Kathy Ireland


Kathy Ireland Worldwide (clothing, home furnishings)

Big Deal:

She started by selling Kathy Ireland-branded socks and recently sold her 100 millionth pair. She claims they're the most widely worn brand of women's socks today.

For all those years that Kathy Ireland graced the pages of Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue (13, if you're counting), you'd be forgiven for assuming that as she posed, she was thinking of pina coladas or lazing about in tropical paradises. But you'd be wrong. "When I was modeling, I would always look at the client and think, That's what I want to do," she says now. "I wanted to be the client. I wanted to have a brand."

She claims to be a lifelong entrepreneur, having sold painted rocks with her sister as a child (undercutting Mary's price by half). By 1999, she was named Businesswoman of the Year by the National Association of Women Business Owners. And these days her Kathy Ireland Worldwide lines of home furnishings and clothing bring in more than $1 billion a year in sales. She's the CEO and chief designer of the 37-person company, which targets products at busy moms (its stylish furniture, for example, comes with rounded edges). She and her crew create the designs, and her manufacturing partners make the products. She recoils at the idea that she's simply lending her name to these products. "Real brands require infrastructure, leadership, and a strong, committed sales and distribution force," she asserts. "We've built our brand from the ground up."

Earlier this year, Ireland scored a licensing coup when she beat out Donna Karan and Calvin Klein for the right to produce reproductions of highly acclaimed folk art quilts from a group of African American women from Alabama. She does it all while raising three kids and spending considerable time on charitable projects, including mentoring six teenage mothers. And while she's getting better at delegating, she still delves into the daily minutiae of shipping problems and product development. "I can't say I sleep a lot," she says. "I'm too much of a control freak."