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Former Supermodel Kathy Ireland, 61, Is Anti ‘Antiaging’

Ireland is embracing her age and the wisdom that comes with it

spinner image Kathy Ireland against yellow ombre background
AARP (Dixie Dixon/Courtesy Jon Carrasco)

Kathy Ireland, 61, has transitioned from supermodel to super mogul. The former Sports Illustrated model has always had a knack for entrepreneurship, and parlayed the name and face recognition she gained modeling into a billion dollar global lifestyle brand, Kathy Ireland Worldwide. The company sells more than 17,000 products through retailers such as Amazon, HSN and JCPenney, including clothing, luggage, pet accessories, home decor, furniture and diamond jewelry, and Ireland recently added a new skin care line. And as if that’s not enough, last year she was also named the first chief creative ambassador for crayon-brand Crayola. She shares with AARP how her mother inspired her business prowess, her thoughts on aging and how she celebrated her 60th birthday.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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How do you look back on your modeling career today?

I wasn’t crazy about the actual career of being a model. I knew it wasn’t going to be long term. It didn’t feel secure — being based on something you have so little control over — how someone perceives that you look. The look of the moment is always changing, so it’s like, Well, better figure something out here. But it was a wonderful education. That was a major blessing to get to [travel]. My whole world was as far as I could pedal my bicycle, and then suddenly I’m visiting places I’d never heard of before, experiencing people of all different cultures, learning how they live, what they need. And it’s really been so foundational to our work today — the lessons that I continue to learn from people all over the world.

Are you still friends with any of the models from that period in your life?

You’re traveling all the time — it’s kind of a lonely profession in a lot of ways. Once in a while, you get to be with other people and that’s fun, and then off you go somewhere else. There’s a few who were really sweet that I keep in touch with: Elle Macpherson is one; Dawn Gallagher is another; Andie MacDowell, really sweet and kind.

What inspired your new skin care line?

[It’s been a] passion for decades. I grew up on the beaches of Southern California back in the day where not only did we not use sunscreen, it was baby oil, iodine — we just baked our skin. And I love being outdoors, so I love skin care that works.

Your Crayola position sounds interesting. Were you a crafty kid?

[When] I was 4 years old, I sold painted rocks from my wagon.

So you were an entrepreneur already at 4 years old?

I was, yeah, or I was that annoying kid. My mom — this was in the ’70s — she sewed clothes, and she would make halter dresses. I would make jewelry and purses to go along with [them]. I was about 7 at the time, and we’d sell them at art fairs on the beach. We’ve always loved to do creative things. Being the first chief creative ambassador for Crayola is really fun, and we have so many exciting projects that we’re working with them on.

Did you look to any entrepreneurs growing up as role models?

Not exactly, but I’d say my mom really inspired me. She could do anything and everything. I experienced her start her own babysitting business out of our home, [a] housekeeping business. She was an Avon lady, then making clothes and selling them, [then she] went to college and became a nurse. That was very inspiring to me, watching her pivot, pivot, pivot and just doing great things. There was nothing she couldn’t do.

spinner image Kathy Ireland with full-length mirrors all around her, wearing black shirt with number 84 on it and white shorts
Ireland, seen here in 1983 at a fashion shoot, appeared in 13 consecutive 'Sports Illustrated' swimsuit issues and on three covers of the magazine.
Penske Media/Getty Images

How do you feel about aging, especially as an ex-model?

Something I really don’t like is terms like “antiaging” or “age-defying,” because every day is a gift, and if [you] use it well, [you] grow. I wouldn’t go back for anything. As I mature more, I hope for good health. I hope to be able to do the things I love for a very long time. When I was a teenager, I worked in a retirement home, and it was such a gift to experience people full of years. Before that, I had a paper route. Back then, you’d go door to door collecting [payment]. I had a lot of people full of years in my paper route ... just wonderful people, so wise, and when people use their time well it shows in their face. They’re just beautiful, and they’re interesting, and they have so much to offer. I’ve had some amazing people of inspiration in my life since I was very young. I remember even back then thinking, I want to be like them when I grow up, because it’s like they’re so excited and curious and full of life. And that really makes people beautiful. As you age, it’s interesting, too, because your face tells a story, and I want to make sure I have more laugh lines than frown lines.

Well, then, I bet you made sure to have fun celebrating your 60th?

I really enjoyed it. It was a quiet time because my aunt had just gone to Heaven. She was 97 years young. She was super, super youthful. It was this kind of a bittersweet time. But then afterwards, one of my childhood girlfriends organized a girl’s surf trip. We all went to Mexico and it was so fun. Just a great group of women and they’re really good surfers. I’m not. I love to get out there. When you’re out in the ocean, you feel like you’re 12 years old. And for me, it’s kind of survival. It just takes away all the other stresses of the world. I thought, Wow, I’m 60, and I’m actually getting the biggest best waves I’ve ever had.

Do you make time to focus on your physical and mental health?

I get up early, typically it’s 4:30, 5 a.m. when I’m up. I do enjoy exercise. I love being active, whether it’s hiking, biking, surfing or just walking the dogs around the neighborhood. We’ve got five, it’s a brood. Whatever time allows.

Out of all your accomplishments, what stands out the most for you?

I’m so grateful for every opportunity. Our children [Erik, 30, Lily, 25, and Chloe, 21, with her husband, physician Greg Olsen] most certainly. I think sadly, because there’s no salary attached to the career of being a mom, that often doesn’t get that accolade that it deserves — that there is nothing harder, more rewarding or more important than raising children.

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