Kylie Jenner is rich — that’s beyond any doubt. Anyone who’s seen her on reality TV knows she enjoys an incredibly luxurious lifestyle. But how rich is she, really? Since March 2019, the business analysis magazine Forbes had listed her as a billionaire. But just over a year later, they revoked that — and made some pretty shocking allegations.
In May 2020, Forbes released an article which shocked many people, not to mention Kylie herself. It was headlined, “Inside Kylie Jenner’s Web of Lies — And Why She’s No Longer a Billionaire.” It began, provocatively, “More than a decade into their fame, the Kardashian-Jenners tend to induce eye rolls and sighs among jaded media consumers.”
The article went on, “But when it comes to their wealth, even critics of reality TV’s first family are intrigued; the Kardashian-Jenner machine — and the cash it generates — has been the subject of articles, podcasts, even books. But no one cares more about the topic than the family itself, which has spent years fighting Forbes for higher spots on our annual wealth and celebrity earnings lists.”
Indeed, the Kardashian-Jenners are very, very good at accumulating wealth. Kim Kardashian, Kylie’s famous half-sister, is worth around $72 million, according to Forbes. The family reality TV show Keeping Up with the Kardashians netted her enough money to be set for life, as did her make-up line KKW Beauty.
Indeed, Keeping Up with the Kardashians made the whole family incredibly rich. Kylie’s other family members — Khloé, Kourtney, Kris, Caitlyn, Kendall, Rob — all command fortunes of over $10 million, in some cases much more. And Kylie’s ex, Travis Scott, the father of her child, has $58 million in assets from his career as a music artist.
But how did Kylie, the youngest member of her generation, become so rich? Back in 2018, before the falling out, the then 20-year-old reality TV star explained it all to Forbes. At that point, her fortune stood at $900 million, incredibly impressive for somebody barely out of their teenage years.
Much of the money came from her brand Kylie Cosmetics. Reportedly, it had rung up over $630 million of sales. Forbes stated, “Even using a conservative multiple, and applying our standard 20 percent discount, Forbes values her company, which has since added other cosmetics like eye shadow and concealer, at nearly $800 million. Jenner owns 100 percent of it.”
The magazine also noted that Kylie knew how to use social media for marketing. Forbes wrote, “Basically, all Jenner does to make all that money is leverage her social media following. Almost hourly, she takes to Instagram and Snapchat, pouting for selfies with captions about which Kylie Cosmetics shades she’s wearing, takes videos of forthcoming products and announces new launches.”
Kylie’s social media won her lots of fans — and some of them were willing to go to quite astounding lengths for her. After Forbes published their piece about Kylie being worth $900 million, a bizarre social media campaign suddenly sprung up devoted to making Kylie a fully-fledged billionaire.
At first it seemed to be a joke. Internet personality Josh Ostrovsky started a GoFundMe for her, the description read: “I don’t want to live in a world where Kylie Jenner doesn’t have a billion dollars. We must raise 100 million dollars to help her get to a billion, please spread the word, this is extremely important.”
Amazingly, people actually donated. Gradually the total of the GoFundMe money rose to over a thousand dollars. Most donators, however, appeared to be using the campaign simply to promote their own products and get their names out there on a page people would be looking at. And Kylie herself, perhaps wisely, offered no comment on it.
Then, in March 2019, Kylie appeared to finally achieve billionaire status. Forbes magazine declared that she was “the youngest self-made billionaire ever.” Kylie Cosmetics had teamed up with beauty retailer Ulta so as to get its products into more stores. The result had been more money for Kylie, enough to get her on the list.
Kylie herself spoke to Forbes for the article. “I didn’t expect anything,” she said. “I did not foresee the future. But [the recognition] feels really good. That’s a nice pat on the back.” She added, “It’s the power of social media. I had such a strong reach before I was able to start anything.”
However, there was some debate about Kylie being labelled a “self-made” billionaire. Forbes described the concept as “someone who built a company or established a fortune on her own, rather than inheriting some or all of it.” Yet, many people pointed out, Kylie had inherited the publicity and fame of the Kardashian-Jenner family.
