How Did Kathy Ireland Build a Brand Worth Over 1 Billion Dollars?

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Kathy Ireland, the former super model (who graced the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition for a total of four times) recently appeared on the CBS show ‘The Talk’ to share her tale of how she went from a model to a successful businesswoman with a design empire worth over a billion dollars. What made her tale so interesting is that (in spite of her beauty and reputation), she came across as a regular person – someone I’d like to chat with over a cup of coffee. So, how did this woman achieve this kind of success? How did she go from a 4-year old child going door-to-door (pulling a wagon loaded with rocks) to the CEO of a billion dollar business that she started by selling socks?

Selling Rocks

Kathy talked about always having an entrepreneurial spirit – starting as a young child when she and her sister sold painted rocks from a wagon. She also talked about how grateful she was for the opportunities that she had and the education that she received from her modeling experiences.

Selling Beer

Before starting her Kathy Ireland Worldwide® company, Kathy had “tried and failed at so many businesses” including a beer business. After learning how profitable a beer business could be, she had decided to take on the “big brewers”. After spending two years investing her time and money, she realized that she didn’t have a passion for beer. She then realized that people sense if you don’t have a passion” – “Nobody wants it – if it’s not real.”

 Selling Socks

According to Kathy, her big break came as she was “an aging model – pregnant – at my kitchen table”, when someone offered her the opportunity to model socks. She looked at it as a job offer at a time when she wasn’t getting a lot of job offers. She went on to tell her audience how people laughed at her and told her that you can’t start a brand with a pair of socks.

 My Take-Away

Personally, I was aware of the Kathy Ireland brand but I had no idea of the strength and resilience that this woman possesses. I could go on with more quotes from her interview on ‘The Talk’ and tell you how much she inspired me. (I especially enjoyed listening to her advice to women who want to start businesses from their home. One of her recommendations was to access some of the low cost resources for entrepreneurs and business owners like the U.S. Small Business Administration.) Instead, I’d rather hear from you. Who inspires you? Which stories of self-made millionaires and billionaires resonate the most with you?

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Published by Sherryl Perry

Welcome! If you're looking for help building an Internet presence that fits your needs and works for you, you're in the right place. I blog common sense articles about WordPress, social media and SEO. My goal is to help small business owners and entrepreneurs understand their core business. Together, we can develop and implement business strategies that make sense to you.

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36 Comments

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  1. Kathy Ireland is so inspiring. To think that she once was a model and to be such a huge success is something that we can all aspire to. Thanks for sharing.

  2. The strategies were born out through careful study and research. It is investing in the right project with proper funds.

  3. It’s incredible to think someone built so much from nothing. Saw her first interview after seeing everyone talking about it on here and just think she’s a complete inspiration

    1. She is inspiring Jen! I have to admit that I had no idea that she was so successful until I watched this interview. I like how she talks directly to stay at home moms and tries to encourage them. It’s very motivating.

  4. I agree Jane. When I watched Kathy’s interview, she admitted that the reason that her beer business failed was because she was not passionate about it. She’s certainly passionate about her business now!

    1. Kathy certainly is passionate about her business. Until I watched her on this show, I had no idea that she was so successful. Her passion certainly comes through. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  5. I would never have expected this kind of success from a swimsuit model (no offense). This girl has a very strong mentality and this interview inspired me. I would buy an ebook from her anytime 🙂

  6. I think the passion point is important, but I think the trying-and-failing-and-trying-again point is even more important. Very, very few people succeed big on their first try. It’s so important to remember that behind every big success story there are usually multiple “picking-myself-up-and-dusting-myself-off” stories. The old adage that the only time you really fail is when you give up is so true.

    Thanks for an inspiring post.

  7. Billionaires usually have strange beginnings however, their personality, character and experience are exactly the same. Passion is a very important thing in Kathy’s business and I think that’s one of the biggest reasons why she became so successful with her business.

    1. I agree Jane. When I watched Kathy’s interview, she admitted that the reason that her beer business failed was because she was not passionate about it. She’s certainly passionate about her business now!

  8. Hi, Sherryl.

    I think the most important thing you mentioned here is passion. She couldn’t sell beer because she wasn’t passionate about it, but she has built this empire because of her passion for life and for doing something important with it. Thanks for this.

    Best,

    Robin Mathis

    1. Hi Robin,
      Thanks for your observation. Kathy definitely is passionate about her business. She recently introduced her wedding line. Did you watch the video? I honestly was surprised that I was inspired by her.

  9. I had heard of her before and the video had many down to earth messages which was good to watch. I agree with you about passion and I think we do sometimes get blinkers on and miss signals that could help our businesses. I know I did in the past. It also can lead to being a little subjective and not be open to alternative ways to grow. From others I have read about it seems a mix passion and pragmatism are a good combination.

    Thanks for sharing this video Sherryl.

    1. Hi Susan,
      “Blinkers” and missed “signals” – I hadn’t heard that phrase related to business before. That’s a great way of putting it. 🙂 The risk with being passionate about an idea is not knowing when to let an idea go and move on. I’ve been there and done that.

