Kathy Ireland: How I Started My $2 Billion Dollar Empire

June 20, 2012 By:

A supermodel giving business advice? I know what you're thinking, but hear me out.

From model to mogul, we’ve heard it all before. Kathy Ireland was once on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue and now she runs a $2 billion retail empire. Heidi Klum once donned some angel wings, which parlayed into a hosting gig and then tons of lucrative branding opportunities. Gisele Bundchen is a pretty face who now makes $45 million a year.

Do you get the point? Models are suddenly shrewd businesswomen and I have no idea how they do it.

Kathy Ireland, CEO and chief designer of Kathy Ireland Worldwide shares her insight into how she turned her face into a successful business.

Quick backstory. After featuring in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition for 13 years in a row, Kathy designed some socks for Kmart in 1996. Then she designed some clothes, and some rugs, and some hand towels, and the rest, they say, is history. Or HERstory, if we wanna get feminist up in here!

“Some say it was counter-intuitive to build a brand on a single pair of socks…We were able to grow our brand beneath the radar for a long time,” Ireland said, revealing her business secrets on CBS this morning, “I think one of the reasons we were able to be so discrete is our distribution, our foundation as the independent retailer. Typically independent retailers don’t have large ad budgets. So while others were buying awareness, we were building relationships one at a time.”

Ireland also admits it’s not necessarily easier for her as a former model to go into business meetings, “Women say, ‘Well, it’s easy for you, you have the modeling background,’ I say, ‘You’ve got a clean slate, you can build your brand from the ground up with a clean slate, and that’s a perfect way to go.’ That anonymity is really priceless.”