Kathy Ireland Salutes Busy Moms
When supermodel Kathy Ireland began her product line, she started with a single pair of socks. That tiny item has led to a full line of home furnishings products, as well as bridal gowns and home accessories. RetailerNOW sat down with Kathy to chat about her partnership with Nourison and what makes those products special.
RetailerNOW : What’s unique about your products with Nourison?
Kathy: We don’t always think about a rug as jewelry for the home. But my goodness, the shimmer in the rugs and the decorative pillows… it’s exciting. When I read about your Nina [Reference to the Editor's grandmother in the August 2013 issue's Editor's Message], it just touched my heart and reminded me of something Elizabeth Taylor would always teach me. She was always encouraging me in fashion and teaching me to go bolder in every detail. It had to be exquisite. For us to be able to find partners who can bring what we’ve had in our heads to fashion, I can’t tell you how emotional it is. We have such an assortment from affordable to luxurious and it’s just got that fashion. I encourage women, when they’re putting their home together, to start from the ground up. Choose a rug that you love, that speaks to you. Let that be your anchor for everything else in the room. Draw colors from it, textures from it. It’s a wonderful place to start.
RetailerNOW : What is the focus behind your product line?
Kathy: Our mission began in 1993 with finding solutions for families, especially busy moms. We’ve expanded it to finding solutions for people in love with our bridal business, and finding solutions for people in business. Our brand is about solutions. If you don’t have any problems, our brand is probably not for you.
When we started the brand and as it grew, our customer was communicating with me via our website. We don’t sell anything on it, and we don’t plan to. It’s a communication channel. It was really meant as a thank you, because while maybe in the beginning the retailers didn’t quite get it, there were women who embraced what we started with (a single pair of socks). She started communicating with us and letting us know her needs—and she had needs in the kitchen and in gardening. There were some who said, well let’s just photograph you in the kitchen and with some plants. And I said no! I’m not going to do that. It’s not truthful. Some people can do it all but I’m not one of them, and it’s OK to ask for help. I’m not going to put that on women, making her think she has to do everything.
Some of our designs that really address the millennials are the studio collections. It’s very young at heart. And we’ve got guys on our team who are always saying, “Don’t forget the guys.” So in all our designs, we seek to make sure we have that balance of the masculine and feminine. I grew up in a home with three sisters, and Dad was kind of overwhelmed with my mom and the girls. So we have a sensitivity towards that. You don’t want anything overly frilly or overly masculine. When you have that blending, everybody feels comfortable when they walk into a room, and that’s something we seek to accomplish with our designs as well.
RetailerNOW : What kind of tweaks have you had to make to cater more to the millennial group?
Kathy: Price point is one. They’re beautiful, they’re luxurious, but they’re affordable. And also offering sizes that are going to fit in smaller spaces. It’s also about experiencing the brand, and when you’re doing that for the millennial, you can turn around and say we have a beautiful rug in a 4×6 for your studio apartment in whatever city you might be in, for a very affordable price. We’ve also gone back in these collections and added in a pair of 4x6s as well as a very aggressive retail price point on some of the products that have been new to our relationship with Nourison. Like Cottage Grove is a beautiful textured border rug, and it speaks to the millennials because the colors and palette are absolutely on trend with what’s going on in home furnishings.
RetailerNOW : Why should a retailer stock your product?
Kathy: We have an external mission of finding solutions for people in business and it’s also an internal mission, meaning partnering with our retailers in a powerful way. We so value them. One of the most exciting things for me, when I get to work with our different retail teams, is really connecting with the sales team. I love sales teams because I learn so much from them. We’re communicating regularly in every way possible. They’re on the front lines every single day and there’s so much to learn from them. What’s working, what’s not working, what’s moving? If something is a little slow, what can we do to give you a push? When you partner with a brand, you want more than an autographed picture. That’s really not that interesting. You need design and innovation and creativity. You need support in sales and marketing. You need a committed team with their sleeves rolled up who are going to get behind you. We love connecting with our retail partners and learning from them. We want to serve them, not in an institutionalized, industrialized way, but an individualized way. We realize every region and every retailer has different needs and different areas where we can come along and support them. We want to learn from them and work with them. We want to learn how we can best be of service and what can we do to serve them beyond our brand. We have creative incentives. Is there a certain time when sales are a little slower, and can we do a wonderful story in the local media to really make people aware of this retailer?
Also, with all of our designs, our style guides span the globe. You get a seamless cohesion. It’s not matchy-matchy. When a family is putting their home together, it can be overwhelming and people can get intimidated. Everyone’s got their own unique sense of style. It’s just a matter of trusting it and unleashing it, and when we give options within our brand esthetic or style guides, you really can’t make a mistake because the palettes flow and work together. You really can bring a room together beautifully and quite easily.
RetailerNOW : How did you combat the male-centric furnishings world? Did you have any difficulties getting started?
Kathy: When I first got into the home furnishings industry, I walked into a room full of guys. I was like, where are all the women? Are they all in a meeting or something? It was strange. It was a sales meeting and it was all guys. I just started asking questions. “So please tell me a bit about your customer. Male, female?” And they said, oh, 95 percent female does the shopping. OK… do you think we might want to have a little balance here? [Laughing]
It’s been interesting. A lot of the guys have been great and open. We had some wonderful discussions early on, working with people who just didn’t understand what it was for a busy mom to shop and how heroic that is. Just what goes into that one act, when you’re talking about car seats, and temper tantrums, and diapers, and drama, and stuff, and you get out of the driveway—it’s a big deal. You make it into the store—that’s victory. That’s why it’s important to us who we partner with at every level, from manufacturer to retail. Because we want to honor her. She’s made that heroic effort; we know it’s a big deal. We get that. She’s being pulled. She’s in the store and she’s got a limited amount of time. She’s got to take someone to soccer, pick someone up from tap dance, and she’s overwhelmed. And if she sees designs that are called “461” or “389,” that doesn’t do anything for her. It’s not a solution. But when our names have meaning and tap into emotions and her home, there’s a lot of pride. We want to make her home wonderful. So in every area, we want to bring a solution. We don’t want her putting her home together to be overwhelming. We want it to be fun. For us to do our work correctly, it’ll make it fun for her. When I was a child, my mom loved changing the house around. It wasn’t in our budget to buy new products, so she just moved things around all the time to give it a new look. Changing out your rugs and pillows freshens up your home in such a powerful, beautiful way, and we’re able to bring this luxury and make it affordable. It’s really exciting.