#SWAAYthenarrative
Copyright Benjamin Decoin

My Entrepreneurial Journey From Miss France To The American Dream

4 Min Read
Business

Growing up in Benac, a small village in the South of France, my parents instilled the importance of natural and healthy living in me from a young age. My father is a white French man and my mother is an African American, so as the only mixed family in the village, I always felt... different.

I was an average, tall, skinny, curly-haired girl, who watched the Miss France competition every year, dreaming of the gorgeous gowns, the pretty girls and the luxurious destiny that awaited them.

Fast forward to 2008— after a bet with my college friends and with my mother's disapproval in tow— I entered the Miss France competition. The competition was tough, but I proudly finished as the 79th Miss France.

I was the first dual French/American citizen and the fifth mixed girl to win this pageant. The experience turned into the greatest education and adventure, giving me the courage and strength to pursue my dreams.

Damn, what a journey my American Dream has been!

After a year of traveling to different countries, attending fashion shows and lavish parties, it all stopped.

A new queen was crowned, and as fast as it came it went away to another girl. I tried to enter the modeling business in Paris, but it was 2010 and opportunities for mixed-race models were limited. To complicate matters further, the "beauty pageant girl" stigma really took its toll. It was like I was below everyone else in the industry.

Finally, in 2011, I felt that my best option was to travel to the U.S and explore my American roots — nervous that I'd just left everything I'd worked so hard for back in France, but yearning to explore my mother's country and achieve the American Dream. I quickly signed with Elite Model Management, modeled and learned so much about the beauty industry all from in front of the camera.

In 2013, I welcomed my son, Matis, and my real entrepreneurial journey began. As a new mother, I was so careful about what I put on his body. I was dissatisfied with the available options in the U.S, and, so every year when I traveled home to France, I would stock up on French personal care products for the both of us to last us until my next trip home.

And, that's when the idea hit me. Not only was I dissatisfied with the personal care options for my son, but my U.S. family and friends were frustrated too. They would always ask me about my French beauty secrets, and the famous "je ne sais quoi" of Parisian women. The mission was simple: combine French beauty savoir-faire and natural ingredients, but make it accessible for all. And, thus, Mademoiselle Provence was born.

There were plenty of times that I could have given up, but I persevered.

With the help of my co-founder, and now friend, Helene Marceau, we turned this dream into a reality. Helene and I dedicated ourselves to perfecting the formulas of our ten products, from the scent and textures to packaging and, of course, the ingredients. We wanted to produce something that we were proud of and that was safe for everyday use. Two years (and hundreds of samples) later, we were ready to launch.

What no one tells you is that, while launching a business is thrilling, it is also extremely challenging— emotionally and physically. Even in the best conditions, it takes a lot of perseverance, hope, and motivation to create something from the ground up.

With the lack of a college degree or any formal training in the beauty industry, I constantly felt different and out of place, just like when I was a little mixed-race girl in France dreaming of beauty pageants. My insecurity of being stereotyped as "just a pretty pageant girl" presented itself at every turn, but I used other people's doubts as my motivation. I trusted my instincts. I had everything to learn: how to create a business plan, how to formulate products, how to manage people, and, finally, how to sell.

There were plenty of times that I could have given up, but I persevered. I decided to dedicate myself and my next two years to Mademoiselle Provence— my success would also be my son's success.

Sleepless nights, endless wondering about every tomorrow, and stressful ten-minute buyer meetings took their toll on us. But, Helene and I both knew Mademoiselle Provence was worth fighting for. We trusted each other to push our vision forward no matter the cost. I could only go so far alone, but, together, I knew we could bring this brand global. The days she was down and unsure, I was there to lift her up. And when I felt like it was over, she encouraged me to keep hoping. We persisted and remained true to our brand mission of offering quality products at affordable prices that deliver a pleasurable experience. Every product launch, customer review, retail store, and company employee has brought us one step closer to the Mademoiselle Provence dream, and it was important to recognize and to celebrate each milestone along the way.

