Photography Nikon Ambassador Dixie Dixon Creative Direction Jon Carrasco


Kathy Ireland’s Midas Touch

2023 has swept in on the heels of three ashen years in which people have re-evaluated their lives – deciding what to change and what to keep. Whenever we commit to new year’s resolutions, there is so much opportunity for growth in ways we might never have contemplated previously. When it comes to a cover story, I am always strategic in searching for a special person who – in sharing his or her life journey – can offer us an enlightening perspective along multiple tributaries.”

Kathy Ireland is a seismic success story. Her solely owned company, kathy ireland Worldwide (kiWW®), began at a humble kitchen table in 1993, and today, the worldwide conglomerate holds the 19th position of the most powerful worldwide brands. She is the highest-ranking woman-owned licensing business in American history. In 2021, Kathy was elected to the Licensing International Hall of Fame and is the youngest person to enter this exclusive circle of transformational leaders. The IHFRA (International Home Furnishings Representatives Association), bestowed the prestigious Icon Award on Kathy, who is reportedly the youngest executive and first woman to receive this rare, lifetime achievement accolade from the over 2000-member organization, which guides the home furnishings industry.”

What is upliftingly revelational is that Kathy Ireland would have been seismically successful no matter the decade or the geography in which she was placed in the world. Her template transcends borders, boundaries, and obstacles, and her strengths are honed from multiple sources. The first conclusion I draw as Kathy and I sit down to our chat is that being extensively altruistic is a complement to her overall success in life. She is a fearless human rights advocate whose principled work, financial support, lobbying and intervention on behalf of oppressed people, is a central feature.”

She is the recipient of the International Religious Freedom Champion Award for her efforts. Her massive business enterprise supports many non-profits including: Founding Ambassador Dream Foundation, Providence Educational Foundation, 911 for Kids/AEFK, former National PTA Ambassador for Youth, the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, former March of Dimes NICU Chair, Founding International Youth Chair for National Pediatric Cancer Foundation, Ambassador for American Cancer Society, Ambassador for the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, first woman to serve on Board of Directors NFLPI, Advisory Board WNBPA, Advisory Board Member to Serena Williams Companies, and Advisor James Madison Program, Princeton University.”

Kathy Ireland’s life journey is powerfully inspiring because she has earned every milestone from humble beginnings. As a teenager, she boldly jumped off life’s cliffs with a spiritual foundation that has been her metaphorical rock, and a wonder woman work ethic derived from watching humble people face each day with unwavering tenacity and perseverance. Necessity is often the mother of invention, and it is driven by a full-throttle engine that instinctually seeks survival.”

Kathy’s skill set began germinating in her childhood years. ”

“I was born in Glendale, Los Angeles,” she says, “and spent the first three years of my life there. Dad was selling paint at the time, and he experienced a conflict at work. At the same time, my parents had reservations about raising their daughters in Los Angeles, so they were looking at New Zealand as our next home. They were very young when they got married. Mom was 17 and dad was 20. Dad calculated that he was either going to be working in a train station or a sheep farm in New Zealand – but then he was offered a job in Santa Barbara with the local Union. Specifically, he was working with the farm laborers, and as a little girl, I remember laborers’ rights rallies with Cesar Chavez.”

At this juncture, Kathy has my intense attention. She’s already dived into a human component that the world needs desperately.”

“My Dad always instilled in us how important it was to treat people respectfully,” she elucidates, “so from a very young age, I was aware of the exploitation of people. Mom and dad would take us on trips to Tijuana in Mexico and we were exposed to families who lived in homes made from cardboard. I always felt that we were comparatively wealthy when I saw how basically these people lived. It was an important eye-opening perspective that laid a great foundation for me in my life. Every decision I make to this day comes from the bedrock of that foundation.”

Kathy’s parents imprinted a profound impression on her burgeoning spirit.”

“Mom impacted me greatly. She continues to be the ultimate entrepreneur and there’s nothing that she can’t do. She raised three daughters while working as an Avon lady; she had a house-cleaning business; a baby-sitting business. She used to make all our clothes and I used to make jewelry with her. She taught me so many valuable gifts. Together we’d go to arts fairs on the beach and sell our goods. I learned so much from mom including how to navigate my boundaries. If those boundaries weren’t respected, I always knew that I could do something else for a living. But most importantly, through her example, mom taught me that I could do almost anything in life.”

