Supermodel-turned entrepreneur Kathy Ireland is the Chair, CEO, and Chief Designer for kathy ireland worldwide, the design and marketing firm she founded in 1993.
Photos Courtesy of Nikon Ambassador Dixie Dixon Courtesy of Jon Carrasco
Her success has ranked her as one of the wealthiest former models in the world. Apart from her uncanny eye for opportunity —is her fierce, unquenchable, competitiveness. Her career as a businesswoman has made a $420 million personal fortune by 2015 and her global brand has estimated revenue of over 2 billion dollars in retail sales. Fairchild Publications’ has named her one of the 50 Most Influential People in Fashion and Forbes has ranked her amongst top 50 most successful women in America. Kathy, who is also the author of several inspirational books, a wife and mother of 3, and a global human rights activist—is the epitome of self-made.
In our exclusive interview Kathy Ireland gives us personal insight into her thriving brand and how she attained success as a businesswoman.
Here is what she had to say.
Q: What do you love most about entrepreneurship?
There are many things I love about being an entrepreneur. My entrepreneurial career began when I was four. I sold painted rocks from a wagon, they were combination of fashion, design, and business. What I learned at a young age is that it is empowering to be an entrepreneur. The responsibility is much greater, but so are the awards.
Q: How was it to transition from a successful modeling career to building a successful brand?
Modeling was never a part of the plan. It was just an opportunity that came my way, and I felt like if I didn’t explore it, I might regret it. I thought maybe I could save money for college or start a business, but I never anticipated my modeling career would last as long as it did. I started many businesses and failed along the way. Had one of those businesses been successful earlier on—my modeling career would have ended much sooner.
Transitioning was not as easy. Some doors I believe were open, but they were not the right doors. They were doors of curiosity. I dealt with challenges along the way. Often my decisions as a CEO were not taken serious because of that past career. I had to battle with preconceived notions. Although, I’m grateful for the education it gave me; it exposed me to the best designers in the world, to people of all different cultures, and it enriched my life with experiences that have become a part of me.
Q: Can you tell us about Kathy Ireland Worldwide?
We started our brand twenty-five years ago with a pair of socks. How people are treated is at the forefront of our brand. Working with people with great integrity is a core value we carry. I love connecting with our sales team and sharing with them our story with everything we design. We are in contact with our customers every day. I have so much respect for them. The mission statement at our company is to find solutions for families, especially busy moms. The reason I’m reaching busy moms is that is where I am in my life.
Q: How do you manage time with so many moving parts?
I think many women have a hard time saying no. We want to do everything. I was 40-years old before I learned “NO” was a complete sentence. Men are great at delegating. It’s something I had to learn to get better at with time. I think we can have it all, but not all at once. Life comes in seasons and we must prioritize our time with what’s important. For me it is keeping my priorities in order: It’s my faith and my family, and then the business.
Q: What is an important lesson you have learned under Warren Buffett’s mentorship?
Something I learned from Warren Buffett is that apparel fashion is very cyclical and steady. When he speaks — I just listen. He has such incredible wisdom and experience and it just made a lot of sense.
Q: What attracted you to get involved with furniture industry?
I always had a passion for home and design. My modeling career was great educational experience. In the process, I learned what people need and want. I recognized what women saw on the runways in Paris and Milan they wanted in their homes. I love the idea of bringing that fashion into the home. What I love about the home industry is the people. Our customers are inviting us into their homes. I audition for my job every day. We don’t take it lightly to earn their trust.
Q: Can you tell us a little about your collaboration with Michael Amini?
I had been wanting to work with Michael for years — he is just amazing. I love the quality and integrity of his work. We wanted to do something different with him and reflect our customers in the way that they live. We wanted that quality, integrity, and craftsmanship. At the same time, we wanted it to be affordable and serve our millennial age customer.
“Working with Kathy is truly a joyous experience as she is so kind and thoughtful, that you don’t even feel like you are working.”
Q: What advice would you give to young female entrepreneurs?
Have passion for what you are doing because it is hard work. Have conviction. Know your values. Know your boundaries. Put boundaries in place to protect your values because they will be challenged. Know what you will be willing to walk away from. We walked away as a company from millions of dollars because it was not aligned with our core values. I think one of the greatest gifts from my modeling career was all the rejection I dealt with regularly. Learn from your rejections and most importantly — don’t give up. Persevere.