Kathy Ireland embodies what it means to follow your dreams without limitations. She parlayed her 13 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue appearances (and three covers) into a springboard for a widely successful career as an entrepreneur. Her company, kathy ireland Worldwide (kiWW), which licenses a variety of products, is ranked by License Global magazine at number 15 in the world, which is the highest rank of any American woman owned business in history. We chatted with Ireland, now 58, about how her time at SI Swimsuit prepared her for the business world and what she considers her greatest success.
What first attracted you to SI Swimsuit?
“It was a job, and back in that century, every model had her book and went to ‘go-sees.’ The SI team looked at my book, and then I met a leader who changed my life. Her name is Jule Campbell. She reinvented the SI Swimsuit franchise. Jule is family and Aunt Jule to our kids.”
How was the experience different compared to other modeling jobs?
“Incredible fun. Exotic locations. I learned from Jule how to be a woman in charge of everything in what was usually a male-dominated work culture. I am grateful for every single modeling assignment. However, nothing had a greater impact on launching my career than Jule and 13 years of appearing in SI. The trips, the memories, making friends with people of different cultures. Those days were the foundation of everything our company does right now. I am forever grateful.”
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How did SI Swimsuit help you launch your brand?
“Jule Campbell insisted that the models be identified, so people knew our names, which helped. Of course, some people didn’t take some of us seriously. However, those who underestimated did so at their own vulnerability. We all turned out O.K. And the franchise continues to launch new careers for wonderful women.”
What do you consider your greatest success?
“Living in my faith. Being a wife and mother, serving our customers, and through their embrace of our brand, fulfilling needs all over the world. Our involvement with nonprofits is life-changing. That’s a great joy.”
What are you currently working on?
“Our corporate and philanthropic portfolios are extensive. They include home, fashion, real estate, insurance, fintech, publishing, entertainment, recording, filmmaking, television and much more. Last year our company had its second No. 1 recording, blackbird: Lennon-McCartney Icons with Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr., produced by Nic Mendoza, on our label EE1, which is our partnership with BMG. Next up: Broadway, film, television and a BMG album for icon Vanessa Williams! That will shake everybody up. One of our greatest passions right now is making health care affordable and available to people all over the world. Our telemedicine firm, Let’s Talk Interactive, is working in concert with kathy ireland Recovery Centers to win the war on substance abuse. People are going to jail when what they need is health care. I am grateful to be a human rights advocate and to support better living at every moment of human existence.”
You’ve had so much success, including four Forbes covers. How are you paying it forward?
“I don’t know how you define success. To me, a successful life is one that eases suffering, lives in harmony with our own priorities, and remembers to consider others to be more important than ourselves. My favorite book says, ‘I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course with joy….’ That Scripture is often in my first and last meeting of every day. When I ‘run with perseverance, the race marked out’ before me, there is peace in my soul.”
Beginning on International Women’s Day (March 8), the Pay With Change initiative will be front and center on SI Swim channels through daily spotlights on the women, brands and properties making a concerted effort to fight for women’s equality.