A Kiwi beauty who quit her corporate career to become a model was told she was "too old" to work in the industry at the age of 21.

Saphira Tuffery approached about a dozen agencies without success after leaving her job as an executive with fashion house Guess in Melbourne.

She was taken on by Scene Model Management, but months passed without her landing any work.

"They like to put their time and effort into girls that are young. I was about to turn 22 and in model years that's getting on," she said.

"It was hard. I'd been questioning if I'd done the right thing by leaving my job. I probably wouldn't be able to get back into the level I'd been at."

But the former Howick College student persevered and is moving to Shanghai next week after being signed by top Chinese agency Jastar.

"In Asia, they like cartoon-looking models with fair skin, big eyes, big features, but quite petite," Tuffery said.

Jastar's clients include Dior, Prada, Loreal, Cartier and Calvin Klein.

Tuffery said she would earn about $3000 for a day's work.

The modelling industry is renowned for signing young girls. Kiwi supermodel Rachel Hunter started at 17 and Kate Moss was discovered at 14.

Penny Pickard, 29, remains one of New Zealand's most successful models but was appearing on magazine covers at 16.

New Zealand's Next Top Model won't accept applications from women aged over 25.

The creative director of AUT University's advertising department, Paul White, said the agencies that rejected Tuffery were out of touch with the needs of the industry.

He pointed to Dove's "real beauty" campaign, which used models of all ages, shapes and sizes and helped double sales.

"Advertising agencies are always looking for people who are new and different. We don't want to use the same people every time."

Celebrity mum Sally Ridge, whose daughter Jaime models part-time, said she would prefer to see slightly older models in magazines.

"You have a better body at 22. You're more fully developed," she said.

Ridge added that the modelling industry was not always a safe place for a young girl to be.

"You're exposed to a whole different world [and] there's the whole drug thing. Before Jaime was 18, I'd go along with her to shoots. Luckily she's got her head screwed on and wouldn't go near that stuff."

Tuffery was so determined to succeed in the modelling world that she spent $4000 on a teeth-straightening treatment which uses clear, removable braces.

"I was very self-conscious when it came to smiling because my teeth were crooked. I never felt like I could be a real model."

She never expected to land the Jastar contract after meeting the scout wearing jeans, a grey sweatshirt and flat shoes.

"My walk was a shambles. Another model lent me her heels but I had to wear socks because the shoes were so big they kept slipping. It was a complete disaster."

Tuffery plans to document her adventure on her blog "Made In China". She has no Mandarin or Cantonese but is hoping to learn the basics.

Kiwis show no signs of ending their love affair with New Zealand's Next Top Model.

TV3 said that more than 27 per cent of the people in its target 18-49 demographic watched the opening episode of the third season on Friday night, up 10 per cent on the first show last year.

Is 22 too old to model?
Fashion blogger Isaac Hindin Miller
"If you look at the top 50 models in the world you'll find most are over 22. But generally speaking it's late in the game to be starting out. I think it's great she got a contract in China but it's not Milan and it's not Paris."

WORLD designer Denise L'Estrange-Corbet
"Yes it is. Modelling is particularly cruel. You can still get work but every year you've got another generation coming up in the ranks. Girls are starting at 15 these days, learning how to walk and gaining confidence. You're more malleable when you're young."

NZ's Next Top Model judge Sara Tetro
"I'd have to see her skin. It's a difficult thing to quantify. Does she have an amazing body? Does she have a great face? There was a time when 22 was too old, in the 80s when the heroin-chic look was big. It's more balanced now."