Back to Listing
02 March 2012
About four years ago just as the recession hit America, Melissa George, the Australian actress and one of the stars of the recent smash hit ABC TV drama “The Slap”, was walking along Madison Avenue in New York, worrying.
She was wearing long dress pants (which were expensive and of which she had decided to buy only one pair rather than spend unnecessarily), and they were about to get very scruffy around the hem. Questions preoccupied her: What would happen when she changed into flats for the walk to the subway before changing back into her heels for the meeting she was attending? Should she have tailored the pants to suit the flats and when she put her heels back on look as if the tide had gone out? Or leave the length and walk around with bunches of rolled fabric around her ankles; or worse still, destroy the pant legs dragging them along the ground?
“This was a recession,” Melissa explains, without a hint of cynicism. “I wanted to behave appropriately – to be a ‘recessionist’. I only had the one pair of pants and I needed two hems.”
And that was Melissa’s “light bulb moment”.
She set about developing an adhesive button style product that would allow her to snap up the hem to suit flat shoes and unsnap it to give her back 7 inches for her heels. Over the phone from London, where she is based for the next six months shooting a spy drama for HBO with the working title, ‘Nemesis’, there’s excitement and exasperation in her voice as she explains her new business ventures, and how busy life can get.
Tonight she has off (when we speak, it’s 9pm in London) and she thinks everyone must have heard because “they’re all ringing”. She warns me she’s expecting a particular call and will need to take it if it comes in, but that she’ll call back.
True to her warning, the bleeps of a second call sound and she hangs up with an “I’ve gotta go”. I wait apprehensively. It’s very easy for busy people to get caught up in tangents and not find the space to come back.
Minutes later, my phone rings. Without a break, Melissa launches back into how her business, the ‘Hemming My Way’ product, got its legs.
“This was an idea I knew I had to move forward on. There was something pushing me,” says Melissa, who then goes onto explain that it was an article in “Inventors Digest” and her products endorsement through “O” magazine and Oprah Winfrey that really got the ball rolling. From the “Inventors Digest” article an infomercial company contacted Melissa through her tax lawyer wanting to put together a ‘1800-number’ online shopping commercial.
“We took the risk,” says Melissa of her and her business partner’s decision to go mass with the product. “We played a few companies against one another, got the commercial made, went to air on QVC [the world’s largest televised home shopping network] and it was a hit. Then ‘O’ magazine picked up the product and I met Oprah at the Met Gala in New York. A friend of mine literally pushed me into Oprah as we were climbing the steps into the dinner. There was nowhere for me to go but to say ‘Hi, I’m Melissa George and I invented Hemming My Way’.”
From Oprah’s initial surprise at finding Melissa was the inventor of a product that nearly every one of her staff used, Oprah then approached Melissa to do a feature shoot based on the actress as inventor.
Hemming My Way is now in 21 countries and available in Australia through Target and K-Mart stores. Melissa and her business partner, longtime friend and scriptwriter Kara Harshbarger, have sold “$15million in retail in 10 months” from an idea Melissa says: “was so small and so random, but never easy.”
“It’s taken us three years to get where we are and everything that could go wrong seemed to… even today, everything has gone wrong,” explains Melissa. “Our product delivery to QVC has gone wrong. The truck’s gone missing. The box opened. I’m getting these messages on set, running around playing a spy and jumping off buildings. Then I’m calling my manufacturers in China to try and solve the problem.
“People don’t want to be around me right now because I am an absolute volcano and a storm.”
On top of her ‘spy’ work, Melissa is developing three other products for the business. One top-secret invention involves the heads of chemistry from New York University and Columbia.
“Nobody knows the business is me. I don’t put my name on it. That’s not the point,” explains Melissa, confessing she has enough problems with her image and walking down a street without the added pressure of living up to the ‘business women’ moniker.
“The business stuff is something I am quietly proud of. What I’ve discovered is it’s really important to say: Yes. Yes, changes your life. I’ve been saying yes all year and it has been amazing. I’ve just named our company Fix. My plan is to open retail stores that you can walk into and have them Fix the problem in your life: your pants, the gaping button on a shirt, you name it.”
Melissa George grew up in Western Australia, the middle child of three. She remembers sitting at a sewing machine from the age of 9 engrossed in making her own costumes: swimming costumes, dance costumes, roller skating costumes, and her older sister’s friends thinking she was “a bit weird”.
A champion roller skater, Melissa left home at 16 to follow modeling work and in 1993 landed the role of Angel to Dieter Brummer’s Shane Parish back on the still-running TV series “Home and Away”. In 2011, she received a Golden Globe nomination for the part she played in the American TV series “In Treatment”. Last year’s “The Slap”, is another of her proudest moments and one of her first roles back in Australia for some time. The experience, she says, with the character, the cast and on set, was fantastic.
Acting, she believes, is very personal and talking about it as a job she finds tricky, because at the end of the day it’s a passion for her.
“The fact that they pay us as actors,” says Melissa, “is hilarious, because I can’t believe they consider this a job. It’s not a job. It’s this incredible force of emotion. It’s a bizarre existence.”
Recently, she has come to the understanding that having her new business succeed and knowing it’s hers has provided her with the space to be able to pick and choose her roles. Not, as she is quick to point out, that the company is doing anything more than meeting its costs just yet, but “financial stability does give more flexibility and maturity allows me to take deeper roles.”
In the end, though, making successful choices comes down to “having taste and retaining control”.
“My manager has great taste and it was her that pushed me to try for ‘In Treatment’,” says Melissa. “I was shooting [the film] ‘30 days of night’ and was exhausted. She stepped in and said, ‘I know you’re tired but get off your butt and go do this, it’s a fantastic opportunity’.”
Juggling the processes involved in guiding her ‘Hemming My Way’ business toward further success, while developing her other business ideas and getting on with her acting career, doesn’t come without its stresses.
Making lists, she finds, alleviates the pressure. Lists help her run the day-to-day of her hectic schedule, putting things in perspective and helping her prioritise.
“When my assistant gets in and sees the list, I can see her face fall,” says Melissa. (She has been making a very long list throughout our entire conversation, she tells me.)
“It [the list] clarifies where I am and makes sense of my days, which can get so crazy. And I love ticking things off,” she finishes.
And with that, Melissa announces she has to go. In the background I can hear someone calling her. UK calling. Australia – over and out.