An economic model –

Kathy Ireland never dreamed of becoming a model. In fact, she describes herself as a tomboy.

“I walked like a clod. I was a beach rat with split ends. My face was always fried,” she recalls with a laugh. Her parents, John and Barbara Ireland, gave her a modeling course as a gift for her 16th birthday. “I think they thought it might give me some confidence.”

When a scout from Elite Model Management discovered her there and offered her a modeling job in New York, no one was more surprised than Ireland. “I had an eyebrow – a big fat eyebrow,” she laughs. And Ireland didn’t want to go. She wanted to stay in California and work hard, but be able to spend the summer with her friends on the beach. Finally, she decided to take it. “I thought it might be a chance to save money for college or start a business,” she says.

Although her modeling career would last for a while, Ireland always had one thought on her mind: starting her own business. As a child, she painted stones and sold them in a cart. For years she worked as a newspaper carrier and even won an award for it. Her parents had always encouraged her in her business endeavors and wanted her to think big.

Find your passion

As she traveled the world as a model, including appearing on three covers of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit, Ireland was thinking about its future. She tried a skincare business, one of her passions. Although she loved the product, she realized that she was working with the wrong people. Ireland then got involved in a microbrewery and even tried making beer.

“I thought the first batch was pretty good. The next batch tasted like a science project,” she admits. “But what I learned was that I had no passion for beer. You have to have a passion for what you do because a lot of days are 24/7, and you have to love it. I want to take my heart with me wherever I go, and I just couldn’t fill my heart with beer.

During the filming of his last IF cover, Ireland was pregnant with her and husband Greg’s son Erik, now 28. Her modeling career had lasted longer than she had expected. Although she loved adventures and travel, she was ready to quit modeling and start her own business.

Ironically, when she was considering a career change, John and Marilyn Moretz, who at the time were among the most prestigious sock makers in America, offered her another modeling position. They gave her a gig by modeling their socks.

A light bulb went out with Ireland.

Everyone needed socks. And they loved them. Around her kitchen table, Ireland launched her first brand.

Put one foot in front of the other

Together with Greg and his friend Jon Carrasco, Ireland got to work. Thanks to a personal loan, they developed their type of sock. Their first group chat was basically Kathy and Greg wearing one of their socks on one foot and another brand of socks on the other. They would go hiking and see which one felt the best. Greg, then working as an emergency physician, wore them during shifts.

When they finally got the sock they wanted, they hit the road selling their product.

For a while, Ireland admits, a lot of doors were slammed in their faces. “They didn’t care about our socks. They said it was a stupid idea. I heard, “You can’t create a brand with a pair of socks,” she said. When she asked why, the answer was, “It was never done. His response became, “It’s never been done, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.”

Determined, she forged ahead. “When you believe in something, you have to fight to do it,” says Ireland. “And there were days in the beginning when we slept in airports to save money.”

Learn a great lesson

Finally, some retailers have started working with them. Ireland recalls that at first its socks were sold in a handful of sporting goods stores. Then Kmart started selling them.

Over time, Kmart demanded exclusivity for its distribution channel. “So we developed our brands there,” says Ireland. “We’ve expanded it to include a full line of apparel and accessories.” While her brand and company, Kathy Ireland Worldwide (kiWW), grew, they were aligned with one company: Kmart.

One day Ireland received a phone call saying that the company was having difficulty. Then came the announcement of their bankruptcy in 2002. “At that time, we had 37 team members with families on our payroll, and they were our only client,” says Ireland. “Our company was responsible for full liability if it didn’t work. They could take our homes – mine and my business partners. I really should have known better.

What she learned from that experience, a lesson that has become the backbone of kiWW, is diversification. “We had already planned to expand the brand at home,” she says. “Kmart was well covered at home. We had to plan on going elsewhere for this category, but we were definitely not going to go away when this retailer faced these challenges. »

kiWW remained with Kmart while expanding its brand. Although it was a stressful time, everything worked out, both with Kmart and the expansion of the brand. “It ended up launching us into great growth that we might not have experienced otherwise, and it taught us some important lessons about diversification.

Never did. Today, kiWW’s offerings include: women’s, men’s and children’s fashion; intimate apparel; accessories; jewelry; wedding and resorts; skin care (this time with the right people); beauty products; furniture; lighting; floor; decor; cookware; appliances for homes and offices worldwide; Insurance; telemedecine; recovery centers; merchant services; fintech, investment strategies; immovable; hospitality; pet comfort care; nutraceuticals; supplements; recreation and adventure designs for Camping World, led by CEO Marcus Lemonis.

But wait, there’s more. kiWW is also involved in entertainment and sports, including publishing, film, television, music, artist and athlete management.

Always in service

When asked if she ever sleeps, Ireland laughs. “I don’t think enough.” Luckily for her, the business is all about working together and serving the public. “I’m so thankful for our teamwork. And our team is diverse. Our senior team member turns 100 this year. We also have our Gen Z, Millennials and our team members who have been with me from the very beginning,” she says. This includes Jon Carrasco, who helped develop that first brand and has been kiWW’s global creative director since its inception.

Ireland’s hard work paid off. kiWW is the highest-ranked female-owned licensing company in American history. She is the youngest person elected to the Licensing International Hall of Fame. It won the Icon Award from the International Home Furnishings Representatives Association. And during their 34 years of marriage, she and Greg raised three children: Erik, Lily (23) and Chloe (19).

Looking back on her successful licensing career, Ireland says to herself, “With every failure there have been lessons. Don’t assume. Not everyone will be on the same page as us. Diversification – that was a big deal for us,” she says. “I’m not afraid to fail. When you love what you do, you can persevere. You get up.

When Ireland began to develop its brand, it worked with many independent businesses, also known as “Mom and Pop” retailers. “People say it’s not a smart business, but it works for us. It certainly makes life much more enjoyable. We have a very good relationship with the people we’ve worked with for decades,” says Ireland.

And they all agree on kiWW’s vision statement: teach, inspire and empower.

“Make our world a better place. We take this very seriously,” adds Ireland.

So seriously, in fact, that when the company looks at a potential partner, Ireland says it shows them its 10 Millennium Development Goals, which include everything from ending poverty and hunger to supporting the world. education and environmental issues. She doesn’t require them to donate money to help make a difference. Partners can organize volunteer days with their teams to help out. “The thing is, if we’re going to work together, we’re going to honor the part of our corporate statement that says we’re making our world a better place,” she explains. If they don’t, kiWW will work.

“We work with amazing people, and the biggest common thread is service,” Ireland said, referring to her customers and the world. “I give my heart to everything we do.”

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