“My parents’ work ethic was instilled in me at a young age. At age four I had my first job: I sold painted rocks! I was that annoying kid who went door-to-door in Santa Barbara selling whatever I had made! My first serious job was at age 11 where I had a newspaper route. Dad would always say to me, ‘Kathy: give 110%. The customer expects the paper on the driveway but make sure to put it on the front porch.’ That notion of under-promising and over-delivering has served me well in business.”

These vignettes into Kathy’s early life are described with oceans of enthusiasm. That same dynamic delivery continues.”

Photography Erik Ireland Olsen Creative Direction Jon Carrasco

Modeling is fraught with rejection, and it turned out to be one of the greatest gifts to me. I certainly didn’t appreciate it when it was happening at the time – but when we started our company, kathy ireland Worldwide, handling rejection proved to be an invaluable skill

“I was also exposed to comments from customers along the lines of, ‘this is a boy’s job. Why are you doing it?’ I actually love it when people ask questions but what was interesting is that nobody had a good reason why I couldn’t do the job. I love when children ask questions, and they are curious and want to know more. I like independent thinkers and people who don’t just go along with the status quo. Each year I won newspaper ‘Carrier of the Year’ for my district and that was rewarding. I worked in retirement homes, restaurants, and retail. There is no such thing as a perfect childhood but as I get older, I recognize how blessed I am to have parents whose love for me I never doubted.”

Kathy’s trajectory towards supermodel status was entirely coincidental. She explains the sequence of chance events.”

“I never had any plans to become a model. It all came as a surprise and was never on my radar. I didn’t embody the look of that time and I was such a tomboy. In fact, I was a beach rat. My nose was always peeling from sunburn; my hair was always fried from too much sun; I was always on the beach.”

We both laugh at the comical imagery of this description and the beach theme continues:”

“In fact, I lived in Malibu for four years before I got married. I loved it there, and just last week, I spoke at an event for Pepperdine University’s Boone Center for the Family.”

I insist that Kathy tell us how the beach rat came to wow the fashion industry. Her deflections give me insight into her lack of vanity.”

“It was my 16th birthday, and my parents gave me a gift. There was a new modeling school in Santa Barbara, and everybody was surprised when the school asked me if I’d like to go to New York for the summer. I thought it was completely off the table because of the expense involved in going out there. But my parents advanced me the money and said that if I hated it, I could leave. I viewed it as an opportunity to earn money and save it so that I could go to college or start a business.”

Kathy’s summation of her hugely successful modeling career is tamed by sensibility. She mentions in moderated tones how modeling was a useful means to attaining the other goals in her life.”

Not once did she mention that she was on the cover of Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Forbes, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue (3 times – one of them being their all-time best-selling cover); People, Harper’s Bazaar, WWD, License! Global, Good Housekeeping, Women’s Day, Glamour, The New York Times, Hola, Reader’s Digest, Seventeen, and many more.”

I find Kathy’s tempered description of her modeling career interesting, and it speaks to her need to move towards more substantive territory.”

“The reason my modeling career lasted as long as it did,” she explains, “surprised me. In the meantime, I tried and failed at some businesses along the route. In the end, I never felt secure in modeling from the vantage point that someone was paying me based on the physical perception of me. It felt fickle and I knew that perceptions are subjective. I felt it unwise to count on that. In the meantime, I was fiscally frugal with my earnings. I drove an old, beaten-up car and never spent money on clothes despite the criticism that was levied at me.”

Kathy continues to deliver enlightening nuggets on this cozy winter’s afternoon in Santa Barbara.”

“Modeling is fraught with continual rejection,” she explains, “and all the rejection I received turned out to be one of the greatest gifts to me. I certainly didn’t appreciate it when it was happening at the time – but when we started our company, kathy ireland Worldwide, it proved to be an invaluable skill that I had learned.”

I note how her kiWW success story only came after she’d experienced previous business failures. The moral of Kathy’s story is clear. Life is about some failure, plenty of rejection, AND success.”

