Kathy Ireland has changed directions since her days as a supermodel, her prolific career made most popular by her Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue covers. Today, the model-turned mogul,46, is chief designer and CEO of Kathy Ireland Worldwide (KIWW), a $1.4 Billion empire that designs and markets more than 15,000 products sold in 28 countries, ranging from home furnishings and flooring, to jewelry, apparel and skincare.
Her mission: “finding solutions for families, especially busy moms.” With her own brood of three–kids Erik, 15; Lily, 10; and Chloe, 6, with Greg Olsen, her husband of more than 20 years–Ireland knows firsthand about playing the dual role of active mom and thriving businesswoman.
Passing on her parenting tricks, she released her fifth book, “Real Solutions for Busy Moms: Your Guide to Success and Sanity,” in April. Her sixth book, “Real Solutions for Busy Moms Devotional: 52 God Inspired Messages for your heart,” hit bookstores in November.
On top of that, the Santa Barbara resident and regular Carmel visitor recently learned some fancy footwork alongside partner Tony Dovolani on ABC’s mega-popular “Dancing with the Stars.” (Ireland was cut from the show at the end of the second week, and graciously accepted criticism.) For every dollar she earned competing on the show, Ireland’s company made a matching donation to nonprofits such as the Alliance for Christian Education, the Elizabeth Taylor HIV/AIDS Foundation, Feed the Children, and Athletes and Entertainers for Kids.
Carmel Magazine caught up with Ireland after a rigorous “DWTS” rehearsal to learn her secret to time management as a busy mom, and her healthy changes after a not-so-flattering photo was snapped-not to mention her close encounter with Clint Eastwood.
CM: Rumor has it that you have an affinity for the Central Coast.
KI: It is truly one of the most beautiful spots on Earth! My daughter and I were traveling through there last May, and the scenery is absolutely breathtaking. If our family didn’t live in Santa Barbara, I could see us living in Carmel.
CM: Why is Carmel so special to you?
KI: What I love about Carmel is it’s a step back in time, yet it’s got all the sophistication of the 21st century. It’s an international destination with the values of a true, intimate community.
CM: I hear you had an interesting dining experience with Carmel’s own Clint Eastwood years ago.
KI: It’s a funny story. This must have been twenty-some-odd years ago. I was at an intimate dinner party at a home in honor of a movie that Clint Eastwood had coming out. We were all seated at the table; there were about 12 people. I was a vegetarian at the time-I eat meat now-and I got really good at hiding my food.
The first course came out and it was raw fish. I noticed there was a very long tablecloth. I put it in my napkin, and then just shoveled it onto the floor.The next course was duck. Again, nobody saw me. I was sitting next to Clint Eastwood and I thought maybe they’d think it was him-I don’t know! Then someone at the dinner party said, ‘We want to see the dogs.’ So the owner gave a whistle and these enormous Dalmatians came running in and made a beeline for me-they were at my feet just chomping away, coming up for breath, with food everywhere! [Clint] just kind of gave me a look, and nobody said anything. I was mortified!
CM: You have a bedroom furniture line called Carmel Valley. What inspired the name?
KI: Carmel is a beautiful wealth of inspiration. Just a mention of the name and you get an instant visual. It’s something that people all over the country connect with. It’s romantic, elegant, charming-it’s got it all.
CM: Since your supermodel career, you have built an impressive business empire. Have you always been an entrepreneur?
KI: It began when I was four, so, yes. [Laughs] My first job was a combination of both design and business-I sold painted rocks from my wagon with my sister, Mary. My sister sold hers for a dime; she’s three years older and her designs were a little more sophisticated. I sold mine for a nickel, but even at that reduced rate I did really well. I learned at a young age that my customers appreciate good value!
CM: What influenced you to design your global business around busy moms?
KI: Well,my life changed so dramatically when I became a mom. Suddenly, things like taking a shower became this huge luxury. I learned really quickly that moms are underserved in so many ways. I think because there’s not a paycheck attached, society oftentimes doesn’t give moms proper empathy, proper appreciation. It truly is one of the most difficult, challenging and important jobs there is.
CM: From the numerous books you’ve authored,what’s the best piece of advice you can give moms?
KI: Something that I share is you’ve got to figure out your priorities and put boundaries in place to protect them.
CM: What are the priorities in your life?
KI: For me, my priorities are my faith, my family, and then finding solutions for families, especially busy moms. The minute they are out of order, the stress is unmanageable, coping skills are out the window, and I’m basically just a big lump of disaster. Something I also share with moms is we say our families are our priorities, but oftentimes we forget we’re members of that family too. If we don’t take care of our health, we’re not going to be any good to anybody. I’ve been humbled by this lesson.
CM: What happened that made you realize you needed to take better care of yourself?
KI: Around the holidays, our son was taking pictures with a new camera and got a picture of me.Our daughter, who was five at the time, just burst out laughing and said, ‘Mommy, you look like you’re pregnant!’ She wasn’t kidding. [Laughs] I had put on about 25 pounds over 25 years-a pound a year, it’s not that hard to do.
CM: How did you feel when you saw yourself in that picture?
KI: It wasn’t so much the weight gain-there’s no shame in a weight gain. But what I saw when I looked at the picture was somebody who was really overwhelmed, overstressed, over-everything- clearly not taking her own advice. It was a wake up call for me to take care of my health and make better choices.
CM: What’s your perception of beauty today?
KI: It’s not about squeezing into a swimsuit. It’s not about being a certain size or what the number is on the scale. I hate scales! For me it’s about health. I intentionally built a business that has nothing to do with my appearance-pretty easy to hide behind a business suit and retouched photos. The picture my son took, that was real. [Laughs] I shared it because I want assistance; they would not have this kind of educational opportunity if not for organizations like this. It’s so exciting to see schools being built where kids are just surrounded in love and rigorous academics.
CM: How has your experience been since joining”Dancing with the Stars”?
KI: It’s so hard, I can’t believe it! But I’m having a blast. It’s so out of my comfort zone, it’s not even funny. Before I started this adventure, I couldn’t walk in a pair of high heels. Back when I used to model, you never saw me on the catwalk-there’s a reason! [Laughs] I went to a dance class once with a friend and I crashed into the mirror and sprained my ankle. That was my dancing experience.
CM: Is there anything you haven’t done that you still want to accomplish?
KI: Oh, my goodness-so much! If you have another couple of hours I could tell you.