Photo Credit: Jonathan Exley
Kathy Ireland began her career as a supermodel and morphed into what the Associated Press and London Times call “a best friend to working mothers” because women all over America are embracing her designs and products.
I’ve been familiar with her as a model and designer for years, but more recently I’ve discovered that there is so much more to this designer, author, and mother of three, which is her deep devotion to faith and family, and her willingness to both speak out and give of her time to numerous humanitarian causes.
I’m privileged to have had this opportunity to interview her.
Your designs include everything from sofas to lighting to rugs, with a list that goes on… Can you tell us what some of your personal favorites have been?
It’s difficult to choose personal favorite items in our collections. We offer over fifteen thousand different products. We must love them in order to develop them. Having favorites wouldn’t be fair. Every product is a solution for someone. Our mission is “…finding solutions for families, especially busy moms…” Working with our team everyday to find solutions for busy families everywhere is a great joy.
My daughter has the canopy bed and dresser set you designed.
I couldn’t take my eyes off of it from the moment I walked into the store, nor could I stop tugging on my husband’s coat sleeve, in hopes that he’d by it. I have to say, it’s breathtaking as are your other designs.
Thank you for your kind words regarding our Young Attitudes bedroom collection. Designing for youth is a special joy our team shares. We conduct focus groups on a regular basis and we include children in those focus groups. It’s critical for us to understand what it is that children and their families want and how they are utilizing each room and each piece of furniture or our home accessories, lighting, flooring and window coverings. There is so much to learn from children!
I’ve read that it all started with a line of socks which Kmart carried, and that they sold over a hundred million pairs! Why did you start with socks? I’d love to hear how that journey began.
Yes, we started our brand in 1993 with a pair of socks. Many people told us, “It’ll never work! You can’t start a mega lifestyle brand from a pair of socks! You’ve got to break into retail with swimwear!” We weren’t looking to break in, rather, we were seeking a real relationship with our customer. With my modeling background, swimwear would have been too obvious. We thought it would be interesting to see what kind of design, innovation, and marketing our team could bring to a basic pair of socks. If women embraced our socks, we would have the beginnings of a strong foundation for our brand.
When we began our brand we had very little resources, no advertising budget, and we took out a series of loans. Jon Carrasco, our genius Creative Director and I loaded up our backpacks, traveling the country presenting our socks. We had a lot of doors slam in our faces.
I believe in order to succeed in life and in business we need to turn down the noise of negativity and move forward with the plan for our dreams. In the early days, there were times we slept in airports to save money. Many people think of sleeping in an airport as a sacrifice. Modeling was more of a sacrifice because it wasn’t my passion. Whatever you have to give up to live your passion, on the path God has for your life, is not a sacrifice; it’s a bold investment. And yes, thanks to the millions of women who turn down the noise of stereotyping and embrace our brand, we recently sold our 100 millionth pair of socks.
Congratulations. That is a lot of socks, and a lot of happy feet!
What values have you instilled in your company?
As a child, I always worked. From the days of my newspaper route, my dad always taught me to give 110%. Give more than the customer is expecting. If the customer expects the paper on the driveway, put it on the front porch. That was the foundation of our learning–to under promise and over deliver.
Thirty years later, I’m still the girl with the paper route.
I like that, Kathy. A good work ethic is such an important value we can instill in our children.
It was a privilege to write Powerful Inspirations: Eight Lessons That Will Change Your Life, with my co-author, Laura Morton. The reason I can be so bold as to say these lessons will change your life, is because the inspirations behind each lesson don’t come from me. They come from God. If you apply them to your life, your life will change. The lessons range from Powerful Beliefs and Boundaries, Powerful Changes, to Powerful Financial Wisdom. I look at failure as education. In that respect, I am very well educated. Most of these lessons were learned the hard way.
In this book, you wrote that you felt “dorky” growing up. Some of us still feel dorky even now that we are grown up 🙂 Since you overcame this issue, is there any advice that you offer to women who are suffering with low self-esteem?
In the book, I share that I believe, if we get our self-esteem or sense of self-worth from our appearance, our social status, our bank accounts, the car we drive or even our health, we will be disappointed. No one can guarantee we will have any of these things tomorrow. Appearance was an example I’d used that made me wonder if I’d been on my soapbox. Our appearance doesn’t change overnight; it’s a gradual process. I thought about it, then pushed it out of my mind. A few days later, I was playing in the driveway with our son Erik. My husband hopped in Erik’s wagon and was riding it like a skateboard. It looked like so much fun. I wanted to give it a try. I held on to the steering wheel, while he pushed me around our circular brick driveway. We were laughing and having so much fun. As I approached my parked car, I over corrected my turn and did a face plant on the brick driveway. I smashed my face, broke some teeth, tore the skin from my nose, had a fat lip, sprained my shoulder and my blood was everywhere.
