I am one never to look back but after speaking with Chantel I am really sorry that I did not grab the opportunity that landed in my inbox awhile ago when she was raising her first round from angels. When we finally spoke I could connect with everything she did in her retail/wholesale life before she became an entrepreneur starting Chloe and Isabel. Truth is, Chantal has been an entrepreneur her entire life and she just didn't know it until it was inevitable that is was time to go out on her own.
Chantel grew up in Orville located in Northern California raised by a single mom. Her Mom was the creative type always in and out of different jobs. Chantel knew in her gut that education was the key so she tutored kids and swept floors putting money away for a better education. At 13 she found the Mercy school which was about 3 1/2 hours away from where she lived. On her own she got into the school with a free ride, complete scholarship. She contacted a local church to see if they would post something so she could find a place to live. An older couple said they would take her in for $285 a month which would include room and board. Their kids had left the nest and they would be delighted to have someone come and live with them. They did and at 13 Chantel separated from her Mother and started a new life.
She continued to work as she always did. Her sophomore year in high school she worked for Paul Bean, an amazing artist and quadriplegic. She was his nurse and traveled with him.. An incredible experience and she made a lot of cash. Another summer she worked at a convalescent hospital. Another summer she sold Cutco knives and put away $30K in three months.
After graduating from Mercy she got into Santa Clara University. It was her number one choice. Yet because she was an emancipated minor she could not get financial aid. She had been on and off welfare programs her entire life when she was a child and she couldn't get financial aid. It made zero sense. So Chantel did what she always did, she figured it out. She worked hard and took out loans. She started off majoring in psychology but she took one economics class and fell in love. She switched her major to Business and Marketing with a minor in retail studies. She realized she had a head for business.
After graduating she went directly to the Target Corporation program for Mervyns. It was 1997. At Santa Clara the retail/management program had major heads of retail organizations that sat on the advisory panel that included leaders from the Gap and Macys. She felt that those connections and exposure helped her walk directly into the program at Target. She was initially in an area of Mervyns where she got to see all the different jobs and roles they played. Her boss allowed her to negotiate with new brands coming into the stores and build on that. It was at Mervyns where she got her first appreciation for technology. She became a distribution analyst for the jewelry department. She just knew how to identify opportunities by reading the reports. There wasn't a buyer in jewelry at the time so she just took it over. Quickly management started to notice what was happening in jewelry. She knew that going to the manufacturing side was where all the money is to be made but she decided that she just loved being a merchant and stayed at Mervyns for three years. She was making more than she had ever made so she stuck with it.
After three years she was offered the job as the buyer of the Sterling silver department for Macys in San Francisco. That is when all the consolidation started happening. This job was now responsible for buying for 300 stores. It was a dream job. She became the buyer of the year. She had planned on only staying for three years but she so loved what she was doing she had a hard time leaving. Finally she decided that she was just too comfortable and she had to leave for the next challenge.
Chantel became the director for all accessories at Old Navy. At the time it was a $350 million business. It was 2006. She launched jewelry for them. She was the youngest person in all the jobs she had so far. As Chantel explained it you are not surrounded by the highest caliber of people so if you understand numbers and merchandise strategy you just fly through the programs. Sadly retail no longer recruits the best and brightest. She stayed at Old Navy only one year because a woman came in from Australia to rebrand the company and there was massive turmoil and she realized she did not need to stay as there were other opportunities out there.
LMVH had been calling her for years. China was taking off and they wanted to build products for that market. She took the job of Director of luxury jewelry for international marketing strategies catering to the high end Asian consumer. The sales were ridiculous as that customer had an incredible appetite for luxury brands. She flew 100,000 miles in six months. The company decided to move their offices to and they asked Chantel to move from SF to Hong Kong. At the same time she was offered an opportunity to move to NYC and run Kenneth Coles jewelry business. She opted for the latter.
It was then that Chantel gave herself three years before starting her own business. Entrepreneurial aspirations were being to perculate in her head. Kenneth Cole had just taken the label back from Liz Claiborne and she was given a free ride to create a job there. She began to build relationships with all the factories in China to make the jewelry for Kenneth Cole. Everyone knew she wanted to start her own business and all the powers that be would say to her when you are ready come speak to me.
Ippolita offered her a lot of money to leave Kenneth Cole and go work for them. She had made a decision to start her own company as her next thing and told Ippolita she would come freelance for them as their chief merchant while she worked on her own business on the side. In the midst of this her husbands company was acquired and he lost his job. She had also just lost her mom to breast cancer and had a young baby but she had made this decision that now was the time to try and start a company. She told Ippolita she would work with them and give herself to November to get funding and if she did not she would just come and work for them full time. On her sons first birthday November 18th she signed her first term sheet and she was off to the races.
Chantel had a very specific idea of what she wanted Choe and Isabel to be. The economy was falling apart and it was hitting Generation Y so hard. Education had saved her so she wanted to create opportunities for others through direct sales targeting the 13-30 year old market. She had raised the money on a power point presentation and so she had to begin to build the brand. Direct sales in jewelry is usually tied to an archaic software. She wanted to break the mold and tie everything into not only sales but the integration of social media and team building. She took the first 9 months building tools that women could run their businesses on. They had set out to build a clear metrics but wanted to prove the model before they scaled. Chloe and Isabel designs every piece of jewelry that they sell, they don't own it until they sell it and they distribute all the jewelry for the sales team too. Each sales person designs their own platform with in the site to drive users to their boutique. They each curate their own site. Think of this like a modern day Avon.
In order to be a merchant on the site there is a process. You are interviewed, you have to select your own merchandise, you have to be able to build your own business on the site. Chantel is basically teaching women to become buyers and merchants on Chloe and Isabel's platform. Chloe and Isabel share 30% of the proceeds with each buyer.
The cost is low so they are able to give the consumers a great price. They have built a proprietary social buying platform empowering women to learn and build their own businesses. They have a facebook page where all the sellers connect. They have accepted 1000 merchants on the platform with over 30,000 people applying.
Chantel is giving back the years of knowledge she acquired to other young women who are trying to make their own mark in the world. She is enabling them to learn and make money. She truly gets excited when the women chat with each other about the money they made and the things they were able to do with that cash.
She has built a model that worked off line for years and brought it online, aka Avon. There is nothing quite like the business of retail/wholesale. I loved hearing about Chantels years in that world and how she finally made the leap to build her own. A real mentor and woman entrepreneur.