“Southland always makes sure your feet are on the ground”, says Melanie Craig on her design website. This ex St Peter’s pupil always had her sights set firmly on having her own business and in 2005 she embarked on her successful design business in the spare room of her Gertrude St home in Gore and you can’t get much more grounded than that.
Melanie describes herself as having been an “average pupil” at school, but one who was also self-reliant and confident. The Rodgers were a Gore family of Irish extraction and they chose St Peter’s for Melanie and her two brothers because of its ideal size, John Boyce’s forward direction and the stance St Peter’s held in the community.
Melanie joined St Peter’s in the 1st form, coming across from West Gore Primary. Not knowing many of the children in her form meant day one was a daunting day. “St Peter’s was a very welcoming school, I felt part of a wider family very quickly”. Although a non-Catholic, she enjoyed the religious values that were part of school life and the emphasis on kindness, friendship and trust. “I enjoyed the Catholic teaching during my time there and I knew that I wanted my children brought up in the Catholic school system too”.
A highlight of her time at school was when she was chosen to sail aboard “The Spirit of Adventure” sailing ship in the 5th form. She was very focussed on what she wanted to achieve and this came over in the letter she had to write on why she wanted to join the crew. Her passion at school was all forms of PE and she loved it when Mrs McDowall said the term focus was on gym or dancing as she would often get to demonstrate. She looked forward to the Eisteddfod every year, you will find her name on many of the dance trophies.
“I was itching to get out and start a business, I just didn’t know what”. Personal Training study at SIT meant that Melanie left school in 6th form, but PT had too much downtime for Melanie and with her creativity bubbling away, she took to a career as a hair stylist. She studied at Serville’s Hairdressing School in Auckland and found the life there brilliant and challenging. However, her heart was back in Southland with then boyfriend, Bradley and she moved back to Gore and a job initially sweeping up hair in The ‘Scape Hair Salon. Melanie loved hairdressing - the conversation, the people, the colleagues, creating shapes with moving hair… however suffering with eczema meant that this could only be a part time career. Also at the time, it paid the minimum wage and she wanted to buy a house. PPCS Waitane was a quick place to earn cash for young people.
At the same time, business ideas were still floating around in Melanie’s mind – but what form should they take?
Back at home, Melanie’s parents had always been involved in house renovations and having studied graphics at St Peter’s, she had developed an early interest in the design aspect of home improvement. Mark Robinson employed Melanie in Kitchen Design, setting the bar high and she thinks this was the best starting point in the world - meeting builders, understanding and respecting trades’ rules, stages of the build site and learning clients’ emotions through a build project.
However, designing kitchens working to a modular formula didn’t allow Melanie the flexibility in design she wanted, so she broke free and started a design company with her mother. “I did the math, it looked easy on paper… it was a completely different story”.
Gradually the business took off and by 2009 she had her own premises and had won her first award. This was followed in 2011 by becoming the youngest winner ever of NZ Supreme Designer of the Year, the award that took her to Milan. “Wow, you can get inspiration from everything in Italy”. She was to win the award again in 2014. She now has studio in Wanaka but her studio in Gore remains her favourite grounded point.
Now married to Bradley Craig, the couple have three daughters, Fenella, Lyla and Ivy. Bradley was also an ex SPC pupil and breakfast host on Hokonui Gold Radio. It was Bradley’s radio career that eventually took them to Wanaka, a perfect location, only two and a quarter hours from their home town.
Looking ahead, Melanie would like to remain in Wanaka and travel with her family. She wants her girls to have the same grounded upbringing that both she and Bradley enjoyed. If Bradley gets his way and the girls go to boarding school, they may follow their parents to St Peter’s.
Melanie feels that she would love to mentor other young people into their business, with the knowledge that she has gained by just doing it. “It’s not an easy road, it’s challenging, stressful and exciting. You are the face of your vision, only you can control where it goes”.