Joan Smalls was born and raised in Hatillo, Puerto Rico with her two sisters. Growing up Smalls actively pursued modeling by entering local competitions in Puerto Rico and submitting photos to agencies in New York City and Los Angeles. Years later, upon graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in psychology from the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico, an agent in New York City signed the lithe beauty. Over the years her illustrious career has included walking in over 400 shows for a slew of luxury labels and fronting a series of coveted advertising campaigns for the likes of Chanel, Ralph Lauren, David Yurman, Tom Ford and more. Smalls was also named the face of Estée Lauder cosmetics in 2011, becoming the first Latina model to hold the title.
Off-duty, Smalls channels her passions into important philanthropic efforts. She has been actively involved with Project Sunshine, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing free educational and social programs to children and families living with medical conditions, as well as the United Nations Girl Up Campaign, a global movement for gender equality through leadership development training. Then in June 2020 after seeing the actions taken against the Black community and the strides in the Black Lives Matter movement, Smalls decided to donate 50 percent of her earnings for the remainder of 2020 to Black Lives Matter organizations. The supermodel took it a step further by founding her own resource site, DonateMyWage.org, which now highlights 20 organizations within the BLM movement and helps those interested to donate directly to causes they are passionate about. Smalls firmly believes that in order to see true change in any aspect of life, we must all work together and be the change we must see.