She explains the lessons she learned from rejection.”

Photography Darren Stone Creative Direction Jon Carrasco

My parents’ work ethic was instilled in me at a young age. At age four I had my first job: I sold painted rocks. I was that annoying kid who went door-to-door in Santa Barbara selling whatever I had made. At age 11, I had a newspaper route. Dad would always say to me, ‘The customer expects the paper on the driveway but make sure to put it on the front porch.’ That notion of under-promising and over-delivering has served me well in business

“At first, people laughed at our socks and said that our idea was stupid. All kinds of rejection statements came at us, and instead of destroying me, I wanted to continue the conversation. I recognized the value of dialogue and feedback, and I wanted more…lots more of it because it filled my information tank.”

“I love the idea of people coming together,” she describes, “with different and varied strengths – while all working towards a common goal. I’ve also always had a great sense of adventure.”

I put this team together and somebody offered me the opportunity to model their socks on a tiny budget. I recognized at that stage that if I didn’t close the door on that chapter of my life, I would not be able to realize my business dreams. That’s what I really wanted to do and that’s what the team was assembled for. I loved the people I worked with. John and Marilyn Moretz from North Carolina were with us at the inception, and they continue to be in our business family today. They began as socks manufacturers and we loved their socks! They were a design and marketing team and we looked at how our team could complement their socks as far as fashion was concerned. We visualized wonderful textures and fabrics and we wanted to bring value and solutions to the table. We decided that this brand would be all about solutions – and as we started out in the women’s section – our goal was to make their day a better one. I was pregnant with our first child at the time, and this gave me a sense of how heroic it was for pregnant moms to even make it to the store! I had that innate understanding. There are so many demands on moms so whatever we can do to make each mom’s life better is our goal.”

The genesis of kathy ireland Worldwide involved its vast investment in people and their well-being.”

“I went back to the drawing board,” Kathy explains “having learned the lessons from my dad about labor relations and fairness. Treating people with respect was always at the forefront of how I did business. We started by conducting surprise factory inspections because, that way, we could really see what was going on, and we loved what we discovered. Our staff were happy people who felt well treated while making beautiful products that we are proud of. That’s something we continue to this day. We have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on our human rights contracts. We honor multiple languages and it’s so important. I know that every country is different in terms of cost of living and wages. Having come from a modeling background, I was also acutely aware of the sex trade and human trafficking violations of human rights. When human beings are no longer profitable as sex slaves, they are sold into forced labor. Anybody who is involved in the manufacturing business has to be aware of these atrocities and I believe they have a responsibility to bring about positive change. Unlike drugs, human beings can be sold over and over again.”

Kathy emphasizes the value of multiple generations collaborating with each other.”

“We started our brand with that single pair of socks, and we grew it to what we have today – which is an amazing team of dedicated people. Many of us have been together 33 years. We have Gen Z’s who were not even born when we first started. We have teens to age 100 in our company and the 100-year-old person is still involved! It all works so harmoniously. You have the combination of the passion and the energy of young people sharing ideas with the wisdom and experience of much older people. Today our company includes everything from fashion to home to tele help with our partners LTI (Let’s Talk Interactive) to recovery centers that are affordable – to American family insurance – to outdoor living to entertainment and production; record labels; working with Michael Feinstein. Liza Minelli; Vanessa Williams; Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. We started out working with Elizabeth Taylor and Janet Jackson.”

Just when I thought that Kathy’s business empire couldn’t possibly extend any more, she animatedly describes how her company has just executive produced (and she’s presenting) a timely documentary called Anxious Nation.”

“My dear friend, Laura Morton, is a 21-time best-selling author, and Vanessa Roth is an Academy-award-winning director,” says Kathy. “They both brought their extensive talents to this documentary. I’ve been on Boards for Education for over 25 years and I’m on Princeton’s Advisory Board. I’ve also been doing mentoring programs for young people for over three decades, so this was a topic that I really wanted to get behind.”

Kathy’s tone changes as her heart takes the explanation to another level.”

