Rags to riches

Rags to riches

Melody Ma overcame poverty and hopelessness to succeed in her passions for art and fashion

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Melody Ma_L
Photo: Nora Tam/SCMP
Melody Ma does much of her creative work in an unusual place: a crowded MTR compartment. Each morning she can be seen drawing in her notebook to kill time on her way to work. But it's more than a habit; it has helped to turn her life around.

Melody was once a typical "lost" youth, with low self-esteem and no goals in life. She came from a broken family, had been bullied at school and was a regular underachiever. She says she had no idea what to do with her life.

"At that time I was working for St James' Settlement [a local charity]," she recalls. "My colleagues told me there was a local artist in the same building working on art education projects. So I decided to show him my work. To my surprise, the artist, John Lau, loved it. He told me I had real talent and suggested that I publish a book.

"He was the first person to encourage me to pursue what I love doing. I immediately enrolled on a Higher Diploma in Fine Arts to learn more. With Lau's support, I published an autobiography along with my art work in 2005."

Yet publishing her book didn't mean it would be easy suddenly for Melody. "I was given some illustration work by a magazine, but that's all," she says. "No one else was interested in my artwork. But I was not going to back down. I worked as a receptionist to support myself and pay my tuition fees. I believed something good was going to come along sooner or later."

In 2009, it did. Melody had her big break. She quit her job and started working as a fashion designer, fashion writer and art teacher. "I've been making clothes for myself since I was in secondary school because I wanted to look different, and had been writing a fashion blog to share my designs with others," she says. "Then I started Princess of Melody, my online fashion store. One of my clients was an editor on a local newspaper. She loved my clothes and invited me to write a fashion column. Then John Lau started an art class and asked me to be one of the teachers. I felt blessed that my life was finally coming together."

Melody is now an established artist, but she still continues to draw on the MTR. "I must have filled about 50 notebooks already, but I'll keep drawing," she says.

And while she no longer needs to report for work on time like a regular employee, she is more disciplined than ever about working. "I am very strict with my time management," she says. "I wake up early in the morning before work every day," she says. "I am always on time for meetings. I eat right, and I sleep right. Now that I have the chance, I am dedicated to giving to art."

Melody hopes her artwork and her rags-to-riches story can inspire young people to pursue their own dreams. Social workers have invited her to visit schools and youth centres to share her success story.

"Like many youngsters, I used to live a pointless life," she says. "My background gave me every excuse to underachieve, but I learned if you try hard enough, you can succeed, no matter where you come from."

Melody's "Princess Melody Ma" exhibition, at My Gallery, 26 Western Street, Sai Wan, ends on March 8

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