Emma Grede spent her childhood saving spare change to buy fashion magazines. Now she’s making millions helping one of America’s most famous families start and run their businesses.
t’s a typical day for Emma Grede, who just got off the phone with Kris Jenner and is now speeding across Los Angeles to meet Khloé Kardashian for a photoshoot. “I talk to them all every day,” she says of the ultra famous family. “I mean, we don’t speak much on the weekends.”
Regular contact is par for the course for the 39-year-old entrepreneur as she—along with her husband, Jens—have become some of the Kardashians’ closest collaborators in their transition from reality television royalty into savvy entrepreneurs. Together, the pair have helped launch and run three companies with the family, including Kim Kardashian’s shapewear line Skims (Jens is a cofounder and CEO, Grede is a founding partner and its chief product officer). Grede is also the cofounder and CEO of Good American, the inclusive fashion brand she started with Khloé in 2016; and a cofounder of Jenner’s new cleaning supplies company, Safely, which they launched in March of last year.
“Part of the beauty of the partnership is we’re all very clear about our roles and what we’re doing, but there’s an enormous amount of respect for one another and what each person brings to the party,” says Grede.
“Emma is one of the hardest working people I know. She not only immerses herself in every component of the business, she consistently pushes the envelope for what a modern, inclusive fashion brand can and should be.”
With many of these businesses taking off, Grede has earned herself a spot alongside Kim and Kris on Forbes’ 2022 list of the richest self-made women in the U.S. Forbes estimates Grede to be worth $360 million due in large part to her nearly 8% stake in Skims, which was valued at $3.2 billion in January. The rest of her fortune comes from owning about 23% of Good American, 22% of Safely and less valuable stakes in Frame and Brady, companies cofounded by her husband; the latter is a collaboration with NFL legend Tom Brady.
Grede may best be known to people outside the fashion industry as a guest judge on Shark Tank. She says she took the role to help bring attention to underfunded Black-owned businesses. She is also chairwoman of the 15 Percent Pledge, a campaign started after George Floyd’s murder in May 2020 that asks retailers to commit 15% of their shelf space to Black-owned brands (pledge signees include Nordstrom, Sephora and Macy’s).
“When I came to America I would be asked a lot of questions about being a Black woman in business and honestly that was never really my reality or experience in Europe that that was even something people would question me about,” says Grede. The racial justice movement over the past two years–coupled with her own rising profile–made her want to act. “I felt that with my position and what I’ve been able to build for myself and where I am right now in my life that the right thing to do would be to leverage that.”
Grede may be rich and famous now, but it’s been a long journey to this point. Growing up as one of four daughters to a single mother in East London, she recalls working a paper route and other odd jobs from the age of 12, and using the spare change to buy fashion magazines. “I grew up in the ‘80s and London was just the beating heart of the fashion industry, and for me it was just all about the supermodels,” she says. “I was obsessed with Kate [Moss] and Naomi [Campbell] and Linda [Evangelista] and Helena [Christiansen]. It was almost a sense of escapism, being able to look at fashion.”
Financial struggles meant the young Grede had to drop out of the London School of Fashion and take a job at a fashion production company, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Noticing the struggle of fashion designers trying to gain sponsorships, she came up with the idea for her first business, an agency that would connect designers with funding. At age 24, she launched Independent Talent Brand (ITB), a marketing and entertainment firm she grew over the next decade before selling to the marketing firm Rogers & Cowen in 2018.
Grede’s introduction to the Kardashians came while she was building her agency (it’s also how she met her husband, who was one of her first investors; he and business partner Erik Torstensson were running the London-based marketing agency Saturday Group). She says she would frequently bump into the family’s matriarch at fashion shows and they would discuss her daughters’ careers. “If you work in entertainment marketing, you’re really not in business unless you’re working with Kris Jenner,” she adds. So when Grede thought of the idea for a size- and race-inclusive fashion company—inspired by what she viewed as a lack of genuinely diverse and “body positive” brands—she immediately took it to Jenner, who suggested pitching it to Khloé. Grede flew to Los Angeles the next week.
The Kardashian sister says she was sold on Grede’s “crystal clear” vision for the company. “It was so apparent that she was really committed to putting in the work to change the fashion game, authentically engage all women and pioneer inclusivity,” Khloé told Forbes. “Emma is also one of the hardest working people I know. She not only immerses herself in every component of the business—from conception to development to execution—she consistently pushes the envelope for what a modern, inclusive fashion brand can and should be. I knew I had to join her on the journey.”
“When I came to America I would be asked a lot of questions about being a Black woman in business and honestly that was never really my reality or experience in Europe.”
Good American, which is rare in its offering of sizes ranging from 00-32, claims to have staged the biggest denim launch in history when it debuted in 2016, selling $1 million on its first day of release. One reason for its success is how technically difficult it is to make so many sizes. “There’s a reason that a lot of other brands don’t do it… When you’re making that many sizes of garments, it’s not easy,” she explains. The brand has since expanded into swimwear, shoes and more; it recently drew attention with the release of a pair of ‘90s themed jeans with a pattern of small square holes up and down the pants.
Grede, who moved with her husband to Los Angeles in 2017 to be closer to the clan and the important American market, says she runs “everything across every facet of the business,” while Khloé is focused on design and marketing. The reality star is frequently featured as a model on Good American’s website and peppers her Instagram page, which has a whopping 250 million followers, with photos of herself in the clothing.
BMO Capital Markets analyst Simeon Siegel says that having a “built-in marketing machine” like Kardashian can be incredibly valuable. “In general we have seen that companies work best when brand builders join with operators that also come along with built in initial audience support,” says Siegel, though he notes that partnering with a celebrity isn’t enough to make it in the hyper competitive fashion industry.
“The company with the best product and no audience, or the company with the best audience and no product are simply not companies,” Siegel says. “Companies need to do it all.”
Having navigated Good American through the early stages of growth, Grede says it “felt like a very natural and easy partnership all around” when she and her husband were tapped by Kim to help launch Skims in 2019. While Jens leads day-to-day operations for the trendy shapewear line, Grede focuses on design, production, planning and merchandising as the company’s chief product officer. “I’m really following Kim’s lead,” says Grede. “Skims is Kim’s vision, it’s her idea, it’s her aesthetic. My job is to make that possible and make it happen.”
Overall, her time is mainly dominated by her work with Good American and Skims. But there’s a lot more on her plate, including her duties as a mother of four (she had twins via a surrogate in 2021). She juggles this, she says, by knowing when to delegate. For example, she hired someone else to serve as the CEO of Safely “because I’m just not the best person to run a consumer cleaning company.” “I’m a mother of four and have my non-profit commitments, which take up a lot of time, but like anyone I don’t do anything alone,” Grede says. “I have incredible people around me but also in my family life and I always feel like as a working mom I want to be really honest about that. I don’t believe that I have it all. I definitely don’t all the time.”
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