Kathy Ireland shares secrets of $2B business

Kathy Ireland on "CBS This Morning."
Kathy Ireland on "CBS This Morning."

(CBS News) Kathy Ireland has always had determination. She went from the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue to the cover of Forbes magazine.

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She's now chief executive officer and chief designer of Kathy Ireland Worldwide, a $2 billion retail empire that started 20 years ago - with a pair of socks. Ireland stressed the importance of people and relationships in building a successful business.

"Some say it was counter-intuitive to build a brand on a single pair of socks. ... We were able to grow our brand beneath the radar for a long time. ... I think one of the reasons we were able to be so discrete is our distribution, our foundation as the independent retailer. Typically independent retailers don't have large ad budgets. So while others were buying awareness, we were building relationships one at a time."

Ireland even suggested her celebrity has been a hurdle - saying the anonymous route is the way to go in business. She said, "There are times when I think if I showed up at a business meeting with my sketch and my designs, my business plan in hand, without that extra preconception that people have - and when women say, 'Well it's easy for you, you have the modeling background,' I say, 'You've got a clean slate, can you build your brand from the ground up with a clean slate, and that's a perfect way to go.' That anonymity is really priceless."

For more with Ireland on her business acumen, including why she considers her early years in modeling as "college," watch the video in the player above.