By Lauren Fong & Jennifer Wright
Kim Kardashian West recently dominated global headlines with her net worth rocketing up to the 10 figure mark — granting her access into the exclusive billionaires club. When this was featured in Forbes, the comments were flooded with a surprising reaction — dismissal and invalidation. When we began discussing this reaction, we were intrigued — why is it that other fashion billionaires like LVMH’s Bernard Arnault are lauded while Kim is denigrated? We felt the need to explore this public reaction — this article is the result.
What is it about Kim that elicits this dismissive response?
Firstly, we need to consider what people expect when they think of a billionaire. A quick Google search for “billionaire stock image” shows what we as a society believe that members of this club should look like — white and male. When a person like Kardashian West, a woman of colour with a large personality who embraces her femininity, joins this club, it grates against these expectations. Kim doesn’t look or act how society expects a billionaire to and therefore people are quick to dismiss her.
So, how did Kim really build her wealth?
Kim’s net worth derives mainly from four sources- all profitable business lines and projects that she has founded and/or played a key role in. The first of these is a self-titled mobile game that earned $72 m revenue in 2015. This was one of the key assets contributing to Electronic Arts Inc’s acquisition of Glu Mobile for $2.4 bn in an all cash deal earlier this year. Kim also founded and launched a makeup and beauty line called KKW Beauty which she sold 20% of to Coty for $200 m — giving the company a $1 bn total valuation. Kim also founded and launched a shape wear line called Skims which recently raised $154 m at a valuation of $1.6 bn. Finally, the last significant part of Kardashian West’s fortune comes from payment from the “Keeping up with the Kardashians” reality show and lucrative endorsement deals. All of these runaway successes explain the high Forbes “self-made” ranking of “7/10”. Kim came from a well-resourced background but reached billionaire status because of the self-driven success of her entrepreneurial projects.
So, what are the common criticisms of Kim Kardashian West that we saw in the comments of the Forbes article? We’ve explored them and have written responses below.
“Kim Kardashian was born into a wealthy family — I would be a billionaire too if I was born into that much money”.
In reality in the early 2000s, Kim was travelling along a relatively humble career trajectory. She was a personal stylist and/or assistant to celebrities like Brandy Norwood and Paris Hilton. While her family was upper class, this did not launch her into stardom and billionaire status. Kim started her career as a relatively unknown figure and she was more likely to be identified as Paris Hilton’s armpiece and best friend than by her own name. At that point, the salaries that Kim was commanding would never propel her net worth to its current heights within her lifetime. To illustrate this point, if we were to make a generous assumption that she was earning $70,000 as a personal assistant, it would still take 14,000 years to accumulate her current wealth — and that’s if she never spent a single cent over the entire period. So, while her family provided a degree of proximity to celebrities and financial resources — it never lent her the personal brand or earning power that would lift her to billionaire status.
“Kim should thank Ray J for her success — he made her famous with the sex tape”
In 2007, Kim Kardashian West was exposed to an immense breach of privacy. A private tape that she had made with her boyfriend of the time was published and distributed globally. While firm facts relating to how this tape was released are shaky, sources claim that Kardashian West initially attempted to sue to prevent the tape from being released but then ultimately settled this suit. This tape increased public dialogue about Kardashian West; however, the widespread viewing of the tape was due to her own beauty and not because of Ray J’s second-hand star power, as many would claim. In fact, Kardashian West’s fame has far eclipsed Ray J’s and now, his largest claim to fame is his tenuous connection to Kim — not the other way around. It should also be noted that the internet is saturated with pornographic content — sources estimate that there are hundreds of petabytes of footage on the web, and yet, none of the countless stars of the other popular clips are billionaires from the video proceeds. In fact, many of the world’s biggest porn stars have come forward about being financially exploited and barely earning enough to live on. This tape should be understood for what it is — a breach of privacy that subjected Kardashian West to global shaming — an experience that would shatter many people’s confidence and immobilise them in the future. This tape did not make Kim Kardashian West a billionaire and it was an obstacle that she overcame in order to be the confident and self-assured woman that she is today.
“Kim has no skills or talent, she dropped out of college”
It’s true that Kim didn’t graduate college — in this way, she is comparable to Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg. However, for these men, dropping out of college seems to be a badge of honor — proof that they are risk takers, innovators and entrepreneurs. They are aspirational mould breakers. However, for Kim, this same action is used to detract from her abilities. When she dropped out, she was labelled as having “no skills” and yet she has achieved a comparable level of success. While she attended a different calibre of school, the end result was similar — so it is important to question why society awards these men a badge of honour and still shames Kim.
“She doesn’t run her companies, she hands them over to other people”
Kim is not the CEO of the companies that she’s founded. However, founding a successful company and then hiring an excellent management team is an important part of being a successful serial entrepreneur. If a person wishes to launch and grow numerous companies and not be limited to a single/few companies, then it’s critical to be able to hire an excellent management team. Running a company is just as much about hiring brilliant people as being brilliant yourself. This sentiment is echoed by entrepreneurial legends like Steve Jobs and Steve Schwarzman. Both of which respectively said “it doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do” and “I don’t think I would be good enough to get hired by Blackstone [his own company] today ”. Every successful company is the aggregate of a powerful team and the ability to pick winners is one of the most important entrepreneurial skills.
“I would be a billionaire too if I had her platform”
Contrary to popular belief, Kim was not born with her platform. Before a 90 second clip on “The Simple Life” in the early 2000s, Kim was essentially unknown. Since then, she has executed project after project, to build one of the most well known personal brands in the world. As of May 2021, Kardashian West has amassed 219 million followers on Instagram, making her the 7th “most followed” person on the platform. The process of building a world-leading brand is the accumulation of years of expert execution. While she has certainly made it look easy, any of the hundreds of millions of people who have attempted to achieve fame and have fallen short can attest to the difficulty of this feat. Building a world-class brand requires far more than being in the right place at the right time. It also requires tactical strategy, skill and hard work.
A Balanced Perspective
Kim Kardashian West has certainly achieved some incredible feats and we believe that she should be recognised for these. However, that isn’t to say that we don’t recognise some of her problematic history. Kim has promoted dieting products like “skinny tea”, has been accused of cultural appropriation and at times appears superficial in media. We can condemn these actions while still recognising that she does not need to be perfect to be a successful entrepreneur. When billionaire men engage in other non-exemplary behaviour like making inappropriate tweets, smoking weed on camera or cheating on their spouses, the public is quick to separate their business acumen from their personal lives. It is possible to recognise a flaw in one area and realise that it doesn’t erase successes in other areas. We can recognise that Kardashian West, Gates, Musk, and Bezos have made mistakes in their personal lives, and still recognise their incredible professional successes.
In a nutshell, as a society, let’s recognise that successful entrepreneurs can come from any demographic. They can be male or female, conservative or progressive, and from any type of background. There is no body type, personality type, or life path that precludes entrepreneurial success. It’s our hope that society will open their minds to mould breakers like Kim Kardashian West so that next time a person like her is on the cover of Forbes, the comment section will be thrilled rather than incredulous.
By Lauren Fong & Jennifer Wright