Jaclyn Smith was at the height of her career. Coming off a five-season stint in the top-rated Charlie's Angels, she was modeling for Max Factor and was a favorite among fashion mavens and magazine editors who named her to various best-dressed and most-beautiful lists.
Smith was not, however, a Kmart shopper. And in the 1980s, when executives with the retailer, then No. 1 in the market, offered her a chance to develop her own brand, Smith politely declined. "I just wasn't aware of the mass market for apparel at that time," she says.
But Kmart executives were insistent and took Smith into their stores to show her their interest in creating brands. "I liked the people, and I felt that Kmart stood for what I was about," she says. "It's a family store."
While Smith was intrigued, Max Factor officials didn't want her to get involved with the mass retailer, thinking it didn't fit her image. Other friends and business associates thought her connection with Kmart would hurt her acting career.
But part of the attraction for Smith was that she wouldn't only be endorsing a product; she would be helping create it. Kmart allowed her to be hands-on with the marketing, advertising and other aspects of the business, as well as the design of garments, "even down to the buttons," she explains.
"I've always been one to take on challenges and go into unknown terrain," Smith tells SUCCESS. Against the protestation of everyone, she decided to partner with Kmart.
In the 25 years since then, more than 100 million women have purchased clothing and accessories from the Jaclyn Smith collections, and Women's Wear Daily reports the line has the highest consumer awareness of any private-label apparel brand in the nation. Smith has since parlayed that success into other ventures, including the Jaclyn Smith Home collection, launched with Kmart in 2008.
Withstanding the Challenges
A pioneer in celebrity brand development, Smith's brand has shown unusual staying power--surviving Kmart's bankruptcy in 2002 and the recent recession, which precipitated the demise of some other celebrity lines (and some of the stores that carried them).
Smith also survived early criticism for going with Kmart. "I was put down at first," she told a reporter last year, "but certainly not now. You take chances, and I'm happy I did."
Today, her image as one of the world's most fashionable and beautiful women doesn't seem to suffer...