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Kathy Ireland

The former supermodel talks about her past dental experiences and what really makes her smile today — her family and running her own successful design firm

Kathy Ireland business mogul.
Photo by Jonathan Exley

It happened several years ago during a day of playful fun in the driveway with her husband and children. Former Sports Illustrated cover girl and current business mogul, Kathy Ireland, decided that she would stand in her children's wagon to “wagon surf” across the circular brick driveway. After asking her husband to give her a slight push as she stood there and steered, she quickly discovered that she was headed toward her parked car. She overcorrected her turn and the wagon suddenly stopped, but she didn't, causing her to face-plant, as she describes it, in a freak accident that left her with a broken nose, a split forehead and several broken teeth. “It sounded like a watermelon smashed,” she recalled. When her husband, an emergency room physician, got to her, she remembers him looking panicked and shocked. He would later tell her, “A blow like that could have been fatal.” Needless to say, this is not exactly how anyone would envision this talented beauty and savvy entrepreneur. So, what did she learn from this traumatic experience? As Kathy laughingly stated, “I learned that my love of adventure exceeds my coordination.”

Hearing Kathy describe this accident, you quickly realize that it is her drive, humor and upbeat positive attitude that have enabled her to accomplish so many things in her life. Instead of agonizing over what happened to her world-famous looks, she realized that her success is not based upon her physical appearance but her unwavering faith, which pushed her to examine herself and her business, kathy ireland Worldwide, the billion dollar marketing and design firm that she founded in 1993. She used her six-week recovery time to focus even more deeply on her business and the results speak for themselves; kathy ireland Worldwide experienced more growth during that period than at any other time in her company's history. Kathy views the accident as a gift, and the small scar on her nose reminds her daily of a turn that her life could have taken.

“Many of the people I met with had a preconceived notion about me because I had a modeling background, so that hindered me more than helped me in business — but that is okay because I love a good challenge!”

Kathleen Marie Ireland was born on March 20, 1963, in Glendale, California, to John, a labor union organizer, and Barbara, who worked in charity. Kathy's first job was at age four when she painted rocks that she sold with her sister Mary from their wagon. Mary sold her rocks for 10 cents while Kathy sold hers for 5 cents. Kathy says her business was successful and she learned her first important business lesson: customers value a good deal. This lesson would later serve as a fundamental driving force for kathy ireland Worldwide. Other jobs from her childhood included a paper route for three years and modeling at age 17. However, she did not enter the world of modeling with the same goals as nearly all of her peers. Kathy simply wanted to earn enough money to pay for college or to raise the capital she would need to start a business. Her success soon surpassed anything she could have ever imagined. She has appeared on the covers of countless magazines including Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Harper's Bazaar and Sports Illustrated. In fact, her first cover for Sports Illustrated, the publication's 25th Anniversary Swimsuit Edition, became the magazine's best-selling swimsuit issue to date. Yet none of this fame has ever gone to her head. When we praised Kathy for her remarkable beauty, she laughed and said that, during her modeling career, there were “a lot of people who didn't think my face was all that pretty.”

Looking back, Kathy is very appreciative to her modeling fans and those who helped her modeling career, but she says she never felt comfortable earning her living based on how others perceived her appearance. “I tried and failed at several businesses before I found success outside of modeling. At first, people met with me out of curiosity, not necessarily to take my ideas seriously. Many of the people I met with had a preconceived notion about me because I had a modeling background, so that hindered me more than helped me — but that is okay because I love a good challenge!” To illustrate this statement, fast-forward to one of her most recent business accomplishments at kathy ireland Worldwide. It now offers over 30,000 unique designs in wedding gowns and bridesmaid dresses, one of the reasons why Forbes dubbed Kathy Ireland one of the most successful model-turned-entrepreneurs, or “modelpreneurs,” in the world. Her design empire grosses over $1.4 billion annually in retail sales and, in 2010, License Global magazine ranked kathy ireland Worldwide #28 on its list of the most powerfully licensed brands globally.

Kathy is also an accomplished writer, penning the books Real Solutions for Busy Moms: Your Guide to Success and Sanity, and Powerful Inspirations: Eight Lessons That Will Change Your Life. In addition, she has written three children's books: What Mommies Do, An Angel Called Hope and Mona's Favorite Words. Kathy's most recent book is entitled Real Solutions For Busy Moms: 52 God Inspired Messages for Your Heart. However, when we asked about what products or business accomplishments she is most proud of, Kathy's response is not a surprise. “Designing products for busy moms just like me.”

Continue to the next page to read our Kathy Ireland interview.



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