The week that this year’s Sports Illustrated swimsuit Issue came out, Kathy Ireland was on the cover ... of Forbes. There is perhaps no better illustration of self-reinvention than her journey from one cover to the other over the course of a couple decades. And while we’ve certainly borne witness over the years to her success as a model-turned-megabrand — with lighting and accessories by Pacific Coast and ceiling fans by MinkaAire falling within her fold — we might still be surprised to learn that she’s earned herself a nine-figure net worth in the process.
It’s surprising only because I’m sure many of us have met Kathy, who is notoriously generous with her personal appearances (not just at markets in support of her partners, but in stores, too), and nothing about her gives away that she sells more than twice as much licensed product at retail annually than better-known (and more aggressively marketed) Martha Stewart. Kathy is gracious, genuine and appears to be every bit the “busy mom” for whom she strives to find solutions through her offerings. Martha’s militant perfectionism and microscopic attention to detail may make her more aspirational, but Kathy — and therefore her brand — is more relatable to most, especially her middle-American target market. It’s like she’s walked a mile in our shoes, so why wouldn’t we buy her GoldToe® socks?
There’s a sweetness that comes across in Kathy’s image no matter how big Kathy Ireland® Worldwide becomes or how many categories she enters. And she nurtures that impression with her diva-free high visibility and active social media efforts that keep her connected with her consumer, and points between.
But Kathy didn’t find her way to Forbes by her charm (or good looks). Her diverse range of lifestyle goods have allowed her to defy definition — by showing up where she was not necessarily expected (starting with socks versus swimwear), she now strangely makes sense wherever her name lands next. And she has remained relentlessly on-message with her emphasis on “finding solutions,” with moms still solidly at the center of her Kathy Ireland Home brands. She’s weighted the base of that torchiere so kids can’t tip it over or rounded those corners to keep rugrats from getting hurt. She’s simplified the decision-making process with Style Guides that span across multiple partners like the Garanimals of practical, fuss-free decorating. In the Forbes profile, she says it’s “heroic” for a busy mom to spend the time and energy (let alone money) to shop in a store. That understanding underscores why Kathy has gone the distance and continues to resonate at retail.