Skip to main content

Kathy Ireland Reveals the Inspiration Behind New Trunkettes Swimsuit Line

And divulges some SI Swimsuit photo shoot secrets, too.

If there is one person who knows swimsuits, it's three-time Sports Illustrated cover model Kathy Ireland. Earlier this year swimwear brand Trunkettes announced a partnership with the fashion icon, who is now the CEO and head designer of kathy ireland Worldwide. Trunkettes and kiWW will be joining forces to create co-branded swimwear for at least the next five years. We recently caught up with Kathy to chat about this latest venture for her company, which License Global magazine has ranked as the 26th most powerful brand in the world.

Q: What attracted you to Trunkettes?

A: Consistently throughout the inception of our brand, it's always been about people. (Trunkettes founder and CEO) Hilary Genga is an extraordinary leader who coincidentally is a woman. Her designs have been featured and celebrated by models and SI. So, it's just such a joy to work with Hilary and the creative team to bring new swimwear collections to the marketplace and seen on everyone from Gigi Hadid and Hannah Davis Jeter to my dear friend, Ashley Graham. I mean, my goodness, Ashley is one of the most beautiful successful models making history by being on the SI cover in 2016.

Scroll to Continue

More from SwimLife

Q: And she was wearing a Trunkettes swimsuit!

A: I've heard that that was picked out of thousands of swimsuits for that cover. Hilary almost didn't send it because it was purple and gold. And she thought those colors were too identifiable with the Los Angeles Lakers. But she placed it back in the assortment, and the rest is history.

Q: The swimsuits on the covers become iconic.

A: Yes. SI has brought such awareness, connection and credibility to swimwear and made it a fashion statement and an iconic fashion statement. I often look back at all those trips from years ago and the many, many suits and photographers and stylists. I didn't realize at the time that the images for so many of the women involved would break barriers and open new opportunities. They would impact passion, careers, media and pop culture. That's the power of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit.


Q: Obviously, you were an SI Swimsuit model, and now partnering with this brand is ushering a new generation of models. What does it feel like to go through that kind of evolution?

A: It's amazing. Modeling was not something I anticipated or planned. It was an opportunity to save money, go to college or start a business. And the entire time I worked in that industry, I was trying and failing. But during that time, I was watching [SI Swimsuit editor] Jule [Campbell] really work in a world that at least at that time felt dominated by men. I watched her navigate and fight for the integrity of her brand. That was amazing, and there were so many powerful lessons there. I always knew I belonged on the other side of the lens.


Q: Now that you're on that other side, can you tell me a little about the inspiration behind the Trunkettes collection designs?

A: Our first collection, Fashion Jungle, is inspired by a novel written earlier this year by New York Times best-selling author Rachel van Dyken and myself. The modeling industry can be a jungle and the book is a cautionary tale of that industry. However, the application here is influenced by the gorgeous remote locations that are always a backdrop for the SI Swimsuit edition. And with my days at SI, I traveled to astonishing rainforests and jungles from Costa Rica to Thailand, Africa, Dominican Republic and Indonesia. You can see colors and elements of nature that are really beautifully unique. And what we're doing is capturing those memories and transforming them into bold color palettes and wearable history.

Q: And the line has such a range of shapes and styles.

A: Also, thinking about being body cooperative is important. I believe beautiful people come in every shape, size, color and age, and we should celebrate that. The Titus Aquin bikini, for example, has removable and changeable ties that can give it different looks. The Trixie was modeled after shapewear and is wonderful for all body types. Then our Cannes line was inspired by Elizabeth Taylor. It's a very luxurious and upscale line.

Q: How has your history as a swimsuit model informed this new partnership?

A: From my days with SI, we used to go to the locations early for a couple of days of fittings. You quickly learned that not every suit is going to look good on everybody. So, that goes into the DNA of Trunkettes because we're looking at what will look good on most women in different body types and celebrating all the many different shapes and sizes, colors and ages. I think it's fusing the fantasy of modeling with the reality of what women actually need.

Q: This is just the latest example of your entrepreneurial pursuits. Did you ever see yourself becoming a business powerhouse?

A: Being an executive? Yes. I was thinking about that back on the beaches of our SI shoots. I learned lessons on those beaches about being disruptive. Jule would always ask me to climb trees because I was from California! We're very grateful for the work that we have the privilege of doing. But we are just getting started.