Former Model Kathy Ireland Created A Business Empire With NC Roots

Former Model Kathy Ireland Created A Business Empire With NC Roots

10:29pm Apr 19, 2018
Kathy Ireland at the Spring 2018 High Point Market. WFDD photo by Paul Garber.

Kathy Ireland is probably best known as the supermodel catapulted to fame by her many appearances in Sports Illustrated in the 1980s and 90s. Now she’s the name behind a fashion and design company, kathy ireland Worldwide, that boasts more than $4-billion in revenues, according to Forbes Magazine.

It’s a company that has deep North Carolina ties. Among them: a home products line that she launched two decades ago at the High Point Market. Last year, she teamed up with renowned designer Michael Amini to create a new line that Ireland describes as a rustic, modern look.

WFDD’s Paul Garber sat down with Ireland at her showroom last week. She discussed the challenges of selling furniture in a changing marketplace increasingly dominated by millennial buyers.

“They don’t know me from that long-ago modeling career," she says.

Interview highlights

On adjusting to sweeping changes in how people buy furniture:

Our customer is the most critical part of our design team. Listening to her – it’s everything that is key. She gives us our marching orders and tells us how she’s living, what her needs are – living in smaller spaces, how we need to scale her home furnishings, how her home furnishings need to be able to move with her as life transitions, as the kids get bigger.   

On the biggest challenge for the furniture industry now:

It’s finding solutions for our retail partners. More than ever people are shopping online, and there’s wonderful benefits to that. But how do we support our retail partners with brick-and-mortar stores? How do we help them remain relevant? We want to work with people to really make their places a destination, to make them stand apart, to be distinct so people will want to get in the car and drive and go and visit and see what’s there and experience it and touch it and feel it.

On the role of North Carolina in her business:

It started out with a single pair of socks. I was an aging, pregnant model at my kitchen table, and John and Marilyn Moretz (of Moretz Mills) out of Hickory approached us. We began hitting the streets presenting our socks to retailers….We started kathy ireland Home in High Point…North Carolina is like a second home to us, it really is.

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