Reinventing at 50
How model Melina Krause founded her own business — and found herself
Melina Krause has been through a lot of changes in her life, some of them pretty hard. But if you had to pick one moment that shows how the human spirit is not dimmed it would be when she hit 50 and decided to become a model.
Soon after that she decided it was the right time for her to set up her first business, on her own. Hitting 50, with all the experience and knowledge that can come with that, has some real upsides.
Seeing her walk through a fashionable part of London, immaculately turned out, on her way to a casting or a meeting with an interior designer, shows how far she’s come. From Kenya in fact. Her Indian-born parents moved to Kenya but then, when she was about 11, they all had to leave Africa because of Kenyan independence. Melina and her brother Jason had British passports and their parents weren't about to give those up.
‘When we went to Goa, in India, it was very different to how my parents remembered’ she says. ‘We had to learn Hindi as a second language and I remember the family house didn't have electricity or running water — we had a well in the garden.’
Eventually they made it to London where, through a friend, they ended up living and working in a hotel. Melina, who speaks a beautiful English, with an almost Empire accent, found the whole culture shock hard to deal with.
‘It was difficult because I'd missed out on some schooling. And it was tough because I’d go to school and then come back and help out on the reception desk of the hotel. And I remember school as such a change for me. I couldn't believe the way the children spoke to the teachers! I remember those accents. I asked my mother “Why do they say ‘bu’er’ when it’s ‘butter’!”
TIME TO PIVOT
She threw herself into England. Got married young, at 21, had two children, became a mother and wife, worked for her brother who started a textile design company, did the right thing. Then she realised it was always going to be her brother’s company at the same time as a friend suggested she put her name down for a modelling agency. At a pivotal moment in her life, she did.
Then she joined agencies looking for film and television extras. It was the first thing she'd ever done purely for herself. And she loved it.
‘The first audition was for a modelling job, nothing glamorous, for an insurance company leaflet. I went to the audition and I was in this big hall with all these people waiting to have their picture taken. There were so many lovely looking people in that hall. But I'd gone along thinking that I'd see what it was all about, and I had nothing to lose. I had such a lovely day and then I heard I'd got my first job, which felt amazing. It was a lovely surprise.’
She was off and running, and other work came in. ‘It was so different to anything I'd ever done’, she says with a big smile. ‘And I got paid for it! For me it wasn’t work. To be honest, I didn't put my heart and soul into it, I just wanted to go in slowly and see how it went. I think I could have made a living from the modelling and television extra work.’
‘IT WAS LIKE I'D WON THE LOTTERY’
Around that time her marriage broke down. On top of that she started juggling that new career with the old job of managing her brother’s business until, eventually, the siblings parted company. ‘It was stressful’ she remembers. ‘I just had to quit with no idea of what to do next. It was hard, like bereavement. Modelling isn't that reliable so I thought I'd have to get a job in the only industry I knew, the textiles industry.
‘But then one evening I went to the gym and was at a spin class. And I suddenly thought “Gosh, why do I want to work for someone else? It would never be mine, I’d have to report to someone else and I'll never be in control. Why don't I work for myself?”
‘I was flying when I came home. I was so excited. I knew the people in the industry, I knew the clients, I knew how to run a business. I can't tell you how exciting that evening was. It was like I'd won the lottery.’
This led to her paying for a flight and accommodation in Frankfurt, to attend a huge international textiles show. ‘When I landed I just thought “What have I done?” I couldn’t believe I was doing it. I wasn't scared but I was hoping that I'd done the right thing.’
She had. She networked, found a product, and launched. Since this was fairly recently, she’s sole trading but a limited company can't be far away. How has she found setting up her own business at last in the UK?
‘I have been determined to make it work. At this stage I have the skills and experience and I know the industry. If I was starting up something completely different I would be very worried. So I don't think age works against you. I know a lot of people, clients and so on, and they've been very supportive. I've had people offering showroom space and even space on stands at exhibitions. I have an advantage there compared to younger people.
‘But I get so mad at technology sometimes! It’s so frustrating, that I have to ring people and ask for help. But everyone’s been so helpful, including my ex-husband.
‘Whether I was still with my husband or not, I'd still be doing this. I'd be doing this whether I was married or not. I really want to achieve something. I want to prove to myself I can do it. I want to be able to control the business, and enjoy it at the same time.
‘It was so exciting to get my first order. At one level it was quite a small order, but it was a great moment, and the next great moment was seeing the money in my account as it’s never an order until you get paid.
‘If anyone was thinking of setting up their own business, whatever their age, I'd say go for it, definitely, definitely. Because otherwise you'll never know. I thought when I started this that if I don't do it now then I never will, and I have to give it a try, give it all my energy.
‘You need to plan too, plan your day, your week. I’m working from home so I can do admin when I know people are at lunch, then in the evenings I can get some emails done, so the days can be free for meetings. It’s important to use the time. The wonderful thing is that when nobody’s around I’ll think I can go to the gym or go for a swim, so I can still do other things during the day that I couldn't do before because now I'm my own boss. I like that!
A final piece of advice? ‘Always be polite, always be honest.’ A model philosophy for business.