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Gisele Bundchen
Photo Credit: Bob Bekian/ Flickr

With the Patriots’ recent victory in the Superbowl LIII, most fans in America know about Tom Brady’s football heroics. But throughout the world, his wife, Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen, might actually overshadow his popularity.

One of the most recognizable faces in the fashion and beauty industry, Bundchen also leads a productive and diversified entrepreneurial life. In 2002, she partnered with Grendene, a synthetic footwear company, to sell her own line of sandals, Ipanema Gisele Bundchen, that proved to be a success in Brazil and abroad. By 2013, her sandals had made up more than 60% of Grendene’s annual exports of roughly $250 million, according to Forbes.

She also teamed up with one of Brazil’s largest lingerie manufacturers, Hope, in 2011 to launch her own brand, Gisele Bundchen Brazilian Intimates. Since its conception, Bundchen’s partnership with Hope has flourished, branching out to a wider network of Brazilian and international stores that exclusively sells Bundchen’s products. “Gisele is our best brand,” Fabio Figueiredo, Hope’s director of expansion, told Bloomberg in 2014, and “we still have lots of room for growth.”

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A Billion in Sales

Outside of Brazil, Bundchen’s likeness is most prominently featured in the marketing campaigns of Procter & Gamble’s Pantene hair care products. She has represented the brand since 2007 — and her ability to draw customers has been touted in earnings calls. “Gisele has been doing a lot for our Latin American business,” A.G. Lafley, then chairman of Procter & Gamble, told investors during an earnings conference in 2014. “We are expecting her to do just as much for our North America business.”

So far, her image seems to be paying off for companies as well as inspiring women worldwide.

“We want to celebrate Gisele not only for her beauty, but also her genuine passion to empower women to be their best selves,” Kevin Crociata, then marketing director of Procter & Gamble’s North American Hair Care, said in a press release a few years back. “Her tremendous career accomplishments, her success as a mother of two wonderful children, and her ongoing philanthropic work are an inspiration for women to be beautiful both inside and out.”

In 2011, Bundchen launched Sejaa Pure Skincare, an eco-friendly line of beauty products that reflect her commitment to conserving environmental resources. Currently, Bundchen serves as the Goodwill Ambassador of the United Nations Environment Program and is a board member of the Rainforest Alliance, a non-profit dedicated to biodiversity and sustainability.

Put together, her products generate roughly $1 billion per year in sales, according to news reports, and she appears to have no intention of slowing down.

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How She Was Discovered

Unlike many wives of professional athletes, though, her fame and success stem directly from her own hard work and resilience. Born in Tres de Maio, a small town in Brazil, Bundchen was one of six daughters raised by working parents. In high school, she earned good grades and was captain of the volleyball team — at that point in her life, modeling was hardly on her mind. Elaine Constantine, the only photographer to have shot Bundchen in her hometown, discusses meeting Bundchen and her family in the late 90s:

“The thing that struck me about them was they were all very professional and enthusiastic,” she told The Independent in 2009. “Her father was an ordinary guy who had done well for himself, and it’s that work ethic that’s the real key to her success. That grounding, and the need to impress and show willingness – I don’t think you lose something like that.”

Bundchen began modeling in 1995 by a sheer stroke of chance: a scout had discovered her on a school field trip eating a Big Mac.

“It was the first time in my life that someone thought I looked pretty,” she said in The Independent.

Since that first encounter, Bundchen entered the limelight of the modeling industry, but she didn’t immediately soar to world-renowned recognition. Instead, she often found herself under the lens of a magnifying glass, scrutinized by agents and modeling companies.

“I remember some people telling me my nose was too big or my eyes were too small, that I could never be on a magazine cover,” Bundchen said to People magazine. “It wasn’t easy to be 14 and hear that kind of criticism. It made me feel insecure.”

In Brazil, Bundchen’s several early modeling gigs and 4th place award at the Elite Model Look contest were enough to get her recognized and flown to New York. There, Bundchen made her catwalk debut during Fashion Week in 1996. Success in America didn’t come easy, however; she disclosed to People that it took 42 rejections before she landed her big break in Alexander McQueen’s famous Rain show in 1998.

Richest Supermodel?

A little more than two decades later, Bundchen is well on her way to becoming the world’s first billionaire supermodel.

Over her career, she has walked in nearly 500 fashion shows, appeared in almost 450 ad campaigns, been the face of more than 20 international brands and graced the covers of more than 1,200 magazines. With the release of her new book in 2018, Lessons: My Path to a Meaningful Life, Bundchen talks about defying expectations, parlaying runway fame into entrepreneurial success. “My career was never based on pretty,” she once told the New York Times. Her reported net worth of $360 million also eclipses her husband’s — particularly impressive, since he is one of the highest paid athletes in the world.

It brings new meaning to the expression: Behind every great man is a great woman.

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