Kim Kardashian West has built a formidable empire with her E! reality TV series, “Keeping Up With the Kardashians”; a forthcoming spinoff, “Dash Dolls”; and her hit app “Kim Kardashian: Hollywood,” which was downloaded 23 million times in the first three months of its release last year. According to Forbes, Kardashian West earned $28 million in 2014, and she was named, along with her husband Kanye West, one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2015. “There seem to be very few barriers to further explosive success,” wrote Martha Stewart in an essay about her.
On Friday, Kardashian West was honored at Variety’s Power of Women luncheon for her work with Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, where she donates her time and proceeds from her eBay auctions. Prior to the event, she spoke to Variety for an interview about her brand, her leadership style and why she’s supporting her stepdad Bruce Jenner. He’s expected to come out as transgender in an interview with Diane Sawyer — a special that Kardashian West told Variety’s Cynthia Littleton that her family plans to watch together.
What was your first job?
I worked at a clothing store for four years. I loved it. When I turned 16, my dad made me sign a contract— he made us sign contracts for everything — that if I hit my car, I would be responsible for paying for it. I was in bumper-to-bumper traffic, and I tapped someone. It was so not a big deal, but I had to pay for it. It was during the O.J. trial. They saw my last name and said, “Kardashian, your dad’s that lawyer?!” They sued me for a lot of money. After I paid them back, I kept on working to buy myself some clothes.
Have you always considered yourself a businesswoman?
I have. When the opportunity for our TV show came about, I wanted to do it to bring attention to our stores [which she’d opened with her sisters]. I was thinking this might not last very long, but we’ll grow a great business and expand online. I thought it would be great press. I didn’t think it would turn into what it turned into.
Was it your idea to be named an executive producer?
It was important to me, because I feel like I am. I watch every single edit. I do so much work behind the scenes. If it’s something as simple as where to eat, we clear about a dozen restaurants before the season starts. I’ve always been a huge part of the show. I think there was no reason not to be an executive producer. I think it’s deserved.
Do you think of yourself as a brand?
I definitely look at myself that way. I think that there’s the Kim Kardashian brand and the Kardashian brand. I think they blend together, but I have different qualities or interests that my sisters might not be so into. But no matter what, we’re family and super close. I think the brand will always represent family.
Is the reason behind your show’s success that it’s a celebration of family?
Yeah, I think the viewer has grown with us. They’ve seen us start out living a little bit differently and becoming a little more successful. They are living that dream with us and seeing us drown. And, at the end of the day, we fight and are crazy like every other family, but we really are so close and obsessed with each other. I’ll get people who come up to me all the time and say, “I have three sisters and you remind me of us.”
I read that you recently visited Bruce.
Oh yeah. I see him all the time. He lives not too far from us.
How is he doing?
He’s doing really good. He’s got a new house and he loves it. I just helped move him in.
Have you been supportive of him?
Yeah, I think that’s what our family is about. We’re supportive of everyone, no matter what they are going through. That’s what family is for.
If he has a show of his own on E!, would you be part of it?
I don’t think he has a show. There’s nothing going on at the moment.
Has this process been hard for him?
I’m not sure I want to get into this.
Would you call yourself a feminist?
I get asked that sometimes. I guess. I think other people would. I don’t put a lot of labels on anything. I’m not really the biggest activist. I really don’t like to ever make people feel like they have to be a certain way or believe what I believe or act like how I act. I guess you would say so, but I’m not going to be one that’s going to stand up and yell that I’m a feminist and this is the way you have to live and you all have to be equal. I’m never one to preach something to other people.
I don’t think being a feminist is about preaching. It’s about the belief you just described — that women deserve equal rights as men.
I mean, I definitely think that way and believe that way. But I’ve never been a label person to where I’m like, “I am a feminist.” Because I think that sometimes people … I don’t know. I’ve never been one to, even if I believe it, I don’t want to feel this is what I’m doing and this is who I am: be like me. I feel like if you’re not, that’s fine too. I’m just really supportive of everyone — even though I believe that things should be equal, people have different circumstances in their life that have taught them to be who they are. Even if I don’t agree with them, I don’t judge them. I’m a really non-judgmental person.
Do you think women in Hollywood are treated differently than men?
I feel like I’ve been treated pretty fairly.
I do in general. I feel very blessed.
Often actresses I talk to say that there’s a double standard especially when it comes to the press.
