Her smile is contagious. This well-respected, self-taught entrepreneur never went to design school.
"One of the big challenges in the beginning was, since I don't know how to sew, how do I start a business that's a design business?" Bates said.
It was one of many obstacles she would overcome on the way to success.
"My favorite story I love to tell is how I worked in that First Chicago Bank on the 15th and 31st, infamous pay days, that's where I would sell my designs; I did that in the bathroom to girls who liked the way I dressed and wanted to have things like that," Bates said.
Her big break came when she was introduced to Michael Jordan and began designing for MJ, along with other celebrities, including heavyweight champ Mike Tyson and Bears linebacker Otis Wilson. After two decades of success, Barbara Bates' world came crashing down when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in June of 2009.
"I was frozen for the rest of what they did, I was just frozen," she said. "It was just a lot to take in.
"I never thought surely I was at risk because I thought that only white women got breast cancer, mostly white women got breast cancer or women with small breasts got breast cancer or people with cancer history in their family were the one at risk," she said.
With a new appreciation for life, Bates regularly gives back to the community. On Sunday, she's having a fashion show with 55 models; each one is a breast cancer survivor.
"Must do it! There's no alternative, no other option, keep getting up, keep fighting, keep encouraging," said Adele Langham, model, breast cancer survivor.
"This fashion show is an example of showing how we as women, and some men too, who are diagnosed, we can still move forward even after having a breast cancer diagnosis," said Zara Johnson, model, breast cancer survivor.
A six-year survivor, ABC7's Roz Varon said she was honored to be asked to be a part of the fashion show. Proceeds will benefit the Lurie Cancer Center at Northwestern and the Sinai Health System.