Joan Smalls was born and raised in Puerto Rico. She comes from a multi-ethnic family and is of African, Spanish, Taino Indian, Irish and Hindu descent. Smalls graduated Magna Cum Laude from the InterAmerican University of Puerto Rico with a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology, then made the move to New York City to become a model. Smalls was immediately signed by Elite Model Management. Since then she has fronted campaigns for Ralph Lauren, The Gap, Coach and Ports 1961. She has also graced the runways of designers such as Oscar de la Renta and Diane Von Furstenberg. In addition to her passion for fashion, Joan is involved with a non-profit organisation called Project Sunshine, where she helps children with medical needs.