Kathy Ireland knows all about making a successful career pivot – so successful that it has made her one of the wealthiest supermodels in the world.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Ireland graced the covers of magazines like Vogue and Mademoiselle, once appearing in 13 consecutive swimsuit issues of “Sports Illustrated.” But it was in 1993 that Ireland made a pivot to brand marketing, launching “Kathy Ireland Worldwide.”
Her company – which sells everything from clothes, to luggage, to home goods and more – has since taken off, generating an incredible $3.1 billion dollars in 2021. The brand has crowned Ireland, 60, as one of America’s richest, self-made women, and she was recently honored on Forbes and Know Your Value’s third annual “50 Over 50” lifestyle list.
Ireland said that when she was in her 20s and starting her career in modeling, she always imagined working in her 50s, 60s and beyond. “But I didn’t know what it was going to look like,” she acknowledged on Tuesday’s “Morning Joe.”
By 1993, Ireland had been modeling for a decade and was looking to pivot careers. When she was asked to model a pair of socks, she had a different idea. She wanted to make and sell Kathy Ireland branded socks. After selling 100 million pairs, Kmart signed a deal with Ireland to create her own clothing line. Eventually, she parted ways with the department store chain and became a global licensor.
“In 1993 I was a pregnant, aging model at my kitchen table, and we started our brand with a single pair of socks,” Ireland recounted. “I have to say that one of the greatest gifts of that long ago modeling career was all the rejection because when people said it was a really stupid idea, that it wasn’t going to work – that didn’t destroy me or stop me.”
Women’s Wear Daily called Ireland's company the most valuable female-owned licensing firm in American history in 2022. That same year, she was also inducted into the Licensing Hall of Fame.
It was also in 2022 that Ireland made a foray into the documentary world, executive producing "Anxious Nation," which examines the anxiety epidemic affecting America’s youth.
“I’ve never experienced a more difficult time to be a young person or an old person…We believed it was important to get that message out there…that families need help, they need to know they are not alone,” said Ireland.
The former supermodel said she was honored to be on Forbes and Know Your Value’s “50 Over 50” list and it shows people everywhere that “women do not have an expiration date. There’s no limit.”