“Children have such a special place in my heart. Anxious Nation takes a deep look into the escalation of anxiety in our youth. What I think is so powerful is that it removes any perceived shame or stigma attached to mental trauma. It helps families recognize that they are not alone. Hope is a strong component in the film. We look at children who suffer from anxiety; their parents’ stories are told, and medical experts weigh in with constructive thoughts. I mentioned earlier that just last week, I met with the Boone family at Pepperdine University, who are doing amazing work in which solutions and key breakthroughs are happening for young people caught in anxiety webs.”

I ask Kathy what advice she would offer to young people who are anxious as they prepare to launch themselves into an adult world. She responds with thoughtful conviction.”

“Each young person has a different story. None of us fits into a box. We are all unique individuals and what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another. What I’m so proud of is the courage of the young people in the film. They bravely share their stories and I already know the positive impact their voices are having. Everybody goes through tough times and when we face our issues without any sense of shame, the work is already well in progress. Our trials don’t define us. The key is to learn how to navigate the journey.”

Photography Noah Childers Creative Direction Jon Carrasco

When I was a little girl growing up, the one thing I knew with the greatest sense of surety – was that I wanted to be a mom. I loved children even when I was a child. There is no other role in the world more rewarding or more challenging than raising children

Anxious Nation is currently on the circuits at the film festivals and is winning awards everywhere. The website for anyone interested is:”

The all-important topic of Kathy’s family is a central component to her happiness, and it provides her life with soul-nourishing balance. ”

“Ah yes,” she says with a deep exhale.”

“When I was a little girl growing up, the one thing I knew with the greatest sense of surety – was that I wanted to be a mom. I loved children even when I was a child. There is no other role in the world more rewarding or more challenging than raising children. No matter how grown your children are, you never throttle back on the all-in commitment. It might look different as they get older, but the fundamentals never change. It’s the most important facet of my life and there’s no paycheck involved.”

Kathy is happily married for 35 years to Dr. Greg Olsen, an emergency room physician and CEO of 4th Watch, a commercial fishing enterprise in Santa Barbara. They have three wonderful children: Erik (28), Lily (24) and Chloe (19). Erik is married to Bethany, their daughter-in-love, whom they claim as their own but, of course, share with her parents. They have two grandbabies: Daisy is two years and Freya is two months.”

“Our children are amazing,” enthuses Kathy. “I look back and sometimes it’s bittersweet because I see things and I think I wish I would have known this or that – yet I see their strength. I always said to them that, hopefully, they’ll find some traits in their dad and I that they like. They’re also going to find some funky behavioral traits that we may not be aware of. They also have the option to keep the things that they like in our family, or maybe they will want to do some things differently. There are lots of choices.”

Kathy’s strong Christian faith is central to her life, and it provides her with a necessary moral compass and an understanding of human limitations. She explains:”

“We are all failed humans and I try to teach our children that because of that – even though we love them very much – their Father in heaven is perfect and he won’t mess up. I advise them to go to Him for the big things because He doesn’t sleep, and He will never fail them.”

So much of Kathy’s work is about reducing prejudice and hate speech in society. I ask her what she has learned about this troubling topic. She responds thoughtfully.”

“I look at the definition of the world ‘tolerance’ and it means to show respect towards someone with whom you disagree. I look at the world in which everybody feels pressurized to agree and yet, there is so much division because people don’t know how to handle differing opinions. Being an independent thinker and asking critical questions is healthy. For me, what really works, despite people thinking that it may be counter intuitive, is the consideration that other people are more important than yourself.”

Kathy relates that thinking process even to her business empire.”

“Whether it’s a neighbor or a potential business partner, I always ask the question – is partnering with our company going to be good for you? How’s it going to raise your bottom line? Obviously, our bottom-line matters too, and we need to be sustainable, but when you focus on the OTHER person, and you do what you can to help and bless them – rather than what’s in it for me – you end up building a relationship with service at its core, and great things come from that. People become family, and everybody raises their game because they feel valued. It works so much better than being self-centered.”

