Unpopular Opinion: Kylie Jenner's Success should have been celebrated

By Sara Chen

“There is no free lunch,” is a saying uttered by countless business students, teachers and textbooks. In all fairness, this is true. In order to survive in the twenty-first century, financial freedom is crucial. For a majority of the workforce, there will never be a free lunch. A cautionary saying against careless lack of work ethic is warranted. However, it is important to acknowledge the differing levels of barriers to success, and differences in where people stand in the line to get that “lunch.” While the saying is meant to advise young business professionals to stay motivated, there is a multitude of complexities behind the real life application of the idea of working for “lunch.”

When criticism is thrown at United States culture, an easy target is the Kardashian family. Often it is convenient to demean a group of women who seem as if their rise to fame was not spurred by any discernible talent. However, there are many wealthy families in the United States who could not achieve the same climb to power as the Kardashians. It’s ignorant to dismiss all the intelligence behind turning a wealthy family into a decade-long profitable mogul. According to Forbes, when Kim Kardashian started KKW Beauty she collected a revenue of $45.5 million and sold 300,000 units within two hours. Kim Kardashian West additionally worked to help release Alice Marie Johnson, an African American woman who was the victim of systemically racist incarceration, sentenced for a nonviolent drug trafficking offense to 21 years. Forbes also reports that she is worth $350 million dollars through branding, in spite of navigating the landmines of social media and constantly having to fend off attacks on her and her family. Khloe Kardashian worked to co-found Good American, a company which allows fashionable options for women of all body types. Kourtney and Khloe also earn between $10 and $15 million each through social media endorsements. Kendall ranked 3rd on Forbes magazine’s list of highest paid models, with a $10 million annual  income. At an unprecedentedly young age, Kylie Jenner shocked the business world with her makeup line. Her influence is seemingly limitless, as she was able to write one negative tweet that caused Snapchat’s stock to plummet 6 percent. Kylie’s makeup line grossed $420 million in its first 18 months and was predicted to earn $1 billion by 2022, but has surpassed this prediction by 3 years.

Clearly, the Kardashian empire is impressive; however it is also fair to acknowledge the privileged background which allowed a strong foundation for growth and success. With Caitlyn Jenner’s reputation as a former olympian and Rob Kardashian reaping the benefits of being a upper class member of Los Angeles society, the family secured sound fiscal groundwork for future revenues. In the analysis of the career of Kylie Jenner, it is clear that her family background acted as a catalyst in her growth. Kylie Jenner may not have had a free lunch, but was much closer to obtaining said lunch than the average American. Keeping her privileged background in mind, it is still important to acknowledge her massive success in comparison to other rich celebrities who have done nothing but use their fame as excuses to cut lines in reprehensible behaviours, such as paying for college acceptance.

At age 17 Kylie Jenner co-authored a book with her sister, then at 18 released a collaboration with Topshop and expanded the Kendall + Kylie collection at Neiman Marcus and PacSun. Also around this time, Jenner invested $250,000 to produce the first 15,000 lip kits. The first lip kits were to be sold on November 20th of that year and sold out in less than one minute. Kylie Jenner owns 100 percent of Kylie Cosmetics and has created more than 500 jobs. Kylie Cosmetics does not differ much from many other startups that need an initial operating cost of $250,000. Where many Americans would not have able to invest such a high amount of their own income into such business ventures without assistance, this measly start up cost would have been an easy accomplish for any person in the top 1 percent.

However, it is still beyond fair to acknowledge her immense success. Her November 2016 holiday collection reached $19 million in sales within 24 hours of it going on sale. In her initial year working, she made revenues of $305 million and expanded to sell 50 different types of products. Kylie Jenner started her business just like any other, through the typical entrepreneurial process.

Entrepreneurship at its core is acknowledging an unmet need in the market. What is a problem that is currently not being solved? Kylie explained in a Forbes interview that when she was younger she was insecure about her lips and realized that there were no lip liners which matched the exact color of lipsticks. Companies did not produce both lip liners and lipsticks together, which often resulted in mismatched shades. After acknowledging this hole in the market she decided her solution was a cosmetic line which produced lipsticks and lip liners together. The outside perspective of her glamour and wealth from Kylie Cosmetics tends to gloss over the true operational aspects of actually creating a new business. She continued to explain that starting a company on her own and having a large audience meant automatically from the beginning there was not a lot of room for mistakes, especially at such a young age. She did admit that her goal was not mass stardom, but instead having autonomy in a project that was her own as opposed to part of the Kardashian brand. In a Forbes interview, Jenner explained “I didn’t expect anything. I did not foresee the future… but the recognition feels really good. That’s a nice pat on the back.”

Kylie Jenner is the youngest billionaire in the world. A 21 year old woman is the youngest billionaire in the world, and instead of giving her the sole praise for her business endeavors her success is now intertwined with a controversy. Regardless of whether people agree with what her family stands for or who she is as a person, the harsh reality is that the business world has always been run like this. Familial connections and pre-existing wealth and influence have been the constant factors in why many male executives in the business world have gotten their positions. However, women have always been excluded from the business world with many subtle barriers. There is no such thing as a free lunch, but imagine being a woman in business and having to hear “you’re only here because you’re a girl” or “smile more” and a million other comments as you’re trying to do the same work as everyone else to get the same success as every other guy. Every woman in business or a male dominated field understands this struggle precisely, and clearly Forbes did not. What happens when you’re a woman in business is you are constantly put in uncompromising positions. Kylie Jenner’s success was tied to the caveat that someone else labeled her self-made. So now she is put in a position where if she denies that she is self made, she is additionally denying the fact that she is the youngest billionaire entrepreneur. This is a battle exclusive to women. The author of the controversial Forbes has only written about celebrities and entertainment. While Kylie Jenner is a celebrity, she has achieved a feat that no 21 year old man could. Forbes should have at least done Kylie the courtesy of getting a business writer to cover her story!

It is easy to pretend that we have reached equality, because we have progressed from twenty or thirty years ago. That being said, it is important to acknowledge that it is easy to criticize new changes which align with our personal beliefs, but we have to take a step back to look at the overall image. A majority of society has accepted that women should be treated in business the same as their male counterparts, however the actual change in behavior has been slow.

While scrolling through Instagram, many didn’t question this picture with six businesswomen labeled by their weight; however, you would never see six wealthy business men in a post which labels them by their weight or appearance. Similarly to how if the youngest billionaire was a man from an influential family, the controversy of labeling him self made would never become this big. In our world, women on average earn 82 cents to every dollar a man earns, only about 5 percent of Fortune 500 companies have CEOs who are women, and only two of those CEOs are women of color.

The controversy’s effect on Kylie’s credibility as a businesswoman would never destroy a man in the same position. Forbes should not have delegated a “media and entertainment” author to cover the fact that the youngest billionaire in the world is a woman. Any woman in business would have seen this story and felt the immediate sympathy for Kylie Jenner for being placed in a position where she must in defend her own integrity and ownership of her success. Jenner was much closer in line to getting her “lunch” than the average American going in to business like myself,but compared to men in similar privileged positions, she worked much harder to become the youngest billionaire in the world, and that should have been the story.