Working for workplace religious diversity, equity & inclusion


Supermodel to Supermogul – Sports Illustrated Cover to Religious Freedom Advocate

22 Jul, 2019

Kathy Ireland, 2016 Global Business & Interfaith Peace Award Finalist*

Not a lot of businesspeople make the covers of both Forbes and Sports Illustrated magazines. But Kathy Ireland, supermodel and founder of kathy ireland Worldwide (kiWW) did.

Ireland, whose first business was selling painted rocks on the beach in her Southern California hometown, is known as both a supermodel and a supermogul. She appeared in 13 consecutive Sports Illustrated swimsuit editions and graced the covers of three, and her eponymous licensing company now encompasses 17,000 products that bring in $2 billion a year, according to Forbes.

Ireland learned at the hands of some of the biggest business moguls in the world. She once cold-called the actress Elizabeth Taylor, who made her own fortune licensing her name to fragrances and women’s accessories, and asked if the movie star would be willing to mentor her. The two were very close until Taylor’s death in 2011.

She was also mentored by Warren Buffett, who encouraged her to grow her business beyond its original focus on women’s clothing. Now kathy ireland Worldwide licenses everything from rugs and flooring to wedding dresses and baby furniture.

But Ireland keeps her focus not just on the bottom line. “Consider others as more important than yourself,” she said in an interview on NBC’s Today show earlier this year when asked to give advice for creating a successful business. “That can be counterintuitive in today’s world. It works. When you treat the people you work with the way you would want your family members to be treated, there is no limit to what you can accomplish together.”

Ireland and her company have long been involved in charitable work with the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, the YWCA’s anti-racism initiative, 9-1-1 for Kids and the Nomi Network, which fights human trafficking. Ireland also supports the work of Hardwired, a woman-led peace initiative that trains business and community leaders and promotes religious pluralism and tolerance in war-torn areas such as the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa. Ireland has spoken out for Yazidi women, raised awareness about their plight at the hands of ISIS or Daesh and supported an appeal to Congress to act their behalf.

“My priorities are my faith, my family and then being of service to others through my work,” Ireland told Christianity Today.

At the Forbes Women’s Summit, Ireland explained why women and children are often the focus of her charitable work.

“I encourage women, please don’t let anyone or their opinion of you or your circumstances define or destroy you,” she said. “In my old job description as a model it was ‘shut up and pose.’ I reject that today. Allow people to refute you but please don’t ever allow anyone to dismiss you. We have got to let our voices be heard, and not only ours, but women’s everywhere. Proverbs 31 says, ‘Speak out for those who are voiceless and for the rights of all who are vulnerable,’ so I just think it is something that we’ve got to do.”

Religious discrimination and oppression are disintegrating opportunities for stability and freedom in the Middle East. This is made worse where community leaders and government officials fail to appreciate the socio-economic benefits of inter-faith understanding and religious freedom. Kathy Ireland, Founder and President of kathy ireland Worldwide, supports the extraordinary efforts of Hardwired**, a women-led initiative that empowers community and national leaders to advance freedom and dignity in the face of religious oppression. Beyond her support for Hardwired, Kathy engages personally. In one case, she hosted an event for Yazidi women escaping oppression, which included an appeal to Congress to take immediate action to stop ISIS atrocities against the Yazidi.

* This is part of a series highlighting finalists from previous Global Business & Interfaith Peace Awards. The Awards recognize business leaders – current or past CEOs – who have demonstrated leadership in championing interfaith understanding and peace.

** About Hardwired

“Every person deserves the right to live according to the dictates of their conscience – it’s how we are hardwired!”

Hardwired Global is a non-governmental organization that works to make it possible for every person to experience this freedom by training leaders who can help them attain it – in the schools, in the courts, in the media, in their place of worship, in the government, and throughout society.

Hardwired Global has no religious or political affiliation and works to defend the fundamental principle of freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief as defined in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for all people without distinction.