Ireland's company earned $2 billion last year. (Araya Diaz/WireImage)The richest supermodel in the world is not Gisele Bundchen or Heidi Klum or Kate Moss -- or anyone who has walked a runway in at least the past decade. It's 48-year-old Kathy Ireland. Forbes reports that the former Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover girl's company, Kathy Ireland Worldwide -- which manufactures 15,000 items ranging from clothes to home furnishings to fitness videos -- raked in a jaw-dropping $2 billion dollars last year. Ireland's cut? A cool $350 million. In comparison, just behind Kathy Ireland Worldwide is domestic diva Martha Stewart, whose company earned $900 million last year -- that's over a billion less than the supermodel-entrepreneur's company!
Apparently, Ireland had money on her mind long before she was discovered at a finishing school at the age of 16. In the accompanying Forbes profile, she recalls how, at 4-years-old, she painted stones and sold them door to door. At 11, she responded to an ad for a paper boy, telling the editor she was instead the girl for the job, and she got it, earning $60 a month. That number grew exponentially when Ireland first landed on the 1989 cover of SI, making it the magazine's best-seller to date. The brunette stunner went on to appear in the swimsuit issue 12 more times, including once when she was pregnant.
In 1993, Ireland -- who has also written six books in her "spare time" -- first put her name on a product: a pair of socks. Soon after, she took out a loan for $50,000 to create Kathy Ireland Worldwide, and the rest is history. She signed a deal with Kmart in 1994 to sell clothing, and before long the line expanded to furniture and other home furnishings. But after the retail chain went belly-up, she severed ties in 2003, even though Kmart had bounced back from bankruptcy. "It's heroic for a busy mom to go to a store," the mom-of-three tells Forbes. "If she goes to a retailer and she has a bad experience she's mad and rightly so."
Next up for Kathy Ireland Worldwide -- which has recently licensed a fur line at Macy's and bridal gowns for Mon Cheri -- is shoes, hair care, and perfume, as well as shops in Europe and Asia. And it's just the beginning, Ireland tells Forbes: "We have a long way to go."
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