While jetting from Milan to Paris to New York and working with the world’s most prominent photographers, supermodel Petra Nemcova never thought about becoming an entrepreneur.
She left her home in the Czech Republic when she was 18 to pursue her dream career of modeling, quickly rising to prominence in the fashion world and landing on the covers of magazines like Elle, Glamour and Sports Illustrated.
Now 34, Nemcova is still active as a model, but she's moved on to new endeavors. She’s a philanthropist, an ambassador-at-large for Haiti, her adopted home, and now a business owner.
“I think you have different dreams in different stages of your life,” she said in an interview with The Huffington Post.
Nemcova’s first entrepreneurial venture is a luxury home decor brand called Be The Light. The initial line is a collection of fancy candles, each representing a piece of a different country's culture. The Czech Holiday Cookie scent, for example, is meant to convey the warm feeling that families experience when they get together for the holidays.
The $98 candles, which are made in the U.S., will be available at Bergdorf Goodman starting in August, as well as online. The line will also be sold in Neiman Marcus stores in the first quarter of 2014. Bergdorf Goodman currently sells a host of different luxury candles from brands like Jo Malone and Atelier Cologne and ranging from $28 to $445, presenting plenty of competition for Be The Light.
The brand is also working on other luxury soft goods and accessories for the home, such as bed throws, pillows, vases, trays and picture frames.
"First we fill the room with the scent, and then with the treasures from different countries," Nemcova explained.
Nemcova has faced tragedy and a long, arduous road to this point. Her fiancé, photographer Simon Atlee, died in the 2004 Indonesia tsunami, and Nemcova, who held onto a palm tree for eight hours until she was rescued, suffered a broken pelvis and serious internal injuries from the storm.
A year later, she founded the Happy Hearts Fund. The nonprofit organization rebuilds schools and aids children following natural disasters. She also accepted a role as an Ambassador-at-Large for Haiti, where she now lives, working with business leaders like Salesforce CEO Mark Benioff to create jobs in the island nation.
Her approach to her new business is similar to her take on nonprofit work. “Creating a strategy for Happy Hearts Fund or creating an item -- all of that is, to me, fun," she said.
The move to start a business was a “natural progression," she said, but she didn’t go into the new venture blind. She had taken classes in marketing, branding, financing and negotiation strategies at Cambridge University and London Business School in the U.K., because those subjects applied to the nonprofit world. And through her diplomatic work, she learned how to meet with CEOs and forge partnerships.
“If you ask people in the fashion industry about old-timers like Cindy Crawford and Claudia Schiffer, they’ll say to be a successful model you have to be very business-minded,” Nemcova said. “I’m more or less an old-timer too.”
Now busier than ever, Nemcova says she’s still having fun, even if her work means she doesn't live the glamorous life of a supermodel every single day.