The One Product Martha Stewart Will Not Put Her Name On

Happy to be a global mother figure

The founder of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia chats about her James Beard nominated PBS show Martha's Cooking School, her hipster following—and the one product she'll never put her name on.

Macy’s and JCPenney are battling over the Martha Stewart name. What’s that say about the brand?

It’s not an aging brand—it’s a vibrant brand. It’s a brand that has a huge future. Our product has sold year in and year out for many, many different kinds of retailers. We love to design and create a great product that homemakers want. That’s really the basis of this whole dispute. Retailers want to own it themselves. Unfortunately, they don’t own it.

You said the Junior League of Greenwich canceled your speaking engagement after you signed with Kmart in 1997.

In those days, they didn’t shop at Kmart and Walmart and Target. Those were the early days of mass marketing. I defy you to show me a family that doesn’t shop at one of those stores now. I went to Target last night, and it was packed with my friends. It’s now a really respectable place. You find Vera Wang at Kohl’s, for heaven’s sake. Everybody wants to be in mass because that’s where the majority of Americans shop.

Do you think your partnership with Kmart helped open the door for these high/low collaborations?

Of course. It was the first of the big, powerful brand names to be hugely successful at mass.

Do you see any limit for where the Martha Stewart brand can go?

Well, there’s things that I don’t want to make. I don’t really want to make wheelchairs. Dean Kamen makes the best wheelchairs, and I don’t think I could ever invent anything as fabulous as his wheelchair that goes up and down stairs and things. But I am interested in everything that has to do with the home.

Martha’s Cooking School returns to PBS on April 4. What can we expect from Season 2?

There are still lots and lots more basics to explore. In the second half hour, it will be joined by Martha Bakes. That show was originally conceived for Hallmark, but nobody saw it because Hallmark has such a poor, small viewership. But it’s a wonderful show.

Where does TV currently fit in the Martha Stewart empire?

It’s still extremely important, and I find it to be a very good way to reach a lot of people. We’re working on a pilot right now with ABC called Party Masters. It’s a very fun show. We are also ramping up our video content on the Web. It’s important to be where the customer needs and wants you.

The New York Times said you had “emerged as a patron saint for entrepreneurial hipsters.” Did that surprise you?

It doesn’t surprise me at all. I’m mom to a vast audience. I was just in Colombia, and boy, did they respond. They have the show there, and they all recognized me. I was very well-known with the younger audience. It’s like that everywhere.

By embracing a younger audience, are you worried about alienating your older readers?

We’re very, very aware of that possibility, and we are certainly protecting the other demographics because they’re terribly important to us. They have the money, they have the wherewithal, they have the eyeballs and they are certainly still interested in having the good life.