Kathy Ireland: from supermodel to supermogul
At 17, Kathy Ireland was discovered by Elite Modeling, and by the
time she finished high school she was jet-setting to Europe for
photo shoots. Her modeling career reached its peak after she snagged
the highly coveted cover of Sports Illustrated's swimsuit edition
in 1989. She graced the cover three more times and her swimsuit
calendar grew into one of the highest-selling calendars in the world.
Ireland has also acted on stage and TV, and made her
writing debut with her 2002 book, "Powerful Inspirations,"
but it was her entrepreneurial skills that helped transform her
into a business powerhouse. Her company, Kathy Ireland Worldwide,
began with a line of socks. It now grosses over $1 billion a year,
producing everything from clothing to carpets for the customer just
like herself: a working mom. She was awarded both the Businesswoman
of the Year Award from the National Association of Women Business
Owners and the National Association of Business Leaders Award.
Bankrate: A lot of
the women you started out modeling with are still at it. Did you
always have aspirations to do something else?
Kathy Ireland: Business
and design were always of great interest to me. My first job came
when I was 4 years old, and I sold painted rocks from my wagon.
They were multi-functional: They could be used as decorative pieces,
paperweights, or my grandmother kept them in her purse, just in
case someone gave her a hard time. My sister, who was 3 years older,
sold hers for more, but I learned at a young age that my customers
appreciated value, and priced cheaper, my rocks went like hot cakes.
Bankrate: A lot of
people, certainly men, will always remember you as "the"
supermodel, having been on the Sports Illustrated cover so many
times. What did you learn from those modeling days on the road?
Kathy Ireland: I certainly
didn't view myself as a super. It wasn't a career I aspired to do,
but I was certainly grateful for it. It exposed me to the best designers
in the world, and the travel allowed me to see different cultures
and people and to see how they lived, and what they needed. And
I tend to be a quiet person, and that kind of environment gives
a quiet person a lot of time to think and to plan. One of the things
that frustrated me was that so much of that career focused on unrealistic
prices and images. I never felt comfortable earning a living on
how people thought I should look and I never dreamed that it would
go on as long as it did. I kept trying different businesses because
I knew that I would be doing something else.
Bankrate: Why did
the design company take hold?
Kathy Ireland: Our
mission is to find solutions for families -- especially busy moms.
And our brand isn't for everyone. The reason I'm reaching out to
busy moms is simply because that what I am, it's what I know, and
I know she's been underserved. We started with socks in 1993. And
now we do everything from clothing to flooring to home office products.
For us, safety is extremely important. For example, if we're addressing
the architectural trends, it will be more soft modern, and we'll
still get the sleek lines but we'll make sure there won't be sharp
corners, so little ones won't run into them and get hurt.