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Santa Barbara International Women’s Festival Inspires Attendees to ‘Live, Love, Learn’

Kathy Ireland, recipient of the 'Gutsy Gal Inspires Me' award, talks about overcoming shyness and rejection in building her multibillion-dollar company

The theme “Live, Love, Learn” opened the fifth annual Santa Barbara International Women’s Festival held over the weekend at the SBCC West Campus.

The International Women’s Festivals are held in March to coincide with Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, which is March 8. The event addresses issues facing women while providing ground for networking, referrals and resource sharing.

Guests and supporters gathered during dusk at the VIP Reception held in the Leni Fe Bland Forum. Blustery breezes didn’t dampen the spirits of the 200 attendees who mingled on the patio, enjoying hors d’oeuvres and refreshments, before the program began inside.

A special tribute and remembrance were given to Women’s Festival co-founder Mary Schnack, who died Feb. 20 after a 16-year battle with cancer. A woman of many talents and great strength, Schnack’s most cherished award was “Mother of the Year,” according to Patty De Dominic, who co-founded the Women’s Festivals.

In appreciation of the tremendous commitment required to produce the festival, De Dominic honored Tracy Beard, 2012 honorary chair and executive director. For the past eight years, Beard has been the human resources and special events director for the philanthropic Dreier Group. She also spent that time supporting philanthropic events.

“I have a passion for women’s issues, mental health issues and charitable children’s programs,” Beard said.

Girls Inc. board president Christy Kelso introduced the “Strong Smart and Bold Singers” — one group from Goleta and one from Santa Barbara, who enthusiastically entertained the crowd.

“It is a tough act to follow,” quipped vocalist Lois Mahalia, who followed the girl troupes. Mahalia did an outstanding job performing “I Lived, I Loved, I Was Here,” an apropos choice of song and lyrics to open the Women’s Festival.

Following the entertainment, Debra Hutchinson continued the program by asking the crowd, “Do you know what I love about community? Our community! This Gutsy Gal Award goes to someone local, who inspires others — a lion-hearted lady who is forward thinking and created a multibillion-dollar international business, larger than Liz Claiborne, Tommy Bahama or Martha Stewart.”

By this time the audience knew that the “Gutsy Gal Inspires Me” award would be presented to former supermodel and Santa Barbara businesswoman Kathy Ireland. “The model from the last century,” Ireland once called herself, is chief executive officer of Kathy Ireland Worldwide.

“Finding solutions for families, especially busy moms” is the motto of her company, which is a $2 billion (annual sales) firm that designs and markets 45,000 items, including furniture, clothing, accessories, skin care products, real estate, music and publications in 50 countries. A mother of three children, Ireland is married to Greg Olsen, a Santa Barbara physician.

“I like that the festival reaches out to women’s organizations and girls in training,” Ireland said. “When you empower a woman, you empower her neighborhood, her nation and the world. Women are nurturers and communicators. She shares her gifts and it grows.”

Ireland advised that criticism is helping in getting closer to fulfilling your dreams. She said the constant criticism and rejection she faced in modeling, even as successful as she was, was good training for what she would face in the business world. Ireland overcame shyness and a soft voice. She said she was asked if her mother was there when ordering pizza on the phone when she was age 25!

“Look as criticism as a discerning gift,” she said. “Ask yourself, ‘Is there something I can learn from this?’”

Terrified by nervousness at one of her first speaking engagements in front of a large corporate audience, a co-worker told her to “get over yourself and just do your job.” She said she was thankful for the feedback and has worked ever since to step out of her comfort zone.

Entrepreneurial in her youth, one of her first endeavors was selling painted rocks to her neighbors on Rockcreek Road in Santa Barbara. Pulling a wagon around the neighborhood, she sold them door to door. She waited anxiously to reach 11½ so she could apply for a newspaper route. Despite the job description of a “paperboy,” Ireland got the job. Despite cranky customers who insisted that it was a “boy’s job,” Ireland earned the Carrier of the Year award several times. She credited her mother and father, John and Kathy Ireland, for instilling in her a strong work ethic.

At age 17, Ireland was living on her own in New York City and succeeding in the highly competitive modeling business, often traveling alone throughout world for photo shoots, such as the coveted swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated (she made the cover three times).

After the “phone stopped ringing” for modeling assignments, Ireland tried and failed at many businesses, she says, before starting “the brand.” It started with selling socks. In 1993,she packed up a backpack of socks and flew to corporate offices around the country to find someone to pick up her line.

“We slept in airports to save money,” she said, until eventually one major retailer picked up her line of socks, which a buyer said was a “blowout” in sales. “We have now sold 100 million pairs of socks.”

“Imagination without implementation is hallucination,” Ireland added. “You need to know your core values and to be on the same page in your values with your suppliers, your buyers, your team and your customers. How people are treated is more important than your profit margin. Women especially buy a brand because they feel they have developed a trusted relationship with the brand.”

Part of Ireland’s 42-member corporate team attended the tribute: creative director John Caruso, CEO Stephen Rosenberry and Miles Robinson, vice president of production. Ireland accepted the “Gutsy Gal Inspires Me” award “on behalf of my mom and other gutsy women out there,” she said.

Festival proceeds will benefit founding nonprofit organizations, including Girls Inc., SCORE, the Santa Barbara Chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners, the Scheinfeld Center for Entrepreneurship at SBCC, the Women’s Foundation of California and Women’s Economic Ventures.

Sponsors of the nonprofit event included DeDominic & Associates, Lynda.com, Montecito Bank & Trust, Santa Barbara Bank & Trust, Women’s Audio Acrobat, the Aldrich Company, Marmalade Cafe, Michael’s Catering and many others. Supporters in the audience included Ann Towbes, Rick Goodfriend, Vicki Young, Annette Jorgensen, Marsha Bailey, Marie and Mignonne Profant, and many others.

Festival speakers included Lynda Weinman, co-founder of Carpinteria-based Lynda.com, an online educational service; Heidi Kuhn, founder of Roots of Peace, which helps remove land mines; Marilyn Tam, former executive for Reebok and Adidas; diet and fitness television and book guru Robert Ferguson; poet Lucia de Garcia; and Marsha Brown, author of The Million Dollar Conversation.

Click here for more information about the International Women’s Festivals.

Noozhawk contributing writer Rochelle Rose can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook and Noozhawk on Pinterest.

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