I am grateful that there was no serious permanent damage. But during that time we achieved a major business goal. No one could ever again say our business was dependent upon how I looked. Because trust me, I was a mess. There is still a small scar on my nose. Make up usually covers it up. It’s really no big deal, except to me. To me it’s a beautiful reminder of a turn my life could have taken and a gift of being absolutely free from worry about appearance.
I believe that true self-esteem comes from understanding that God loves you, values you, made you in His image and He doesn’t make mistakes. That kind of self-esteem is available to everyone and no one can take it away from you, no matter what your circumstances.
Chapter one opens up with the verse, “All things are possible with God” ~ Mark 10:27. Why did you choose that verse to open the book?
I love that verse because it demonstrates the all mighty, infinite power of God. In my human weakness, I often see obstacles and limits. What I need to be doing is leaning on Him. With people, much is impossible, but not with God. “All things are possible with God” Mark 10:27. This verse strengthens my faith and gives me great hope.
When I look at the woman you are today I see someone who has changed from the girl we knew her to be 20 years ago. Is there any life-changing lesson or lessons that particularly stand out as being key to your growth over time?
I feel that over the years I have changed. From the girl who used to shut up and pose for a living, to the wife, mother, and business person I am today. I enjoy all those responsibilities that go along with the opportunities. In “Powerful Inspirations,” I share, that I believe we all have our God given gifts and talents. It’s a matter of discovering and developing them. I believe in focusing on our strengths and finding support in areas where we are not strong. I encourage people to figure out what their values are and to put strong boundaries in place to protect those values.
Your were dubbed “super-model-turned-super-mogul” by Forbes Magazine and syndicated columnist Liz Smith, but I also see you wearing the title of “Super Mom.” In fact I read that you were named the 2002 Outstanding Mother of the Year from the National Mother’s Day Committee, and that you authored several best-selling children’s books. How do you manage working, writing and being a mom without fizzling out?
All moms work, whether they get paid or not. I can’t think of anything more rewarding, challenging or important than raising children. There is so much pressure particularly on women to have it all and do it all. I believe we can have it all, just not all at once. I believe our life comes in seasons. In each season we need to prioritize our time. For me, my priorities are my faith, my family and then being of service.
Honoring those priorities makes our work so exciting. The minute my priorities are out of order, the stress becomes unmanageable. I’m not very effective at anything and my coping skills go out the window.
You’ve been successful at so much that you set out to do. What would you consider to be the key to that success?
While our success may bear my name, it is the result of thousands of hours of work performed by many, many people. I work with an incredible team of people. As women, so often we try to do it all. As I mentioned earlier, I believe in focusing on our strengths and working with others in areas where we are not strong. It’s important to choose the people you work with carefully. While you might not agree on everything, it’s a good idea to share the same core values. Work ethic is also critical to success. Always give 110%. I never had a family business, but today we have a business family. When you treat one another the way you want your family members to be treated, there is no limit to what you can accomplish together.
I read that you became a Christian when you were eighteen, but remained a baby Christian for a long time. So many of us can relate to that, in fact it was only twelve years ago that I really started growing in my faith. Can you tell us a bit about your walk with the Lord?
I was 18-years-old, modeling in Paris, which sounds a lot more glamorous than it really was. Out of jetlag, boredom and loneliness, I picked up a Bible out of my suitcase that my mom had packed. I happened to open to the Gospel of Mathew and my life was forever changed. As a rebellious teenager who was questioning authority, I saw the truth right before my eyes. As a young woman, out in a world that felt dominated by men, I was so encouraged to learn how much Jesus loves and respects women. The first person who He shared that He was the Son of God with, was a woman. This woman was a Samaritan and was living what could be considered an immoral life. This was during a time when men did not communicate with women. Women were not even considered second-class citizens. This was during a time when Jews would go out of their way to avoid Samaritans.
Jesus rejected that discrimination. He showed this woman love, respect, and forgiveness. The first people Jesus appeared to after His resurrection were women, and God chose a woman to bring His Son into the world. I feel that with Jesus as my best friend it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of me. That relationship gives me the confidence to not compromise my values. Due to my own disobedience, I remained a baby Christian for a very long time. As I would read through the Bible, I would embrace certain passages and disregard those verses that I was sure were a typo or certainly, they didn’t pertain to me. I was trying to mold God into what I wanted Him to be, rather then allowing Him to mold me into the person He created me to be.
Becoming a mom helped me to understand our Heavenly Father’s love for us. He sees the big picture while we see only a fraction. He tells us things not to keep us from pleasure, but to keep us from pain. I have made many, many mistakes in my life and I continue to mess up. My goal is that as I mature in my faith, that my actions would be more in line with His will for my life.
Kathy, thank you for being our guest this month. I look forward to watching as you continue to reveal your God given gift of design.
In the same manner I anticipate a few gentle tugs on my husband’s coat sleeve. 🙂
Visit www.kathyireland.com where you can view her designs, browse her books, and learn more about this amazing woman of faith!
Founder and Editor,
Christian Women Online Magazine
Read my column–DysFUNctional
Photo credit to Jonathan Exley for the Cover and headshots of Kathy Ireland