Today, Mademoiselle Provence is an international company, available in France, Italy, Croatia, South Korea, Canada, and the USA with new retailer plans on the horizon and two new products launching in Fall 2020. And we have no plans on slowing down any time soon! Mademoiselle Provence is also working to raise funding, working to finalize a round of $1M this year.

We haven't reached our final destination yet, but looking back at where I was ten years ago, I can only think…

Damn, what a journey my American Dream has been!

How to Learn Much More From the Books You Read

It is one thing to read and another thing to understand what you are reading. Not only do you want to understand, but also remember what you've read. Otherwise, we can safely say that if we're not gaining anything from what we read, then it's a big waste of time.

Whatever you read, there are ways to do so in a more effective manner to help you understand better. Whether you are reading by choice, for an upcoming test, or work-related material, here are a few ways to help you improve your reading skills and retain that information.

Read with a Purpose

Never has there been a shortage of great books. So, someone recommended a great cookbook for you. You start going through it, but your mind is wandering. This doesn't mean the cookbook was an awful recommendation, but it does mean it doesn't suit nor fulfill your current needs or curiosity.

Maybe your purpose is more about launching a business. Maybe you're a busy mom and can't keep office hours, but there's something you can do from home to help bring in more money, so you want information about that. At that point, you won't benefit from a cookbook, but you could gain a lot of insight and find details here on how-to books about working from home. During this unprecedented year, millions have had to make the transition to work from home, and millions more are deciding to do that. Either way, it's not a transition that comes automatically or easily, but reading about it will inform you about what working from home entails.

Pre-Read

When you pre-read it primes your brain when it's time to go over the full text. We pre-read by going over the subheadings, for instance, the table of contents, and skimming through some pages. This is especially useful when you have formal types of academic books. Pre-reading is a sort of warm-up exercise for your brain. It prepares your brain for the rest of the information that will come about and allows your brain to be better able to pick the most essential pieces of information you need from your chosen text.

Highlight

Highlighting essential sentences or paragraphs is extremely helpful for retaining information. The problem, however, with highlighting is that we wind up highlighting way too much. This happens because we tend to highlight before we begin to understand. Before your pages become a neon of colored highlights, make sure that you only highlight what is essential to improve your understanding and not highlight the whole page.

Speed Read

You might think there have been no new ways to read, but even the ancient skill of reading comes up with innovative ways; enter speed reading. The standard slow process shouldn't affect your understanding, but it does kill your enthusiasm. The average adult goes through around 200 to 250 words per minute. A college student can read around 450 words, while a professor averages about 650 words per minute, to mention a few examples. The average speed reader can manage 1,500 words; quite a difference! Of course, the argument arises between quality and quantity. For avid readers, they want both quantity and quality, which leads us to the next point.

Quality Reading

Life is too short to expect to gain knowledge from just one type of genre. Some basic outcomes of reading are to expand your mind, perceive situations and events differently, expose yourself to other viewpoints, and more. If you only stick to one author and one type of material, you are missing out on a great opportunity to learn new things.

Having said that, if there's a book you are simply not enjoying, remember that life is also too short to continue reading it. Simply, close it, put it away and maybe give it another go later on, or give it away. There is no shame or guilt in not liking a book; even if it's from a favorite author. It's pretty much clear that you won't gain anything from a book that you don't even enjoy, let alone expect to learn something from it.

Summarize

If you're able to summarize what you have read, then you have understood. When you summarize, you are bringing up all the major points that enhance your understanding. You can easily do so chapter by chapter.

Take a good look at your life and what's going on in it. Accordingly, you'll choose the material that is much more suitable for your situation and circumstances. When you read a piece of information that you find beneficial, look for a way to apply it to your life. Knowledge for the sake of knowledge isn't all that beneficial. But the application of knowledge from a helpful book is what will help you and make your life more interesting and more meaningful.