If someone had to suggest the intricate connection between one of South Africa’s best loved Kombucha brands and modelling, most people would raise an eyebrow in disbelief.
Model and Entrepreneur Alex Glenday is a woman that truly encompasses the qualities that success demands. Tenacity, perseverance, professionalism, creativity and an exemplary work ethic have always been apparent to her agencies throughout the world (and close to home - she has been with Boss for over 17 years and counting). Alex has grabbed every opportunity with unbridled enthusiasm. From travelling to new markets, doing runway shows, slogging away on long catalogue days, smashing it at TV Commercials to finally launching her own business; BREW Kombucha - All these challenges and experiences are testament to her CAN DO attitude and enthusiastic nature.
We asked her to share some of the knowledge she has gained over the years and to offer advice to younger models who might be dreaming of taking the plunge with starting a business of their very own.
Tell us how the idea for Brew Kombucha came about?
I had an interest in bringing coconut water to South Africa when I was 23 and living in London, it was something I just loved, so I guess my head was in beverages already. When I moved to New York with a new agency, I started drinking kombucha every day. I had my first one on set for a magazine when everyone on the team ordered them in and suggested I try it. There were so many amazing flavors and It was super energizing and moreish. A magical kick in your belly that kept me fired up through a busy day. I missed this daily probiotic routine when I got back to Cape Town later that year. I had decided I wanted to start a kombucha business before I ever even tried to make my first batch in my Mum's kitchen. It was easy to see an opportunity back home when it was doing so well in the US already and most people in Cape Town had no idea what kombucha was yet! Then I lived in Ibiza for some months after a catalogue job had taken me back to Europe and realized whilst I was there, that what I needed to do, was come back to Cape Town and get busy with my own business. A Rooibos Kombucha brand, gave it a lovely local twist.
What made you decide that being an entrepreneur was something that you wanted to pursue?
There is a lot that is out of your control in the modelling industry. You can put in your best effort and keep your head on your shoulders and be true to yourself, but the truth is, that most of what happens in terms of success is not up to you. You can grow and understand it better and play the game better, but like a good card game, there is only so much strategy you can use and then it's just luck of the draw and patience. I wanted to do something else too, that I could concentrate on and really immerse myself in, that wasn't about letting someone else tell me I was good enough or the right size and something that allowed me to be distracted from the industry enough on a day to day basis to make sure I felt happy and balanced. I had also been exposed to so many wonderfully creative and successful people on all my travels, and soon realized that they were good at what they did, because they weren't chasing tails or following trends, they were setting them. I liked the idea of pulling focus on something enough to see how far putting your energy in one place will take you. You don't need someone to tell you that you are good enough, you just need to feel confident that you are.
Did you study anything specific?
Ha! Yes I did, I studied English Literature and Psychology. Linda (Boss Models) had always encouraged me to get a degree, and have something to fall back on whilst pursuing a modelling career. This was great advice! I took ages to complete the degree, jumping from one country to the next, but I loved the process and I think distance learning has developed hugely even in the last 5 years to make communication way easier than it was. I used to dedicate an extra suitcase to my psychology textbooks!
What would you say are three key personality traits for an entrepreneur?
You need a 1) a slightly risk-taking personality, which I think is in part due to naivety! But 2) you also need to be able to take it on the chin. That's another place I think modelling really helps prep you for; high-stress situations, like walking onto a runway in Louboutins in front of a wall of cameras! The casting process makes interviews a singe in the business world because you quickly learn to read a situation, know how to engage meaningfully with someone you don't know and how to handle rejection like water off a duck's back. The last personality trait I think would be to be 3) persistent. Nothing happens overnight and you need to keep gunning for it even when the novelty of your idea wears off, the graft is real!
Did you need a lot of start-up capital to get the business going? If so – how did you approach investors? I often use the analogy of a cookie monster, for how it felt to give finance to my business. This was because my modelling income funded both me and building the business alone for 3 years. I felt like I kept feeding the cookie monster and he kept getting bigger and more hungry! In the 4th year, I approached my family for some loans on bigger machinery. They knew me and how much legwork I had put in already before they extended the offers. But finally, a year later, I did need external investment. My advice here would be you need to have your accounts and finance for the business in perfect condition for anyone to consider investing. Get a good accountant to help you as soon as you can, it's harder to sort everything out retrospectively. You also need to make sure that you are doing things your competitors aren't and that you are potentially the best at what you do and know why! Also, find the right business partners! I have been so blessed mine. Make sure they share the same dream space as you. Make sure you know what they are bringing to the table, is it just the capital or is it time, passion, skills, and experience? Decide what you are looking for and make sure all the conversations are had upfront, even if that might seem difficult.
