How Kathy Ireland Built A $420 Million FortuneKathy Ireland
Supermodel-turned-mogul Kathy Ireland today joined Forbes’ first ever ranking of America’s top 50 most successful women as measured by their net worths. Ireland is the only licensing queen – and the only former model – to make the exclusive freshman class of the nation’s richest self-made women, which includes entrepreneurs, CEOs, entertainers, designers and even an author.
Kathy Ireland’s $420 million fortune comes from the value of her licensing company, Kathy Ireland Worldwide. As detailed in a 2012 Forbes cover story by Dorothy Pomerantz, Ireland has built an empire by lending her name, taste, and marketing prowess to some 17,000 products.
Ireland worked a paper route as her first job before she was scouted by Elite modeling agency aged 16. From 1984 onwards she graced Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue for 13 consecutive years, including a 1989 25th anniversary issue which become the highest-selling Sports Illustrated cover of all time. In 1993, Ireland launched a line of socks with Kmart and founded Kathy Ireland Worldwide to expand her licensing.
From this modest start, Kathy Ireland Worldwide has thrived by imbuing the most unglamorous products with glitz (think ceiling fans, flooring, mattresses and windows, to name a few). Recent ventures include cell phone accessories, skincare, and a line of cleaning products; estimated revenues now top $2.5 billion at retail, compared to $2 billion in 2012.
Since Forbes last examined her business, Ireland has expanded her wedding and honeymoon-appropriate resorts into Greece and Fiji (you can also get married at a Kathy Ireland property in California or Hawaii). Once a pinup print princess, Ireland now has her own publishing imprint, Bendon, which produces children’s books, toys and puzzle. Though she was an occasional silver screen siren, starring in 1988′s Journey to the Center of the Earth among others, you’re now more likely to catch her on Fox Business Network where she hosts a TV show, Worldwide Business with kathy ireland.
Count music among Ireland’s media business, too. When Janet Jackson posted a video this month to announce a new album and world tour, few noted that Jackson is managed by Sterling/Winters, which is owned by Kathy Ireland Worldwide.
Beloved by mothers and homemakers across America, Ireland is at once aspirational and relatable. That’s helped her make a fortune by cleverly turning everything into a branding opportunity. Case in point: She inherited pal Elizabeth Taylor’s dogs, Gracie and Delilah, and designed a pet collection inspired by the Maltese canines.