The British businesswoman who’s made millions creating jeans and underwear to fit all sizes

Grede's route to success has been far from linear
Grede's route to success has been far from linear - Getty

Emotions often run high on Dragon’s Den, but when contestant Titi Bello won a £60,000 investment in her burgeoning hair care business, Ori Lifestyle, she had more reason to cry tears of joy than most. For when it comes to launching successful businesses, her new investor has form. She may not yet have amassed the £450 million fortune of the fellow judge and telecommunications tycoon Peter Jones, but with an estimated net worth of £285 million, Emma Grede is well on her way to surpassing it.

Until her appearance as a guest judge on the hit BBC show last week, Grede, 41, had a case for being the most successful self-made British businesswoman that Britain had never heard of. Striding into the den in a grey Alexander McQueen trouser suit (vintage, from 1994, she later told her 578,000 Instagram followers), her glossy hair, flawless makeup and status-asserting bling looked as resolutely Californian as her famous business partners. If she reminded some viewers of a Kardashian, that’s because she works with them – so closely that she’s been referred to as their “secret business weapon”. Not bad for a girl who left her east London school aged 15, with no qualifications.

Grede is a founding partner of Skims, the shapewear brand founded by her husband Jens with Kim Kardashian
Grede is a founding partner of Skims, the shapewear brand founded by her husband Jens with Kim Kardashian - Getty

These days Grede lives in a sprawling $24 million Bel Air mansion with her husband Jens Grede, and is the CEO of Good American, the denim brand she launched with Khloe Kardashian in 2016 that reportedly racked up $1 million in sales on its first day. “We didn’t do anything revolutionary,” she told me when I interviewed her in 2022. “All we did was think about every woman, and make our collection in lots of different shapes and sizes. There’s so much tokenism around inclusivity. Good American felt authentic at a time where a lot of brands were playing games. People looked at our campaigns and saw a version of themselves. Representation matters. It really means something when people can see themselves.”

Grede lives in Bel Air with her husband Jens, a Swedish businessman
Grede lives in Bel Air with her husband Jens, a Swedish businessman - getty

Inclusivity was also the founding principle behind Skims, the shapewear brand that Jens Grede co-founded with Kim Kardashian in 2019, with Emma as a founding partner, currently valued at $4 billion. Like Good American, it caters to a wider size range (up to 46H for bras) than the average underwear brand, as well as coming in eight shades of “nude” to suit myriad skin tones.

But these two juggernauts aren’t the only strings to Grede’s bow. In 2021, she co-founded a range of cleaning products, Safely, with Kris Jenner: plant-based and sustainable, they want to “change the way the world thinks about cleaning”. At $13.99 for a hand soap and $16.99 for a laundry detergent, they might want to throw in a maid, too.

Grede would be the first to admit that her route to global denim, bra and kitchen worktop domination hasn’t been linear, or particularly swift. Born Emma Findlay, her interest in fashion was sparked by her window dresser mother, who raised her and her three sisters single-handedly in Plaistow, east London, after splitting from their Jamaican and Trinidadian father. After dropping out of a business degree at the London College of Fashion, Grede went to work in a clothes shop because she was “a poor kid who needed to earn money”.

Grede was raised in Plaistow by a single mother
Grede, who has three siblings, was raised in Plaistow by a single mother - Getty

In 2001, aged 19, she landed an internship at Gucci, which eventually led to a job at Inca Productions, which produced fashion shows and PR events. “I started in show production at a time when British fashion was on fire with designers like Mary Katrantzou, Christopher Kane and Giles Deacon, and I was doing sponsorship deals for them [and] partnerships with high street brands,” she told me. “London designers had to hustle. The support systems just weren’t there. Which was amazing training for me. I learned what is actually needed when starting a business – not just creativity, but the funding, strategy, marketing and running of the business.”

In 2012, she married Jens Grede, no slouch in the marketing department himself, having co-founded fashion advertising agency The Saturday Group (now named Wednesday Agency) in 2003 with business partner, Eric Tortensson. In 2012, the duo launched the denim brand Frame, whose supermodel associations propelled it to stardom much as Khloe Kardashian has fuelled the success of Good American.

Since moving from Bloomsbury, London, to Bel Air, California, in 2017 (they also bought Brad Pitt’s former Malibu holiday home for a cool $45 million last year), the Gredes live a gilded life. While Jens’ Instagram account is set to private (he’s frequently referred to as a “self effacing Swede”), Emma’s documents her love of cooking in her gargantuan kitchen, her extensive designer wardrobe, famous friends (Barack Obama, Kamala Harris, all the Kardashians) and four young children. It also documents her charity work.

The couple have amassed a fortune working closely with the Kardashian family on fashion brands
The couple have amassed a fortune working closely with the Kardashian family on various fashion projects - FilmMagic

As the chairman of the Fifteen Percent Pledge, the nonprofit launched by the activist Aurora James in the wake of George Floyd’s death, her role is to persuade retailers to reallocate 15 per cent of their spend to black-owned businesses. “Black people make up 15 per cent of the population,” she has said. “I’m in a very privileged position because of the businesses I run. Most CEOs and retailers will take my call. It’s probably one of the proudest parts of all of my work.”

While it’s unlikely that the Gredes will relocate to the UK any time soon, Emma visits as often as time allows. In London promoting her appearance on Dragon’s Den earlier this month, she hosted a dinner to celebrate women in business, and is vocal about the barriers that female entrepreneurs, especially women of colour, can face when seeking investment. In fact, she’s vocal about everything, speaking with a candour that won praise on social media after her debut on Dragon’s Den. Already a regular guest on the United States equivalent, Shark Tank – the first black women investor to appear on the show – fans will be hoping she enlivens the UK den again. But in the meantime, there’s Skims stores to open, and rumours of a potential IPO. You don’t get to be named by Forbes as one of the richest self-made women in America for nothing.