Do you feel that your modelling was a benefit to you starting your business? If so – why? In so many ways, which I think I have answered in part above. Confidence, experience, exposure, and financial independence have been some of the results of starting a business with a modelling career under my belt. I wouldn't change my modelling experiences for anything. I don't know who I would have been without them, except that I am stronger for them.
How old were you when you started modelling?
I was a tiny 14 years old, a long white skinny noodle, with a bush of red hair and braces!!!
Where did you come up with the name BREW? Its such an inspired brand name!
In many ways, I wish I had chosen a name that was less related to the product itself, but it is much a part of who we are now! Kombucha is kind of like a beer brew, but it is also made with tea, and you brew a pot of tea and so voila! It's rather simple.
I see that your brand is the only certified organic locally produced kombucha – what does that exactly mean?
This is a great question and the answer is so unknown in the South African context. Certified Organic means that every single one of our suppliers has been audited by an organic certifying body to ensure that they use no harmful chemicals in the way that they farm. Then, once all the ingredients have certificates, our brewery and distribution are audited to check if we also follow organic practices. We go through the process annually and it is both expensive and rigorous. But we can be sure of what we are selling and we can trace it right back to the source! Why it is important for our health, is that pesticides are water-soluble, which means if the tea or sugarcane crops we use are sprayed with pesticides, they will end up in our end product! What you trust and buy on the shelf, believing it be a health product has little tracking without a certification badge to prove it. Organic is not the whole story, and whilst there are some things that are less harmful than others, South Africa is very far behind on the organic sector. You will see a lot more bio or organic stores and brands in places like the US and Europe where it is a common education. That being said, business for good comes in many forms, and stories about adapting what would otherwise be considered food waste, or good social stories around farming communities are also important to pursue and support and we are open to exploring these stories too.
One of the aspects that we love about BREW is the environmental awareness, from the packaging to the recycling and green initiatives and charities. Can you tell us a little more about the environmentally sustainable business model? Do you feel this is an achievable goal for all businesses? Isn’t it expensive?
Sustainability means that something can last. If the business can be financially successful, the activity of taking the time to do it right is never more expensive. You save in the long run by not offsetting and or retrospectively trying to fix where you went wrong. I have an attitude to do it properly or don't do it at all. This has perhaps in some ways held me back from moving quickly, but it feels solid and strong and makes me feel happy! Ultimately what you create should make you feel happy and proud of what you stand for. There are somethings that you can't control, or where a better option is impossible to find. But where you can find one, and you are are able to take it, the value of your end product will be worth that much more to the consumer. Bigger companies are without a doubt recognizing that the world needs some give as well as take, its the global dialect of our generation. People are looking to spend their money on things that they can trust have been kind. Sustainable business means it will sustain into the future! Ultimately the environment is what supports all social and economic success. It needs to be the first consideration.
What are the biggest changes that you would you like to see with your competitors?
I hope all my competitors evolve and develop to improve the industry category. The industry has grown really fast and is somewhat saturated in South Africa and I think that some of the output on the shelf has given kombucha a bad first impression! I hope that buyers can be discerning and careful in the choices about their health and impact through consumption, yet remain open and experimental with their purchasing power.
What does upliftment mean to you? And how do you incorporate it into your business model and personal life?
Focus your efforts, do a lot in one space instead of spreading your energy or generosity thin. It's amazing how far it can take you. Upliftment means to develop and elevate. In my personal life that is an internal process, which involves trying to be content at any given stage. In my business life, it means encouraging our team and suppliers to keep swimming upstream to create something full of direction and purpose together.
What advice would you give to younger models hoping to start their own businesses?
Don't do what everyone else is doing. If everyone is already doing it you have missed the trend wave. You want to be the first to ride it! You have things that are unique and good about you, make sure that they thrive in your business, and tell a good story. Your product or service has to be good, but the story is what everyone is buying. Lastly, you can model and run a business! Do both, there is enough flexibility when you start, and the right modelling jobs will always be worth it.
If you could go back in time and give your younger self one tip on health and wellness that you wish you had started years ago – what would it be?
Relax and eat more plants. Your body has an amazing ability to remain constant and stable if you give it the benefit of the doubt. You only have one vessel to carry you your whole life. Love your health and your body dearly, happiness and health start in your gut! So listen to it.
What does health mean to you?
Your brain and your body are one thing. your mental health and happiness hold hands with your body. Health means looking after both!
We couldn’t be prouder of Alex if we tried. Its clearly been one rollercoaster of a journey for her. From juggling studies, travel, modelling to building an entire business on the backbone of a good idea.
Looking back its incredible to see how, given the right circumstances and opportunities (and most importantly the right attitude) the sky truly is the limit for each and every one of us.
Our biggest limitation is our imagination.
We hope you find Alex’s story as inspiring as we do.
Stay tuned for a special WELLNEST x BREW KOMBUCHA offering from July 1st.