A model's work is never done
It's not easy to recognise Cara Grogan when she's taking time out from modelling to clock-in at her newly opened juice bar, Genie Concepts. You could easily mistake the petite beauty for a waitress. Wrapped in a black dress, matching apron and flat ankle boots, her hair neatly tied-up, Grogan works diligently behind the bar with her business partner Melanie White.
'Guys, we have to finish this quickly. I'm literally doing everything at the moment,' she says to us then turning to White, who's making a batch of 'sweet dreams' - cashew, cacao and cinnamon milk - 'Wait, did you put honey in that milk?' Grogan keeps a keen eye on the bar during the interview.
Since the model launched her detox cleansing juice bar last month, she's been hands-on in all aspects of the business. 'I wake up at seven, walk my dog and I get here before the work kicks in. It's madness in the kitchen all day long and I have to glam up for modelling jobs in the evening. We did a fashion shoot last night at 10pm,' she says.
As hectic as it is, Grogan is thrilled to have her own business. 'I'm still quite new to modelling, but I know it's not forever. Working as a stylist, a TV host, or an actress might be an easier transition to a different career. But I'm looking for something more stable,' she says.
She went into the juice business because she's a fan of detox cleanses and couldn't find a juice bar in the city that provided that kind of service. Her clients go on a fast, taking only house recipe juices for one to five days, all prepared and delivered to their door by Grogan and White.
Grogan isn't the only model using her celebrity status as the foundation for an enterprise. The past few months have seen a veritable constellation of stars launching their own companies.
Singer and party regular Adrienne Lau paired up with models-cum-socialites sisters Jacqueline, Lisa and Mona Ch'ng to start a fashion boutique on Hollywood Road called Tinseltown. Model and TV host Lisa Selesner launched her web-based beauty and styling company, Glamabox, in November, while model couple Jocelyn Luko and her hubby Anthony Sandstrom launched their integrated health and vitality centre, Life Clinic, in September.
Actor-crooner-model Michael Wong Man-tak has collaborated with Rimowa and recently Baccarat under his namesake label MW.
Model-turned-actress Angelababy Yeung Wing opened the third branch of her food and beverage business, Baby Cafe, yesterday in Tsim Sha Tsui. Fans got a taste of the celebrity owner before the appetiser arrived - digital albums adorned the wall of the restaurants with the model dressed in French maid outfits and mimicking style icon Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's.
The list of the most noted-and-quoted models and celebrities in town almost doubles as a list of new entrepreneurs. Many have only started their own ventures in recent months, having realised that their celebrity status won't give them a pay cheque forever.
'I'm looking beyond the entertainment business. I don't think people want to see a 65-year-old me on a billboard,' Selesner says with a grin. Her Glamabox service has more than 10,000 online subscribers every month and recently launched on the mainland.
'Models start working at a very young age and when we retire we don't have a lot of experience outside the industry. So we need to start thinking about creating our own business to take care of ourselves afterwards,' says Grogan.
Luko says her dream is to open a wellness centre in Hawaii, where she was raised. The health business, she believes, is a move in the right direction. 'I have changed since two years ago, when we started planning the business. I've learned a lot about business and how to communicate with people,' she says.
Before, Luko says, her job was to do whatever her agency wanted. Having her own business brings a different kind of reward.
Sandstrom agrees. 'It's satisfying when people thank me for the way the products have helped them. As a model, I just walked a straight line.'
Selesner, herself a veteran model, agrees: 'I feel proud when I know that people are actually enjoying Glamabox.'
Their stardom certainly helps in promoting their businesses.
Lau, whose boutique stocks Hollywood glamour labels such as Jovani, L.A.M.B., House of Harlow and Haute Hippie, will wear only brands she stocks to openings and parties. And her friends join in, too.
'We are always out and about, and what better way is there to promote the clothes than modelling them ourselves? We used to do it for sponsors' dresses; now we do it for the brands we stock,' she says.
The founders threw a party in March at the Play nightclub in Lan Kwai Fong to mark the store's grand opening. Many of their model and socialite friends came out to support them, wrapped in Tinseltown clothes. The event was covered by the local press.
