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There are 'a lot of predators' in the fashion industry: Kathy Ireland

Max Zahn

Actresses like Ashley Judd, Reese Witherspoon, and Rose McGowan have led the #MeToo movement’s effort to combat sexual assault in the entertainment industry.

Top women have done the same in other fields — like former Sports Illustrated supermodel and multi-millionaire chief executive Kathy Ireland, who in a newly released interview describes rampant sexual assault in the modeling industry and why she came forward to talk about it.

“Tragically, there's a lot of predators in this industry,” says Ireland, who now runs international brand Kathy Ireland Worldwide that generates billions in annual revenue. “It’s important to have that awareness and to protect yourself.”

“When a girl is made up and dressed up, and she gets behind the camera lens, it's very easy to objectify a person,” she adds. “Everything from statutory rape, sexual exploitation, drugs — there's so much that goes on that I believe most people are not aware of.”

Last year, Ireland told Harper’s BAZAAR about an incident in which a photographer asked her to pose topless. Ireland, who was then 17 years old, declined. The photographer tried to physically coerce her and she punched him, Ireland recalled.

Model Kathy Ireland, and other pro-life advocates, pauses after speaking with the media after a meeting with officials of the Trump administration at the White House, Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

“When I first came to New York when I was 17 years old, I naively thought that all adults were basically good people, like my parents,” Ireland tells Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer. “My eyes were really opened.”

Ireland said it wasn’t difficult for her to speak out about the incident.

“It was difficult knowing that there's people out there and that there's young girls and boys being hurt by this,” she says. “I mean, that's what's difficult.”

Since the #MeToo movement took hold in 2017, leading fashion photographers like Bruce Weber and Patrick Demarchelier have been accused of sexual exploitation, though they deny the claims.

The Boston Globe’s spotlight team last year unearthed 25 fashion industry professionals who’d been accused of sexual misconduct, having spoken with 50 models. Sixty percent of the models said they had been “touched inappropriately during work-related situations,” the Globe reported. All of the men denied the accusations.

Ireland made the comments during a conversation that aired in an episode of Yahoo Finance’s “Influencers with Andy Serwer,” a weekly interview series with leaders in business, politics, and entertainment. 

A supermodel in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Ireland came to prominence when she first appeared on the cover of the Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit edition in 1989. More than two decades later, on February 27, 2012, she made the cover of Forbes as the chief executive of Kathy Ireland Worldwide, a brand empire founded in 1993 that sells fashion and nutrition products, among many others. She has a net worth of nearly half a billion dollars, according to Forbes.

Next January, Ireland and co-author Rachel Van Dyken will release a novel entitled “Fashion Jungle,” which chronicles ruthlessness and misconduct in the fashion industry.

“This is a story that I've wanted to tell for a very long time,” Ireland says. “People look at the glossy images on a magazine, they look at the retouching, and they don't experience what goes on behind the scenes.”

“There's so much that goes on that I believe most people are not aware of,” she adds. “Something that I share, particularly with young people, but of every age, is how important boundaries are and to really understand your values.”

“Have conviction and put boundaries in place to protect them,” she says.

Max Zahn is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Find him on twitter @MaxZahn_.

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