A celebrated model, actress, and entrepreneur, today Kathy Ireland is CEO of Kathy Ireland Worldwide (KIWW), an enterprise worth over $1.5 billion that offers thousands of products for families and busy mothers. Though Ireland says her modeling days are long behind her, the beautiful mother of three is by no means coasting on her centerfold success. She’s the author of several inspirational books, holds an honorary master’s of fine arts degree from American Intercontinental University’s School of Design, and has appeared on Fairchild Publications’ list of the 50 Most Influential People in Fashion.
Ireland squeezed in a meeting with ABILITY’s Chet Cooper and Molly Mackin at Los Angeles International Airport, just after having returned from a meeting with her jewelry line partners in Oregon.
Chet Cooper: Did you know we almost did an article on you, in the early ‘90’s, when you were getting started?
Kathy Ireland: Oh, really?
Cooper: Somebody on your team had approached us about doing an interview, and we said, “Sure, that would be great!” They then asked, “How much will ABILITY pay for Kathy to be on the cover?” At that time, they were still used to you being paid to be on covers.
Ireland: So it must have been a modeling agency or something like that?
Cooper: I don’t remember who it was. But after all these years, it’s great to meet you and see how much you’ve been doing! Our magazine started in 1990 and you started, basically, in ‘93. Good for you!
Ireland: You, too! My goodness. It’s wonderful.
Cooper: Most of the interviews I’ve read about you mention you got your start with a paper route? But even before that, didn’t you sell seashells or something? When you were four?
Ireland: (laughs) Actually, I sold rocks. I grew up on a street called Rock Creek Road. We had lots of rocks in the neighborhood, and my sister and I would collect them, paint them, load up our wagon, and go door to door and sell them.
Cooper: Door to door?
Ireland: Yeah. Our poor neighbors!
Molly Mackin: You sold rocks as pets?
Ireland: (laughs) Not pets, no, but they were functional. Some people used them as paperweights or whatever.
My granny had one. I painted a big flower on it and she carried it in her purse. She had my rock and her knitting needles, and she had such a stride, such confidence, my cute little granny. Nobody was going to mess with her. This was before mace or any of that, but she always told me, “you poke them in the ankles with the knitting needle and hit them in the head with the rock.”
Cooper: If I understand this correctly, you were selling weapons at age four?
Ireland: Well, I looked at them more as “design artwork.” (laughs) The weapon use was Granny’s choice.
Cooper: You sound as if you were an entrepreneurial type, right from the beginning. I imagine because of your looks you got into modeling, but your brain was probably always working behind the scenes, working on entrepreneurial concepts.
Ireland: I think I definitely entered modeling as a businessperson. I always worked, and modeling was never a part of my plan. It was just an opportunity that came my way, and I felt like if I didn’t explore it, I might regret that. I thought maybe I could save some money for college or save money to start a business, but I never anticipated my modeling career would go on as long as it did. The entire time I was working in that business, I was grateful, but I knew I belonged on the other side of the lens.
I tried and failed at so many businesses. If I had succeeded sooner, my modeling career would have ended sooner. But it took me a while to start our brand.
Cooper: I’ve heard stories of people’s lives in which certain things didn’t work out for them, but they learned valueable lessons from their mistakes. Your business focuses on mothers, and, being one yourself, I’m wondering how you feel about the notion that we should allow our children to “fail” so that they can learn.
Ireland: Oh, yeah. Ideally, you provide a safe environment in which your children can fail. A place for them to try and to fall down and to pick themselves up. You don’t always want to pick them up, yourself, but you want them to know that you’re there to love them and care for them and protect them. And ultimately you’re there to empower them to get up and keep on going and persevere, and not give up. You don’t want to rob them of their motivation.
Mackin: What are your kids like?
Ireland: Our kids are really awesome. I’m biased, of course. They’re each such unique personalities. Our son Eric is 16, Lily’s 12, and Chloe is seven. All three of them are pretty strong spirits and very different, too, at the same time.
Cooper: Are any of them selling anything door-to-door?
Ireland: No. (laughs) Our 16 year-old wants to be a pastor, he says. He’s got a passion for going on mission trips. He just got back from a feeding program in Israel.
It’s going to be really interesting to see what Lily wants to do. She is probably the most thoughtful person I know. She really thinks about others. She loves music. They’re great kids. Chloe is spunky and really funny and likes to play in the mud.
And all three of our kids play guitar and sing. I love that. My favorite time of night is locking up the house and going to bed, because that’s when they’re all in their rooms singing, independently, and there are all these different songs going off.
Cooper: Do you have a musical background?
Ireland: No, no. They rebelled. I don’t have it at all, but they do.
Cooper: Would you let any of your kids do any modeling?
Ireland: I certainly wouldn’t encourage it. I saw a lot of people hurt by that industry. I never felt comfortable, myself, earning my paycheck based on how someone else perceived that I looked. It didn’t feel secure. So far, the issue hasn’t really come up with my kids. I would be surprised if modeling were something they would want to do. I’d have a real challenge if they wanted to do it while they are still kids. I think that would be tough.
Cooper: When did you start?
Ireland: I started when I was 17 and went to New York for the summer. But then I came back home and I finished high school with my class and I started modeling again when I was 18. And that was still pretty young. I wouldn’t recommend it.
Cooper: I read you have several different homes and offices, including a place in Israel. What are you up to out there?
Ireland: Our skin care products are manufactured over there, from the Dead Sea, which is an amazing place. It’s the lowest point on earth, and the minerals there are so rich. It’s just beautiful. You float as you would if you were in outer space.
Cooper: I read something you wrote about your niece. She has Down’s syndrome?
Ireland: I wrote an article about my sister Cynthia and her daughter, Polly. Polly is eight months old and was born with Down’s syndrome.... continued in ABILITY Magazine
Excerpts from the Kathy Ireland Issue Feb/Mar 2011:
Kathy Ireland — Interview
Blind Fishing Boat — New Fishermen Take the Bait
Yahoo — Expanding the Digital Highway
Heart Transplant — An Uncommon Cardiac Connection
Sean Forbes — Not Hard To Hear
ABILITY Best Practices Award — Sprint
Gunshot Wounds — Bullet Points
Articles in the Kathy Ireland Issue; Humor — Love Hurts; Ashley’s Column — Back in the Saddle; Sean Forbes— Not Hard To Hear; Gunshot Wounds — Bullet Points; ABILITY Best Practices Award — Sprint; Blind Fishing Boat — New Fishermen Take the Bait; Yahoo — Expanding the Digital Highway; Rehabilitation — Hitting New Strides; Terri Cheney — A Plea for Innocence, growing up Bi-Polar; Kathy Ireland — A Model Businesswoman; Heart Transplant — An Uncommon Cardiac Connection; Leigh Brill — Excerpt From A Dog Named Slugger; ABILITY's Crossword Puzzle; Events and Conferences... subscribe