'I think the celebrity style is growing because people want to mimic their idols. That's something we can piggyback on,' Lau says. Some of her fans even drop by the shop in the hope of meeting the celebrity owner.
Although the store has been open for less than two months, Lau has been approached by shopping malls offering expansion opportunities. Word also spread quickly through the celebrity circle. Lau's friends became regular shoppers for her exclusive collections. During the interview, her model-actress friend Jennifer Tse Ting-ting stopped by to shop.
The personal touch seems to help. Grogan and Selesner use their faces to promote their business websites. 'I think it's easier for customers to establish a connection with the brands if they know we have a hand in it,' says Selesner.
But although celebrity status promotes interest initially, quality of service is what brings customers back. 'Celebrity is actually a double-edged sword. If you are famous, you are more closely monitored. If anything goes wrong, the media will be after you,' says Selesner. 'But it's good we have our own social networking sites to promote our business and clear up any rumours.'
Stardom is not the answer to every challenge. 'I come from a creative field, and I have ideas. But business execution is not my strong suit,' says Selesner. That's why she has business partners, she says.
Business skills can be acquired, too. Socialite and former actress Lelia Chow has become an expert in public relations over the years. She started her PR firm more than a decade ago, and she still remembers what it was like at the beginning.
'Breaking through is not easy, whether or not you are a celebrity,' she says. 'I struggled when I first began. People started rumours that my financial situation was declining and that was why I had to work. But my business is not all about money. It's about having my own career.'
Chow remembers she used to take off her multi-carat diamond ring for meetings with business partners. 'They don't think you can be serious if you don't need the money,' she says. Now she doesn't care. 'But so what? Li Ka-shing still works,' she says with a shrug.
The key to staying ahead of the curve, Chow says, is hard work. 'In public relations, credibility is gold. I've proven myself to the naysayers over the years. You have to be disciplined and professional, no matter what,' she says.
Balancing their jobs requires careful planning for most celebrities. Grogan adjusted her modelling schedule to fit with her hours at the juice bar. 'Many of my clients are accommodating, and I do most of my modelling jobs at night.'
But Luko still regards modelling as her main gig. 'Anthony has always been entrepreneurial, but modelling is still my main focus,' she says. 'I'm happy and thankful for my modelling career. It took 15 years to get where I am now. But when I'm not modelling, I am here. I believe business and modelling can go hand in hand. If the business continues to expand, we can train people to do the extra work.'
Power of five
Model Cara Grogan opened her detox cleanse juice bar in April. It offers one- to five-day juice cleanses. Freshly squeezed juices can be delivered or consumed at her cafe. A percentage of the profits is donated to a different charity each month. Shop B, G/F Universal Building, 5-13 New Street, Sheung Wan thegenieconcept.com
The joint venture by singer Adrienne Lau and models-cum-socialites Jacqueline, Lisa and Mona Ch'ng stocks up on Hollywood glamour and laid-back Los Angeles streetwear brands such as Kitson, Jovani and Haute Hippie, and opened in late March. 52 Hollywood Road, Central
Hilary Tsui Ho-ying's boutique offers hip brands such as KTZ, Rue du Mail and Tata Baby. It has expanded the original Causeway Bay boutique with a second branch in Tsim Sha Tsui. Tsui and her style-savvy friends model the clothes. ligerstore.com
Founded by model and television host Lisa Selesner, the online beauty and styling subscription service offers clients luxury products and spa coupons at a cost of HK$108 every month. glamabox.com
Model couple Jocelyn Luko and Anthony Sandstrom have invested in a health and wellness clinic, a mangosteen juice called Xango and affiliated beauty products. It all began when Luko's mother became ill, which focused their attention on health and wellness. lifeclinic.com.hk, xango.com.hk
Model and aspiring actress Angelababy Yeung Wing ventured into the food and beverage business in November. The third branch of her Baby Cafe opened yesterday in Tsim Sha Tsui's iSquare mall. babycafe.com.hk