Business experts weighed in. Author Bybreen Samuels told the BBC News website, “[Kylie] gained leverage by using her family name, fame and wealth. Consequently, she had direct access to the whole range of privileges, connections and resources that flow from these factors. Her ascendancy into global wealth and brand recognition was already guaranteed before she even started.”
However, not everyone agreed with Samuels. Beauty journalist Jessica Morgan told the BBC, “If Jenner hadn’t come from a famous family, perhaps she wouldn’t have been named the world’s youngest billionaire so quickly. But that’s not to say she wouldn’t have achieved such an accolade in her lifetime.”
Morgan went on, “On average, it takes a millionaire 14 years to reach billionaire status while the average age to hit this status is 37. It took Microsoft’s Bill Gates five years to reach billionaire status, while Amazon’s Jeff Bezos was crowned a billionaire after two years. I’m really happy for Kylie and I’m excited to see what else she has in store for us.”
Kylie spoke about her new status to Interview magazine in March 2019. She said, “I never thought that this could happen. I believed in Kylie Cosmetics but I didn’t even know what I was getting myself into. It feels amazing, it’s wild, and being the youngest ever to do it is a blessing. I now want to focus on giving back to people and doing things that I’m passionate about.”
When the interviewer said there had been contention over the description “self-made,” Kylie said, “There’s really no other word to use other than self-made because that is the truth. That is the category that I fall under. Although, I am a special case because before I started Kylie Cosmetics, I had a huge platform and lots of fans.”
The reality TV star continued, “I did not get money from my parents past the age of 15. I used 100 percent of my own money to start the company, not a dime in my bank account is inherited… and I am very proud of that.” At the interview’s end she said, “I hope people will remember that I pushed boundaries, inspired them, worked incredibly hard, set trends, and made history with my business — all at a young age.”
But Kylie’s official Forbes billionaire status didn’t last much longer. In November 2019, Kylie Cosmetics partnered up with the company Coty. The press release declared that it would be a “strategic partnership in order to jointly build and further develop Kylie’s existing beauty business into a global powerhouse brand.”
The deal went through in January 2020. Kylie traded 51 percent of Kylie Cosmetic for $1.2 billion. But, Forbes claimed in their May article, “In the deal’s fine print, a less flattering truth emerged. Filings released by publicly traded Coty over the past six months lay bare one of the family’s best-kept secrets: Kylie’s business is significantly smaller, and less profitable, than the family has spent years leading the cosmetics industry and media outlets, including Forbes, to believe.”
Forbes pulled no punches with their allegations. The magazine wrote, “The unusual lengths to which the Jenners have been willing to go — including inviting Forbes into their mansions and CPA’s [Certified Public Accountants] offices, and even creating tax returns that were likely forged — reveals just how desperate some of the ultra-rich are to look even richer.”
According to the magazine, the Kardashian-Jenners had been working to “get a Forbes cover for Kylie” ever since Kim had landed one. Kylie’s cosmetic business had made $400 million in its first 18 months, the family had claimed, with Kylie herself taking home $250 million from that.
Forbes continued, “Pressed for proof, they opened up their books. During meetings at Kris Jenner’s palatial Hidden Hills, California, estate and the family accountant’s office nearby, Forbes was shown tax returns detailing $307 million in 2016 revenues and personal income of more than $110 million for Kylie that year.”
And then Forbes alleged, “The documents, despite looking authentic and bearing Kylie Jenner’s signature, weren’t exactly convincing since the story they told, of e-commerce brand Kylie Cosmetics growing from nothing to $300 million in sales in a single year, was hard to believe.” Other “analysts and industry experts” had also found the claims “implausible.”
Following on from that, Forbes said, “A story appeared in WWD, a trade publication known as ‘the bible of fashion,’ using the exact numbers the Jenners first tried to give Forbes.” WWD had said that Kylie Cosmetics had made $420 million from retail sales in its first 18 months, and that the family had proved it with documents.