  10. Hi, Sherryl,
    Kathy seems to be a determined to succeed person. I do not want to underestimate her power in business, but exactly how many of us, simple mortals who did not appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition would if passing the whole path as her, got the chance to build a billionaire empire? It is not all about her brains in business, she has something in her legs, as well. 🙂 Literary. I mean, she is a brand behind socks…
    I don’t know who would I choose as a self made model billionaire…I do not create idols, but let’s say i think its amazing what Roman Abramovich did, having in mind he was an orphan, and Bill Gates, who got it all by his brains, definitely not his looks. 🙂

    1. Hi Kristina,
      I agree with you that being a beautiful super model certainly was an advantage but I don’t know of any other super model who has come close to building a company worth over $1.4 billion dollars. Heidi Klum and Tyra Banks immediately come to my mind but I don’t believe either of them have broken the $100M mark. (I would love to break the $1M mark. So, I’m certainly not mocking that. They’ve done extremely well for themselves.)

      I had never heard of Roman Abramovich before. Thanks. I learned something new.

  11. Sherryl,

    I don’t know anything about Kathy Ireland but I can agree with her that you have to have a passion for what you are doing if you really want to be successful. Sometimes we invest so much time and energy into something that we become afraid to walk away when it is not working for us. I believe in loving what you do and the people that you do it and things will work out in the long run if you are persistent.

    Jenn

    1. Hi Jenn,
      Having a positive attitude and drive goes along with having passion. To me, the risk is getting so passionate that we don’t want to let our “baby” go and sometimes, that’s the best thing for us. I personally held on way too long tp a business endeavor that was failing but I had reached the point where I was determined to make it work with complete disregard to all the signs that told me it was time to let it go.

  12. Loving this post and video Sherryl. Thanks so much for posting it. Kathy is so much more than just a beautiful face. Her comment that “if you are not getting rejected enough …” is so true. It also applies to the entertainment industry BIG TIME which is where my daughter wants to be 🙂

    1. Julie, it sounds like your daughter has a lot of confidence and is willing to take risks to achieve her goals. I’m sure she faces a lot of rejection and it will be difficult to take the experience and grow from it rather than taking it personally and quitting. I’m sure we all wish her the best!

  13. I guess I’m in the minority because I wasn’t familiar with Kathy Ireland and I applaud her success. As an entrepreneur, I think you need some humility, which means sometimes taking assignments that don’t make you jump with excitement, like modeling socks. There is nothing wrong with that. Maybe you need the money or it’s a foot in the door of a company you want to do work for.

    A colleague and I just took on a project that frankly was drudge work but we did the drudge work very well and the client is thrilled and plans to introduce us to other people in this multi-national company for potentially more challenging assignments. Yes, we need to love our work but even if you’re passionate about what you do there are always those rough patches when you own your own business. It’s inspiring to know that Kathy Ireland could take the punches and still have fire in her belly.

    1. Jeannette, Thanks for sharing your recent assignment with us. You’ve made a great point that we sometimes need to do that drudge work to get reach our goals. Congratulations! Sounds like this project has opened some doors for you and your colleague.

      Your comment reminds me of another quote I pulled from Kathy’s interview: “Whatever material things you got to give up to live your dream – it’s not a sacrifice, it’s a bold investment.”

  14. I used to have a huge crush on Kathy Ireland when I was a kid. I thought she was incredibly gorgeous, and I had heard that she was also a savvy businesswoman, but not to this extent. I really enjoyed this post and will show it to my wife.

    My father was never a millionaire, but he did teach me (and this correlates with kathy’s philosophy) that you have to find something you love and are passionate about and start there. He started one business that failed and then a few years later he tried it again. He was successful that time and was able to buy a new home for us, complete with a new office for him. He always reminded me that you can never be afraid to fail because its a building block of life. Great post.

    1. Dennis, Thanks for sharing your story about your Dad. It’s so easy to get discouraged after you fail at a business. It takes a strong person to start again. You father sounds like a wonderful role model who instilled a great work ethic in you. I hope your wife enjoys my post too. 🙂

  15. Great post Sherryl!

    Kathy is a great example of someone with an entrepreneurial mind (that’s different from carrying out entrepreneurial activity and makes a huge difference). It comes with passion, never giving up no matter how many times you fail and willingness to take huge risks. The latter aspect can be dangerous so unless you can afford it avoid experimenting with beer the way she did:-)

  16. It’s pretty amazing on how she was able to control herself and make it to the top. She’s very lovely I must say.. Just like you I’m inspired by her words.

  17. People that have some fame or have a name we recognize might have a little help in popularity going for them. There are so many things I have thought about or wanted to get into, but it’s a tough world right now. I would settle for a self-made 100k or even much less right about now. Most of the self-made millionaires and billionaires I am aware of I couldn’t imagine following in their footsteps. Some of the ones I know of built their empire years ago when there was less competition. Things are so darn expensive to get started now, and some of the big guys and gals could crush a little start up. It all depends really though. Also I would have never guessed Kathy Ireland was worth that much. I haven’t heard about her in years now.

    1. Ray, What impressed me most when I listened to her interview was the fact that it didn’t come easy to her in spite of having name recognition. She talked about sleeping in airports to save money and being rejected regularly. One of the things she said that resonated with me is “If you’re not being rejected regularly – maybe you’re not trying hard enough.” I still have faith that even in an economy like we’re facing now, there are going to be opportunities and some people will find ways to build successful brands. 🙂

  18. Kathy is one amazing women but like you I was unaware of how much she had been involved with. She does control her own brand very well