Socking it to the Common Good
Purple. It was Elizabeth Taylor's favorite color and when Kathy Ireland stepped into an ambassador role in Taylor's foundation, The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, the color was a fit for her too. Ireland wore it well in a recent visit to the University of St. Thomas' downtown campus, Schulze School of Creative Entrepreneurship, where the reigning color is also purple. Ireland, the supermodel, super mogul who graced the cover of Forbes most recently in June of 2016 as #39 on the list of America's Richest Self-Made Women in 2016, could not have seemed more down-to-earth.
She took the stage wearing a cream sleeveless knee-length dress with a whimsical deep-blue (almost purple) floral pattern. After a warm welcome to the Tommies -- past, present and future -- Ireland pulled on a University of St. Thomas t-shirt of royal purple with white lettering that I recognized as a 21-year Tommie alumni, right over her perfect hair and floral dress. She could have been a college student in that moment.
Ireland, CEO of the $2 billion Kathy Ireland Worldwide, told her childhood stories of her first job as a papergirl and how adversity helped her pedal the way for herself and other 11-year-old girls who would attempt her same route. Nearly every entrepreneur I hear speak about their story and success now openly highlights and attributes adversity and failures as critical in their rise to success, a widely refreshing trend that is #DisruptiveEntrepreneurship to a tee.
Ireland recognized that she would be remiss not to acknowledge her modeling career. She addressed that first, knowing that some of the millennials might have received blank stares from their parents as to why a supermodel from the eighties (she has 13 Sports Illustrated covers) would be speaking to students about creative entrepreneurship. It unfolded as she shared her story.
Ireland cited the modeling business as a lesson in resiliency based on rejection -- and she did receive no's. The audience take away was that of an attitude. An attitude in a good way. One that comes from living your values, setting your boundaries, understanding that saying no to something now can mean yes in bigger and better ways in the future, and understanding that creative disruption will keep you out of your comfort zone.
The Schulze School donors were eating up her story and tweeting using the #tommiepreneur hashtag. Could Ireland's message on faith, failures and uprising be more Tommie-centric and entrepreneurial at heart? As she wove in her story with other entrepreneur's compelling stories she pointed out ironies in business and creative disruption at it finest: Uber as the world's largest taxi company that owns no actual taxis; Netflix as the top provider of movies that owns no movie houses or cinemas.
Ireland noted her similar path of disruption -- moving from modeling to sock sales (I personally love that these socks today have their own Instagram account). No one really approached breaking into retail in this specific niche-like way when she was in 1993. Most developed brands and worked with full lines. Insert lots of no's here... Despite naysayers, she so gracefully turned people on their heels. As we warmed up to seeing her in plaids and cozy socks by the mid-nineties, she was turning heads for different reasons: her business prowess.
In partnership with leaders in fashion and business in America and abroad in building her brand, Ireland's ethics and values continue to rise up. Her work with causes and foundations seems to have boundless energy and enthusiasm. She shared that all of her partners are required to contribute to KIWW efforts like ending veteran homelessness and human trafficking, to name just a few.
She mentioned her personal passions of faith, family and fashion. I more broadly interpreted family to mean her entire business team just because I had a sense that she's this type of person. She had humanitarian and heart written all over her. In her deep purple UST tee among 450-some seekers of education and opportunities to disrupt, we all made the connection of all that Ireland embodies with St. Thomas' core value: For the Common Good.
--- Thanks to Schulze School for bringing these conversations to our community and to Kathy, who Minnesotan's humbly thank for bringing us cozy, stylish and fashion-forward socks along with empowered inspiration.-- See more on Ireland's visit to the Twin Cities in a Sept 1 interview with WCCO Mid-morning here.