From Model To Mogul: 5 Models Talk Business

Once a model, NOT ALWAYS A MODEL. Having graced the Irish modelling scene for years, five women have segued into new careers. SARAH BREEN reports


There is more to excelling in the competitive but close-knit modelling industry than being a perfect ten (although that is a prerequisite too). Models today must not only look like ideal genetic specimens, they also need to be reliable, resourceful, determined and hard-working, not to mention, affable. It also helps if their social media numbers are in the thousands. And unlike more traditional careers, modelling comes with an expiration date. So how are modern models ensuring they have a safety net when their agency inevitably stops calling? They’re using their considerable fame and business prowess to branch out, often into industries they’ve touched on during their catwalk careers.

Take Yomiko Chen, for example. One of Ireland’s most recognisable faces, she and her husband Iain Conway are behind Dublin’s highly successful Kokoro Sushi Bento franchise, currently expanding (as is their family, with baby Lilisue due any day now). Then there’s Roz Purcell, the former Miss Universe whose Natural Born Feeder blog and cookbook have taken the food world by storm. Karen Fitzpatrick, the Kilkenny woman with razor sharp cheekbones, is now just as likely to be applying make-up on set as wearing it for the camera, while Dee Buckley’s love of yoga and health food inspired her to open Urban Health in Ranelagh with her husband, Darragh. Meanwhile, Alison Canavan, the mother of reinvention, has become a wellness expert whose first book, Minding Mum, is out now. Simultaneously juggling several different careers might sound stressful to some, but we discovered that for these women, being versatile and adaptable is second nature …


After first visiting Ireland eleven years ago, Chen, who is half Japanese and half Chinese, became one of the country’s most in-demand models, and has since put down roots with her husband and business partner, Iain.

“As a model you’re always concerned with eating low calorie food. Sushi was my go-to until I got pregnant. Since I can no longer eat raw fish, we’ve added The Ramen Bar to the South William Street branch of Kokoro Sushi Bento. The reaction has been positive – Irish people are adventurous eaters.

I’m very much a people person so I look after the front of house. Iain is usually in the kitchen. In the past two years, we’ve opened two new city centre locations. We are always very busy but it works since I’ve scaled back on modelling. I’m a perfectionist so I never switch off. It is very much a family business – when you are passionate about something, it takes over your life. There really is no balance. We are ready for our daughter to arrive, but I know being a mother won’t slow me down.”



An encounter with longtime blogger Imen McDonnell (Modern Farmette) spurred Purcell to start her own cookery blog, which has since spawned a cookbook and a pop-up restaurant that raised ¤11,000 for charity.

“Food is always a favourite topic among models – you either can’t have it, or you’re blessed and you can eat whatever you like. About six years ago, I decided to stop crash dieting. When I started adapting recipes to make them healthier, I realised I could have my cake and eat it too.

I’m a creative person so the instability of being self-employed doesn’t bother me. My sister has come on board to help me stay organised because I’ve discovered that delegation is really the only way I can get everything done.

My second book will have a Natural Born Feeder ethos, but the theme will be different. Doing the pop-up restaurant was fun, but a permanent eatery? It would need to be my only priority. There are too many things to tick off my list first.”



Working regularly with top Irish and international make-up artists, Fitzpatrick rekindled her  teenage love of all things beauty. She now splits her time between both sides of the camera.

“There are many misconceptions about working in the fashion and beauty industries but I knew exactly what I was getting into before I started making the transition into make-up artistry. There is rarely anything glamorous about being on set – it can be back-breaking, and the hours are long.

My husband is also self-employed so we are never off the clock. My phone is always by my side. When you’re in this industry, everyone is a potential client and word-of-mouth is an incredibly powerful marketing tool for me.

Women are very knowledgeable about beauty. I’m constantly buying new products and replenishing my kit, which can be expensive, but clients expect it and it is vital to maintain my reputation. You need to invest in yourself to ensure longevity.”



Fitness fanatic Buckley started practicing yoga while modelling, primarily as a way to stay fit, but it sparked a change in her thought process, her philosophy on life, her eating habits and her career.

“Living in Australia for several years, I was influenced by how seriously people there take their health and nutrition. That’s where my husband Darragh and I conceived the plan for Urban Health, our café and store in Ranelagh. We wanted to offer food and treats that are healthy and freshly made, with no additives or preservatives. Even the coffee we serve is organic.

We have had an amazing first year in business, but it was challenging. We are constantly working – on social media and answering emails. The hours are long but it’s incredibly rewarding when your vision comes alive. And the support and feedback have been great. Our future plans include using the space upstairs for yoga and other events, and expanding into a second location. We’re running corporate wellness workshops now too. Employers are realising that investing in their staff means less stress and more productivity, and we’re more than happy to help them.”



Having modelled for 23 years, including a stint while living in New York, Canavan has become resourceful and resilient. Rejection is, after all, part of the job.

“My son James is five now but I suffered from post-natal depression after his birth. Wellness is something I’m passionate about and the more I write about it, the more I realise that we treat people with nutrition or medication or exercise but we’re not joining the dots.

Before my book, Minding Mum, was published I decided that I needed to reinvent myself. The challenge was try and get people to see me as more than “just a model,” that I have a voice too. I went back to college to study nutrition and I knew that I wanted to refocus and rebrand.

I’m moving into areas I haven’t touched before. My live shows, The Full 360, are going to educate women on everything from natural beauty to meditation. I’m a wellness coach now so I want to share what I’ve learned.” 


Sarah Breen

This article appeared in a previous issue, for more features like this, don’t miss our May issue, out Thursday May 5.

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