY Times in 1969, "There is nothing sadder than an old, broke model, and there are many models who have nothing at the end of their career." Sims definitely was not one of them!

R.I.P.