The press has been so nasty to me in so many different ways, I don’t really pay attention anymore. I just follow my heart and do what I feel is the right thing. But I don’t feel like I haven’t been given the opportunities. That’s the difference. I feel that hard work really does pay off. Maybe I don’t care as much to pay attention. When I was pregnant and everyone was calling me fat and saying crazy things about me, that really did hurt me at the time. I think if I were to be pregnant again, that wouldn’t bother me.
I think it’s growing a thick skin. Who is this tabloid writer? Why is their opinion worth more than one of my fans, who thinks I look good pregnant? I’m more confident in myself.
Do you think you’re a good role model?
I don’t really look at myself as a role model because of some of the decisions I made. But I think that I learned from my mistakes and I try to do better. I just live my life. I think life is about being a kind person and making amazing memories. I’m a really nostalgic person. I love taking photos and video and having memories. I remember all my childhood videos that my dad used to take. I think that’s really what life is about — especially when you start a family of your own. Your whole perspective changes. When I was in my 20s, life was about going out, looking cute and having fun with your friends.
But as someone who has built her own empire, isn’t that a good example for other young girls to follow?
I guess. I’ve always been really shy. I don’t like to throw things in people’s faces. I work hard, and I’m proud of myself. I know my husband’s proud of me, my family’s proud of me. I hope my daughter’s proud of me.
What are the three rules to succeeding in business according to Kim Kardashian?
Number one, you have to be organized. It might be really simple, but if you’re not fully organized, it becomes a huge problem. Number two is not being lazy. The reality is people don’t want to get up and work. It sounds crazy, but I see it all the time. And finally, if you find something you’re really passionate about, figure out a way to make that your job. Then you’ll be happy. If you aren’t doing what you want to do, you’ll be frustrated.
How do you find your passion?
When I was younger, I worked in my dad’s office. When I was there, I discovered eBay and I loved shopping. I had to be on a budget. I didn’t have credit cards. How do I figure out how to make this a business? I remember I bought these Manolo Blahnik shoes that were $700. He let me buy five pairs. I had to pay him back plus interest. I sold every pair on eBay for $2,500. I became so obsessed with seeing that return, I would sell off the things I wouldn’t be wearing.
How did you make such a big profit off those shoes?
They were these Manolo Blahniks that Jennifer Lopez had worn in her first or second video. Everyone had to have them. I called at the right time and the girl at the store had five pairs and I took them.
Your app “Kim Kardashian: Hollywood” is a huge hit. How does it feel to be a tech star?
It is so much fun. I really enjoy the tech world and I’m so involved with the game. I was just on the phone this morning going over different ideas and how to keep it fresh and new.
We added my family members to the games. We added a new feature where you can FaceTime me and I pop up on the screen. We’re going to Armenia, and there’s the app launching where you can go to Armenia, so the player can be along for my journey.
You signed up for three more seasons of “Keeping up With the Kardashians.” Do you think you’ll ever get tired of reality TV?
I think eventually, maybe, but I really do love it. I think it brings our family together. It’s like therapy. We’re together all the time.
Do you ever miss your privacy?
I definitely miss it, but how do you tell someone who lives their life on reality TV that they want privacy? So I’m ok with it. I’m fine with it. I think that’s probably why we live in a gated community that’s like a farm. We live further out and we love it. We can stay at home and never leave — it’s such a great place and really private. In the beginning, we bought a house in Bel Air and we were building that. But now, I love being out in Calabasas. You change your way of living. We cook at home a lot.
Would you ever act in a movie?
If a role came about, I would consider it. But I really do love just totally being behind the scenes.
How do you and Kanye work together?
I love working with him. I get super inspired when we’re together. It doesn’t clash for us. I work with my family. I’m used to that.
Did he have any reservations about being on the show?
He’s not really on the show. You might see him every once in a while. If it’s something natural where he’s around. I think he’s not really on a whole lot.
Do you ever feel you’ve shared too much on TV?
Not really. We get to edit and see it before. There are certain things that don’t come off the right way. I think sometimes people don’t get the humor. The other day I said, “Kanye went crazy on the trainer.” I said it the wrong way. People were assuming that Kanye is crazy. The trainer told me I didn’t have to lose weight, but my nutritionist said I’m 15 pounds overweight. Kanye said, “If you’re a trainer and kissing her ass right now, you should do what you can.” It didn’t come off that way because I started it off with, “Kanye went crazy with our trainer.” There are certain things I wish I’d edited differently or taken out. But you live and learn.