EXCLUSIVE: At age 18, Kathy Ireland was a lonely up-and-coming model living in an old French apartment at the end of a dark hallway nicknamed "the dungeon" with her housemates.
But it was during this time that the now entrepreneur developed a new relationship with God.
"I was living in Paris and it was really a hard time," the 58-year-old told Fox News. "I know it might sound glamorous, but I was alone modeling. It wasn’t my plan, but I recognized it as an opportunity. I could save money for college or start a business. I just barely finished high school and I had no technology or distractions."
During one night in 1981, the former cover girl was going through her suitcase when she discovered that her mom had secretly packed a Bible for her.
"I didn’t even know how to read one," said Ireland. "I’d never read one before in my life. I opened up the Book of Matthew. And as I’m reading in the middle of the night, I knew I was holding the truth in my hands. There wasn’t anybody in the room saying, ‘Be this denomination or that denomination.’ It was like, ‘I want to follow Jesus Christ.’ And he was nothing like I thought."
"In my industry, at that time, it was filled with a lot of really sketchy guys," she continued. "I was drawn to how powerful Jesus was. How loving and honoring he was of women. It gave me such comfort. And so, he became my lord and savior. The experience forever changed my life."
As Ireland pursued what would become a successful modeling career, she was "trying and failing in business."
"If something would have taken off earlier, the modeling career wouldn’t have gone on for so long," she said.
The star admitted that studying the Bible wasn’t so simple. However, she was determined to understand its message as her career skyrocketed.
"Some things I would read and really love," she explained. "And other things, I would read and say, ‘Oh, that must be a typo. That’s a different interpretation or a cultural thing. Certainly doesn’t pertain to me.’ So I was picking and choosing what I liked and neglecting the rest of it. I was trying to mold God into what I wanted him to be, rather than just surrendering and letting him make me into the person he made me to be. And oh my goodness, he was so patient. I was 44 when I finally read the whole Bible. It continues to teach me every day."
"Today, I have three children, a husband and a business," she continued. "The message that I just felt pounding in my heart was, ‘Put me first. And I’ll give you more time, better time with your kids.’ So I started to set my alarm for 15 minutes [every morning] for a quick prayer. Those 10 minutes of prayer and reading turned into an hour and more. It’s not a duty. It’s a joy. It’s my daily bread and water."
"And on days that I don’t do that, it’s not a good idea," she chuckled. "Because if I open my mouth to say something, I’ll be apologizing before 8 a.m."
In 1993, Ireland pursued her dream of becoming a businesswoman and founded the kathy ireland® Worldwide brand. In 2015, Forbes reported the mogul, one of the most successful women in America, had built a $420 million fortune. According to the outlet, she lent "her name, taste and marketing prowess to some 17,000 products."
Previously, she graced Sports Illustrated Swimsuit for 13 consecutive years, including a 1989 25th anniversary issue, which became the highest-selling cover of all time, the outlet noted.
Ireland said her faith in God kept her going when doors were initially slammed in her face as a budding entrepreneur.
"The gospel is the core of every decision that I make," she said. "We’re not a Christian company. We have team members from all different backgrounds and different beliefs. I don’t force my faith or beliefs on anyone. But I’m not ashamed of them. I can’t do anything that’s going to contradict it. I cannot compromise my faith. I’m just so thankful for God’s grace because I have made so many messes in my life. And he gives us a perspective - an eternal perspective."
Ireland is determined to give back. The star and kiWW® support many non-profits including YWCA Greater Los Angeles for which she is an Ambassador, Dream Foundation, Providence Educational Foundation, 911 for Kids/AEF, and the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
In addition, she serves as International Youth Chair for the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation, as well as Ambassador for the American Cancer Society. Ireland is also an Ambassador for the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation. She has credited the late Hollywood icon, who passed away in 2011 at age 79, as one of her mentors.
Today, Ireland is eager for what the future holds for her company as it continues to flourish. One message she has for anyone with a dream is to simply, "keep at it be persistent."
"I’m grateful and thankful for the blessed life I’ve been given," she shared.