Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen Built a Billion-Dollar Empire—Here's What We Learned

In our eyes, the Olsen twins can do no wrong. From their iconic style we all want to mimic to their tenacious business acumen, the stylish duo haven’t put a (stylish) foot wrong since they launched Dualstar, at just 6 years old. Now, they’re building a billion-dollar empire that runs the gamut from fashion to fragrance with their brands Elizabeth and James and luxury line, The Row—arguably the Hermès of America. In 2011, their parent company, Dualstar recorded over $1 billion in sales.

On top of that success, they are also incredibly well respected in the fashion community, having won three CFDA awards. It's pretty clear that these stylish sisters know what they’re doing. But we want to know how? According to an interview with Vogue, the Olsens bought out the former owners of Dualstar when they turned 18 and took a break from acting to focus on the business. You might ask how they had the qualifications to run a billion-dollar company at such a young age, but as Mary-Kate quips, “Well, at that point we had been working eighteen years.” Fair point.

To glean a little more insight—and in honor of their birthday today—we read through some of favorite interviews with them (they’re notoriously shy so this required an internet deep dive) and pulled together their best business advice so you too can build a billion-dollar empire.

We were always hard workers as kids. It’s just the way we are, the way we were raised. Our work ethic was everything, and that never left us. We like to work hard, and we like to try to do everything 100%. In fact, it’s actually almost impossible for us not to. Sometimes you succeed and sometimes not so much, but it’s learning.

—Mary-Kate Olsen, as told to WWD.

We’ve been exposed to so much. We were very fortunate to have parents and people around us who wanted us to be part of the creative meetings and the business meetings, and we would just sit and listen and be sponges. At that time in your life, you really are a sponge. And we’ve learned so much from people we’ve been exposed to in our lives—interesting people from different walks of life, different CEO’s. The list goes on and on. Mary-Kate and I have always taken advantage of our time with those people and walked away learning a thing or two.

Ashley Olsen, as told to WWD.

The thing about us is we think big. Huge.

Mary-Kate Olsen, as told to Vogue.

If you want things to be perfect or beautiful, it’s a lot of hard work. Nothing comes easy. That’s just the way we were raised; that’s what we believe is necessary to do something different.”

Mary-Kate Olsen, as told to British Vogue.

I am not great at not being able to control the end product.

Mary-Kate Olsen, as told to Allure.

It takes a lot of discipline but we’ve always been very driven, and we enjoy what we do. It’s what we know.

Mary-Kate Olsen, as told to The Telegraph.

We were always involved in the conversation. We worked so much that they wanted to make sure that we knew exactly what was happening and why—and our opinions mattered.

Mary-Kate Olsen, as told to The Telegraph.

It was about taking a step back and reflecting on our past, all the things that we’d learned, then deciding how we take all the knowledge that we have from the range of businesses that we’ve been in, and do it the way that we want to do it.

Ashley Olsen, as told to The Telegraph.

We didn’t want people to know that we were behind it. We had learned so much about building brands and talking to a specific customer. We did it with our faces at the beginning, and we knew we didn’t want to do that anymore. It’s far more fun this way.”

Ashley Olsen, as told to The Telegraph.

Thank God our parents wanted us to be involved,” Ashley says. “Running a fashion company, it’s just as important to understand numbers as it is to have a design point of view.

Mary-Kate Olsen, as told to Newsweek.

We work as a team, side by side every day. At times it can get overwhelming, but at the end of the day, you care so much that you find the energy to keep going: Balance will always be a struggle.

Mary-Kate Olsen, as told to MyDomaine.

“Don’t be afraid to take risks—well-informed risks.”

Ashley Olsen, as told to MyDomaine.

No is a full sentence.

Mary-Kate Olsen, as told to MyDomaine.

I think we’re lucky [working hard] comes quite naturally for us. We don’t need so much time to sit and think and ponder. But then I have a husband, two step-kids and a life; I have to go home and cook dinner. I ride horses on the weekends. You find the thing that helps you relax and if you don’t have it, look for it. Or you get burned out and then you’re not productive.

Mary-Kate Olsen, as told to Net-a-Porter.

I’ve always been a worker. It has taken me a lot to figure out how to take a vacation.

Ashley Olsen, as told to Net-a-Porter.