Corner Office

Martha Stewart on life, ‘lifestyle culture’ and her brand

Kai Ryssdal Nov 3, 2014
Corner Office

Martha Stewart on life, ‘lifestyle culture’ and her brand

Kai Ryssdal Nov 3, 2014

Martha Stewart does not mince words when it comes to the size of her business:

“I think you can fairly say, I spawned or laid an egg that has turned into a lifestyle industry,” Stewart said in an interview with Marketplace’s Kai Ryssdal.

Since “Entertaining,” her first book, came out in 1982, Stewart’s brand have swelled into a catch-all for planning parties, getting married, serving tofu french fries, and drawing fizzy baths. There’s Martha Stewart Living, Martha Stewart Weddings, Martha Stewart’s Cooking School on PBS, Martha Live, a collection at Macy’s, a collection at Petsmart, a Martha Stewart at Home depot and more. There’s a Martha Stewart competition for start-up “American Made” products.


There is, in fact, Martha Stewart for just about everything:

Here are some highlights from the conversation, which will air later this afternoon on Marketplace:

On godmother-ing a culture

Ryssdal: If I called you, maybe not the grandmother, but maybe the godmother of the lifestyle culture in this country, would you be offended?

Stewart: Absolutely not. I would be thrilled! I think godmother is good because it can be of any age.

Ryssdal: Yeah, it’s age neutral, right?

Stewart: Yes, it is. It really is.

On the marketing of “lifestyle” products

Stewart: There are two kinds of people… There are the dreamers who go and buy, and there are the doers who go and make. And I’ve always recognized that. So the dreamers are what support our company, because they will buy the product that they could make if they wanted to, had time to, or were so inclined to. Or, they can dream about it and figure out how to make it themselves… If you look back at our first presentations to investors, it was about dreamers and doers and guess what? It’s turned out to be exactly that.

Jack Palillo

Martha Stewart (R), the doyenne of modern living through her Martha Stewart Living empire, serves brioche with scrambled eggs, along with New York Stock Exchange President William Johnson, to celebrate her listing on the NYSE 19 October 1999.

On “American Made”

For the past three years, Stewart has headed up an annual contest called “American Made.” This year, more than 3,259 makers and entrepreneurs applied to win seed money and promotion to start their own business in the categories of Food, Crafts, Style and Design. The winners will meet in New York later this week, where they will be presented to attendees at the “American Made Summit.” Stewart says she is hoping to bring manufacturing back to the U.S., even in small ways. One of her favorite projects this year was led by “American Made” finalist Pashon Murray who started a composting collective in Detroit called fittingly “Detroit Dirt.”

“Compost is a national trend right now,” Stewart said. “If we could put it on a Twitter meter right now composting would be pretty high up there.”

On prison and her company

Ryssdal: There is a question to be asked about you and the company and the brand that is you – and it has to do with your conviction for filing false statements in an insider trading case. About ten years ago you went to prison, you were barred from a role in your company for five years. You have since obviously returned. 

Stewart: Only barred from an executive role in the company.

Ryssdal: Yes, an executive role, that is true. And you have returned now as non-executive chairman, or chairwoman I suppose. The question is: What does it feel like for a person and a company that is so wrapped up in each other, what does it feel like for you to have that taken away?

Stewart: Well, it was never really taken away. It was delayed for a period of time. So it was never… You can’t really separate the person from the brand. 

Martha Stewart made headlines for insider trading in 2004. Her name still spikes on Google every holiday season.

On Steven Spielberg, her next door neighbor

Stewart: [Steven Spielberg] actually lives across the street from me so I bump into them sometimes. But he said to me, “Martha, I just want you to know what I think. I think that you have elevated the job of the homemaker, the homeowner, the homemaker. You’ve elevated that job from something that we all thought was drudge, drudgery to something much more of an art form.”

That was, to me, the highest compliment that anybody has paid me. Because it is, it should be. You should feel good about making your home nicer for your family and your friends.  You should feel great about cooking a good dinner and making a dress for a granddaughter, creating a beautiful birthday party. It’s all part of life.

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