As the winner of Al Tamimi Investments' The Big Start competition last year, Stefanie Ost has kept the momentum going with the launch of her new company SO Famous. The former model, who is originally from Germany, has already lined up partnerships with the New York-based Wilhelmina Models and Finishing Academy UK, a leading etiquette specialist, to help her fledgling firm expand around the region.
How would you describe your financial journey so far?
I have three phases in my life. The first year, as I like to call it, was my teenage years when I just started as a model. I made just enough money to survive, to pay my bills. I started modelling when I was 16 in Germany. I was still living with my parents. The second year, I was working as a successful model, was earning enough, was able to stand on my own feet and be financially independent from my parents. That was between 22 or 23 years and when I was 26. I was travelling to Milan as a model, to Istanbul, Greece, Paris and London, which are all very competitive markets. I also did TV commercials in Hong Kong. The third year was the launch of SO Famous. Every business needs some time to break even and reach a good return on investment. I am only at the beginning of my journey.
Would you consider yourself a spender or a saver?
I am a little bit of both. As a woman, you always need to spend on clothes, bags and grooming. I have a weakness for sports cars. Now I own a Porsche Turbo 911. But I always make sure I am never in debt. From my second [phase of life], I have been setting aside some money for security. That is the German side in me that I got from my parents. I am not spending all the money I earn. It is quite typical for Germans to be reasonable, thinking about the future.
What is your philosophy regarding money?
I spend what I can afford. I was quite good at budgeting from the time I was working as a fashion model. Now I am using this skill for business. The difficulty about modelling is that you might be earning a lot of money one month and the next month, nothing much.
How did you come to be in the UAE?
I have been in the UAE for five years. I came here for a six-week modelling contract. I liked it so much I extended it and then decided to stay. I studied media and communication at Middlesex University in Dubai and graduated last year. That is when I won the Big Start competition. SO Famous has three divisions. One is a modelling division, which has partnered with Wilhelmina Models, one of the top three modelling agencies worldwide. We are opening under their name a modelling agency in Dubai, the first and only international modelling agency in the UAE. As part of it, we have modelling courses to train new talent and photoshoots for models and women who want to have their pictures taken professionally. The second is a makeover division that will offer fashion consultations for makeovers. We believe every woman is beautiful in her own individual way. Our goal is to enhance her natural features and teach her how she can achieve this make-up look every day. The same goes for hairstyling and clothes. The third is an etiquette division that will offer social as well as business etiquette courses. It will teach how to have a well-rounded image. For business etiquette, it will teach how to give presentations, communication, leadership skills [as well as] a proper handshake. This division will launch in January 2013.
Where do you see your company going in the next five years?
I want to focus on becoming sustainable in Dubai and in a few years, I want to see the company expanding regionally. We have plans to open a branch in Lebanon and in the long term, I would like to see the company have branches in Milan and Los Angeles. Russia is a very good market and Asia since it is booming.
Did you make any financial mistakes along the way?
No real financial mistakes. May be buying a bag or a pair of expensive shoes that did not fit me perfectly.
Do you believe in planning for the future?
Of course. Unless you plan, you will never achieve your goals.
Is money important to you?
When it comes to earnings, I am spending 40 per cent on living and 30 per cent being saved, while the remaining 30 per cent are used for shopping. Also, when it comes to savings, 40 per cent I would use as pure savings. When it comes to an investment, I would consider around 30 to 40 per cent and the rest for leisure spending.
What is your idea of financial freedom?
The freedom to be able to afford anything, any time.
What do you enjoy spending money on?
Clothes, bags, cars, watches and shoes.