Turning passion into business empire

Martha Stewart is a businesswoman, writer and a television personality. She is a living proof that you can turn your passion and good taste into a multimillion-dollar business. Martha Stewart transformed a home-based catering business into a multibillion-dollar media franchise centered around her image as a consummate hostess, food expert, and do-it-yourself decorator. Her skill at making a fortune out of fantasy has given her near-cult status among her thousands of devoted followers. A trusted tastemaker and icon of American domesticity, Stewart skillfully cultivated one of the most recognizable and powerful brands through her award-winning television program, best-selling magazine, and more than 20books on cooking, gardening, and home decor.

Earlier years

Martha Helen Stewart (née Kostyra; born August 3, 1941) is the second of six children born to middle-class parents, Edward “Eddie” Kostyra (1912–1979) and Martha Ruszkowski Kostyra (1914–2007), and is of entirely Polish heritage.

While in high school, Stewart began modeling for upscale department stores in New York City and subsequently appeared in several television commercials and fashion magazines. Intelligent as well as photogenic—traits that would propel her career as a media star—Stewart was offered a full scholarship to New York University but declined in order to attend Barnard College, where she studied art history while supporting herself through modeling. Stewart’s modeling career was given a boost in 1961 when she was named by Glamour magazine as one of America’s 10 best-dressed college students. Later that year she married Andrew Stewart, a student at Yale Law School. Stewart graduated from Barnard in 1963 and continued modeling in New York.

In 1975 Stewart and Norma Collier cofounded the Uncatered Affair, a catering business that flourished. Stewart was hired as the manager of Market Basket, a gourmet food court in a small Westport shopping mall, which she transformed into a booming success. Stewart simultaneously developed her own catering business, Martha Stewart Inc., impressing her celebrity and well-to-do clients with elegant menus and creative presentations that featured her homegrown ingredients and distinctive personal touch. Displaying a knack for self-promotion, Stewart enhanced her reputation by pitching stories about her work and home to local newspapers and by contributing occasional articles on food, gardening, and home decor to such national magazines as Good Housekeeping, House Beautiful, and Country Living.In 1979 Stewart received a $25,000 advance from Crown Publishing to write her first book, Entertaining, hiring the free-lance writer Elizabeth Hawes to assist her. The finished product, a lavish cookbook and decorating guide embellished with photographs of Stewart’s immaculate Turkey Hill home and table settings, was published in 1982. This best-selling book established Stewart’s trademark aesthetic—genteel sophistication merged with casual intimacy and everyday practicality—and catapulted her into the media limelight with a national book tour, speaking appearances, and television interviews.

Over the next several years, Stewart published additional food books and a popular wedding planner that extended her name recognition and provided the foundation upon which the Martha Stewart “brand” was built. In 1986 she made her debut as a featured television hostess on “Holiday Entertaining with Martha Stewart,” a public television special in which she cheerfully prepared a sumptuous, home-cooked Thanksgiving dinner for her family. The success of the program, which Crown Publishing distributed as a mail-order video, encouraged Stewart to set her sights on additional television opportunities.

In 1987 Stewart signed a lucrative contract with the discount retailer Kmart to serve as the company’s lifestyle consultant. While helping Kmart elevate its down-market image by endorsing and promoting an exclusive line of home products, Stewart received valuable national exposure through Kmart’s expansive advertising campaign and attracted a growing following of admirers. A long-lasting and highly profitable relationship for Stewart, she continued to sell her popular “Martha Stewart Everyday” products in Kmart stores through 2004.

In 1997 she founded Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, an umbrella company for her diverse publishing, television, online, and merchandising ventures.

Lifestyle guru

“I think people who have a real entrepreneurial spirit, who can face difficulties and overcome them, should absolutely follow their desires. It makes for a much more interesting life.”-Martha Stewart.

Stewart built a media empire and a world-class brand through her superior aesthetic sense and ability to present herself as a living embodiment of simple elegance. During the 1980s and 1990s her quick tips for fine cooking and better decorating appealed to many American women—traditional as well as professional and liberated women—who sought to emulate Stewart’s gentrified version of modern homemaking. Instructing her audiences from the staged comfort of her renovated colonial home and beautifully maintained gardens, Stewart showed how sophisticated cuisine and understated home luxury were not the exclusive domain of upper-class New Englanders but were accessible to anyone willing to heed her recommendations. Stewart’s judicious taste was encapsulated in her trademark epithet “It’s a good thing.”

Part of Stewart’s business success can be attributed to her realization that she was selling not only products but also information. Her publications and television series were popular because the information Stewart provided was perceived as consistently reliable and useful by her audience. Moreover, she conjured an idealized home life that demonstrated how time-strapped, modern working women could have it all. In contrast to such staid predecessors as Betty Crocker and Julia Child, Stewart represented a thoroughly modern woman—smart, ambitious, and attractive—whose judgments on food, home decor, and style became the unofficial equivalent of the Good Housekeeping seal of approval. By distilling this authority into a powerful brand, Stewart was able to expand into new product lines—from paint to bedding to stationary—on the strength of her name and endorsement alone.

Despite her remarkable business accomplishments and rise as a major player in the male-dominated media industry, Stewart was often the subject of scorn and ridicule. Mocked for her cloying graciousness and condescending explanations of difficult recipes and projects that she performed with effortless perfection, she was also accused in numerous published accounts of displaying a cruel temper and brazen selfishness. It is worth noting, however, that criticism of Stewart’s aggressive personality and tendency to micromanage her business suggested a double standard, as these same traits were often deemed praiseworthy in male executives. Stewart’s complex identity as a business leader and celebrity had serious implications for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia in the wake of her conviction. Because of Stewart’s status as the irreplaceable core figure of the company, the fate of her media enterprises—and her own reputation as a pathbreaking entrepreneur—rested heavily upon her continuing popularity in the face of a notoriously fickle public.

Stewart’s success in her many different roles is a tribute to her unique entrepreneurial skills in marketing-not so much a product, but herself and her sense of taste. In essence, she turned her own life into a business empire and left an indelible mark on the way America views cooking, home decoration, gardening and entertaining.

Watch the Pierogi recipe with Martha Stewart’s mother- video

Byron, Christopher M., Martha Inc.: The Incredible Story of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, New York: John Wiley, 2002
Crossen, Cynthia, “Martha Stewart Living: Fantasies for $3,” Wall Street Journal, March 28, 1991
Oppenheimer, Jerry, Martha Stewart—Just Desserts: An Unauthorized Biography, New York: William Morrow, 1997

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