Kathy equates that mind set to a situation across the world and explains:”

“I look at the reality that we have dear friends who are fighting the oppression in Burma, and we support an organization called the Free Burma Rangers. They go wherever the fighting breaks out and they put their own lives at risk to help the Burmese people. That is heroic work. I also have a dear friend whose family is in Ethiopia. There are on-going tragedies there. We are so sheltered here while there is so much suffering in the world. I’ve been so blessed to be exposed to needs that are so much bigger than me, and to be exposed to opportunities that are bigger than me. That is one of the things that keeps us going. When we are contemplating a new relationship in the business, our first vetting process is to ask that potential business partner if they will join one of our initiatives. There are a wide variety of areas in which people can serve – whether it’s fighting disease or fighting hunger or poverty. They can get involved in education or the fight against human trafficking. We don’t demand a monetary amount. It can be volunteering time to help these causes. The idea is that good always comes from that heart of service.”

Kathy’s commitment to pediatric cancer is extensive.”

Photography Nikon Ambassador Dixie Dixon Creative Direction Jon Carrasco

In business, when you focus on the other person, and you do what you can to help and bless them – rather than what’s in it for me – you end up building a relationship with service at its core, and great things come from that

“There’s so much more that needs to be done for children suffering from cancer. The vast majority of dollars raised for cancer research is for adults. Only 4% of those funds go towards pediatric cancer research. Every day in the USA, 43 precious children are diagnosed with cancer. We have a lot of work ahead. We have great researchers and I have hope but we are not where we need to be.”

I ask Kathy how she feels we can best empower our teenagers to have confidence and to make the most of their skills and genes.”

“The key is for every teenager to recognize their unique value. God doesn’t make mistakes. He made each person beautifully unique. It’s important for all of us not to be focused on social media – which is not healthy. When I was modeling, I remember being in Paris when some designers brought in some haute couture. There was this DRESS! It arrived and it was ugly. Everybody was diplomatically quiet. Some people broke the silence with supportive accolades on this really ugly dress. It was at that moment that I said to myself, ‘I’m doing this job and I am grateful for the benefits, but I now recognize how much my identity and sense of self-worth cannot be dependent on someone’s opinion of my physical appearance. That’s all it is – an opinion!’ I would encourage young people to not let someone else’s opinion define them or put them in a box. I know that I’m far too odd-shaped for anyone to even try to put me in a box. I’m certainly not getting into anyone else’s box until I’m six feet underground! The world is becoming much more diverse – and that’s a positive step forward. Beautiful people come in every shape, size, color and age, and their unique abilities contribute vastly to the planet!”

I’m interested to learn what Kathy’s favorite indulgence is and she replies while laughing,”

“I LOVE to go Surfing! Being out in the ocean is so energizing. I don’t know anybody who could possibly be in a bad mood when they are out in the ocean. I’m not really good at surfing but I love the challenge of getting into waves where you’re a little bit out of your league. It’s humbling and it also invokes gratitude because I made it out alive!”

Her favorite place in the world?”

“One of my favorites – and there are many – is Israel. I find it so special and meaningful.”

A recent book she’s read that had an impact….”

“Harriet – about Harriet Tubman – an American abolitionist and social activist. She was born into slavery, managed to escape, and then she made some 13 missions to rescue approximately 70 slaves – including friends and family. She is so inspiring and powerful. She broke every barrier and I so admire her courage and faith.”

On the topic of who she’d like to share dinner with, Kathy supplies an interesting answer.”

“I would choose someone with whom I disagree. It’s important. It provides an opportunity of initiating positive change when we engage with an opposition viewpoint. Hearts don’t change when we are singing to the choir. Also, it’s important for me to learn about that person’s perspective.”

I ask Kathy what she’s most grateful for and she replies without hesitation,”

“My relationship with Jesus.”

She expands on that with these words:”

“I’m grateful for the patience, grace and mercy that has been extended to me. There’s a biblical verse in Isaiah that says: ‘The grass withers, the flowers fade but the word of God remains forever.’ Our bodies are temporary. It’s important to have a bigger perspective and it makes getting older a lot more enjoyable.”

I end our interview asking Kathy what her hopes are for 2023. Her answer is based on a lot of valuable life experience.”

“I hope that people can work better at not having division. People are quick to make assumptions and judge. While we all need to be quick to think and quick to learn – we should be slow to become angry and reactive. Being thoughtfully responsive is a much better option to a knee-jerk, impulsive reaction. That’s how fires start.”