Celebrity supermodels possess a few lucky genetic advantages over most other brand-building entrepreneurs.
In addition to being born tall and gifted with extraordinarily good looks, supermodels are also household names that can easily be leveraged to become recognized consumer brands.
Gisele Bündchen, Cindy Crawford, Tyra Banks and Elle MacPherson all achieved their initial stardom by enduring years of traditional runway and print modeling. But these savvy businesswomen have also capitalized on their inherited genetic advantages to become successful entrepreneurs in their own right.
The legal structure is relatively easy to construct: The model or celebrity enters into a detailed contract with an agency having existing marketing and distribution channels that permits her name and persona to be associated with a product or line of products.
The supermodel may additionally want to create her own individual company to own the brand itself. She may then choose to delegate many (or all) of the day-to-day responsibilities involving the management of the brand and collect agreed-upon royalties based on some measure of sales.
Alternatively, she may choose to take a "hands-on" approach, and be far more intimately involved in product design and marketing, and appear at promotional events and in television commercials. When successful, these arrangements can create opportunities to instantly exploit existing name (and face) recognition among consumers.
For example, supermodel Cindy Crawford's line of furniture at Raymour & Flanigan branded as "Cindy Crawford HOME," has been a huge boon to that upstate New York-based furniture chain. Gisele Bündchen banked over $8 million a year from a sandal line called IPANEMA by Gisele.
But supermodels aren't only interested in sofas and shoes. Supermodel and business titan Heidi Klum launched fruit candies called "Heidi's Fruit Flirtations" and "Heidi's Yogurt Dessert Cremes." The candies and cremes didn't fare as well as some of Klum's other business ventures, but the venture showed that the supermodel dares to explore brand expansions outside the norm.
So what is the secret to their success? The key to the long-term success or failure of supermodel-related product lines may lie in the sincerity behind the endorsement itself.
According to some experts, the trick to this game is aligning a model's individual personality with the right product. "If you've built enough of a persona around yourself, you can do well," says Ryan Schinman, chief executive of Platinum Rye, which represents corporations that partner with celebrities. But "if you say, 'I'm a model, but I'm also a mom,' then you target moms. The DNA of your brand has to match up with the product," says Schinman.
And some supermodels have entrepreneurial DNA that just cannot fail. According to Forbes, Kathy Ireland — who appeared on three Sports Illustrated covers and in 13 consecutive swimsuit issues during the 1980s and ’90s — is worth an estimated $300 to $350 million via her product marketing company, Kathy Ireland Worldwide. By way of comparison, mogul Martha Stewart’s holdings in Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia are valued somewhere in the vicinity of $250 million, whereas Ireland has sold an estimated $2 billion worth of retail products, with Stewart selling less than half of that ($900 million at retail).
How did Ireland do it? Forbes notes that the model has long since moved beyond her initial clothing line at Kmart, choosing to now license and sell everything from stylish jewelry, office furniture, windows, and mattresses to hair care, perfume, and shoes — and that doesn’t include her successful line of bridal dresses and fur coats.