The magazine went on, “That sky-high revenue number — repeated everywhere from People to CNBC and Fortune — took hold. By the summer of 2018, when Forbes set out to calculate Kylie’s net worth for our list of the richest self-made women, the industry’s opinion of Kylie’s business had shifted. Those huge revenues were “totally possible,” said one analyst, adding that she had heard similar numbers herself.
According to Forbes, everything had unraveled with the Coty deal. They alleged, “Revenues over a 12-month period preceding the deal: $177 million, according to the Coty presentation — far lower than the published estimates at the time. More problematic, Coty said that sales were up 40 percent from 2018, meaning the business only generated about $125 million that year, nowhere near the $360 million the Jenners had led Forbes to believe.”
And there was yet more alleged misinformation. Forbes claimed, “Kylie’s skin care line, which launched in May 2019, did $100 million in revenues in its first month and a half, Kylie’s reps told us. The filings show the line was actually ‘on track’ to finish the year with just $25 million in sales.”
Forbes went on to say, “There’s virtually no way the numbers the Jenners were peddling in earlier years could be true either. If Kylie Cosmetics did $125 million in sales in 2018, how could it have done $307 million in 2016 (as the company’s supposed tax returns state) or $330 million in 2017?”
The magazine then came straight out and made an accusation. “More likely: The business was never that big to begin with, and the Jenners have lied about it every year since 2016 —including having their accountant draft tax returns with false numbers —to help juice Forbes’ estimates of Kylie’s earnings and net worth. While we can’t prove that those documents were fake (though it’s likely), it’s clear that Kylie’s camp has been lying.”
Kylie herself reacted with anger to the article. After it was posted she turned to social media and wrote, “What am I even waking up to. I thought this was a reputable site… all I see are a number of inaccurate statements and unproven assumptions lol. I’ve never asked for any title or tried to lie my way there EVER.”
Jenner continued, “‘Even creating tax returns that were likely forged’ that’s your proof? So you just THOUGHT they were forged? Like actually what am I reading.” Later, however, she appeared to be more relaxed about it and wrote, “I am blessed beyond my years, I have a beautiful daughter, and a successful business and I’m doing perfectly fine. I can name a list of 100 things more important right now than fixating on how much money I have.”
But then the Coty company began to see the fallout as well. On May 29 Time magazine noted, “Shares of Coty, which acquired a majority stake in Kylie Cosmetics last year, dropped 13 percent to close at $3.63, extending its 2020 decline to 68 percent.” Representatives of the company could not be reached for comment.
Matthew Hutchison, the spokesperson for Forbes, sent an email to Time defending the article. It read, “Today’s extensively-reported investigation was triggered by newly filed documents that revealed glaring discrepancies between information privately supplied to journalists and information publicly supplied to shareholders. Our reporters spotted the inaccuracies and spent months uncovering the facts.”
Come June 1 Forbes added a note to their Kylie piece. Representatives of the Jenner family had gotten in touch. Their letter to the magazine read, “The accusations that the Jenners, and/or their accountants, falsified tax returns and then lied about their 2016 revenues for the last four years, are absolutely false.”
Meanwhile, there was some talk in the media about the legality of what Kylie had allegedly done. Attorney Michael Sachs told newspaper The Sun that if she really had falsified tax returns, it would be a “very serious offense.” He added, “It’s very hard to believe someone at her level would risk major tax fraud.”
Sachs went on, “It’s all about vanity for her as it is for a lot of people who reach for the title of ‘billionaire.’ It’s absolutely possible someone said to her, ‘Let’s massage a little here and massage a little there’ when speaking to Forbes. But it’s very hard to believe she forged tax documents to the IRS.”
There’s probably a way to go yet before the story of Kylie vs Forbes is fully resolved — if ever. But ironically, Kylie herself may not even want the disputed billions of dollars in play. In 2018 she said in a Vogue magazine piece, “I have my dream house and the car I want, and I just realized early that those aren’t the things that make me happy.”