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My Journey From The Fast Food Counter to The Boss of An Empire

4min read
Lifestyle

For as long as I can remember, I've always wanted to be a makeup artist - and because of that, traditional school never interested me.

All I wanted to do was go to cosmetic school, but for my parents, a makeup artist wasn't a "real job" so they wouldn't support me financially to pursue that dream. I grew frustrated and became a rebellious student. I had to repeat the 4th grade. I was kicked out of the first high school I attended. Everywhere I went, my teachers told me that I was a lost cause with no future. My guidance counselor suggested I attend a catering school because she said she had nothing else for me. So that's what I did.

I studied to become a gastronomic chef. Despite being quite good at it, I ended up quitting in my final year due to the number of sexual jokes and bullying I experienced in the restaurant I was interning at. At the time, being a female chef was very difficult as it was a predominantly male profession. Refusing to allow being treated like this, I left before I could graduate. However, if I was honest with myself, I wasn't taking it seriously. I spent much of those three years drinking, doing drugs, and becoming violent with other students and even a professor.

I slipped into a depressive state before having the revelation that I was ruining my own life. The reality check was hard to accept: I was 19 years old with no degree, no job, and no direction. I felt shameful and guilty seeing that my mom's decision to move from Cameroon to Switzerland in search of a better life for us was all for nothing.

Deep down, I always believed I was destined for a brighter future, so I decided to take control of my own life. I stopped drinking and using drugs and searched for a free public aesthetician's school where I could learn the basic techniques of makeup and beauty. Unfortunately, my search was unsuccessful, so I made the decision to get a job and make myself financially independent so I could pay for schooling. My goal was to enroll in the Makeup For Ever master program, which would cost me 17,000 Euro a year.

Since I had an interest in fashion, I sent my resume to several fashion brands. But with no degree and no experience in sales, my search ended up unsuccessful once more. After continually being rejected, I finally found a full-time position at McDonald's in Geneva. I didn't have my driver's license, so I had to take the bus to and from work. Sometimes my shifts would go overtime when there were no buses, so I would lie to my mother, telling her that a female colleague was driving me home, but really I was hitchhiking.

Impulsively, I left that job when a customer threw his plate at me complaining about cold fries. I was once again, unemployed. About a week later, my luck changed when I was hired as a saleswoman at a children's fashion store. I loved children, so I was happy in this position for about a year before my ambition started to push me to follow my dream. I couldn't shake the feeling that I was meant for something else - something bigger.

I started to spend my nights looking for jobs in the cosmetics industry. I sent more than 300 emails to companies in Paris, the mecca for beauty. Like before, I was met with a lot of rejections, seeing as they all asked for experience in beauty or degrees in Make-up/Aesthetic, and I had neither. But my determination was unbreakable, and I knew one day it would pay off.

And one day it did.

A well-known perfumery was searching for workers to join their new luxury store in the famous Carrousel de Louvres in the 1st Arrondissement in Paris. I was asked to come interview for a beauty consultant position. It was the opportunity I was waiting for, the ultimate chance to change my life.The interview process was exhausting. In one day, I was interviewed three times, along with fifty other candidates. But in the end, it was worth it as they offered me the job. It was the happiest day of my life. I cried tears of joy because I knew that after getting this position, I had my feet in the door. Things could only get better.

I moved to Paris in summer 2011 to begin my new job. The perfumery was sponsored by Dior, so they put me through a two-month training program at the Dior House. While there, I also received training on sales techniques and makeup with several other brands, such as Sisley, Lancome, Chanel, Hermes, and YSL.

Photo credit: @audychoo_

Within three months of the store opening, I was appointed as Head of Beauty. After a year in that role, I was offered a position as a Beauty Specialist at the Lancome Institute at rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, then moved on to become an Hermes Perfumes Animator at Galeries Lafayette Haussmann. All the companies that wouldn't even return my emails now wanted me to work for them.

I had an excellent salary working for Hermes, but I was presented with an opportunity to attend the Make Up For Ever (MUFE) School as part of a collaboration with Sephora. I would attend school part-time while working for the MUFE stand at Sephora, but with a much smaller salary. While for the first time in my life I was making decent money, I figured that I had come so far, it would be a shame to stop now – so I took the opportunity and dedicated myself to making the most out of the program. In addition to attending the course, I managed five MUFE stands in Sephoras all over Paris while also working as a hostess in a nightclub to pay my bills. I was working 7 days a week, often from 7 a.m. until 4 a.m., with only 3 hours to rest in between work and school.

It was the most grueling period of my life, but at the end of the course, I was hired by Chanel as an International eCommerce Account Manager. I was proud of myself - the journey from McDonald's to where I am now was not easy but paid itself off.

While working for Chanel, I realized the lack of choices for black women in the French beauty industry. In 2015, I took another leap of faith and left Chanel to create my online store, Audychoo, an eCommerce platform that offers a wide selection of cosmetics, body care, and hair products for black, mixed-race, and Asian consumers. The online store has been successful, having been featured in French magazines as well as earning a following of 16,000 followers on social media.

While launching my store, I worked as a Makeup expert for brands such as Burberry and Givenchy as well as being a Beauty Stylist for the luxury group Galeries Lafayette. I also began to focus on building my personal brand and growing my own audience on social media by becoming a Fashion/Lifestyle influencer and digital content creator, and working with several brands on content.

This past January, I decided to expand my career even further by pursuing modeling. I was told that I was crazy to begin a modeling career at 28 years old and with a large tattoo on my chest. For the second time in my life, people were telling me that my goals were too big. Fortunately, this time, it didn't take as long to prove them wrong. After just one month, I secured contracts with two international modeling agencies in London and Milan. And immediately after, I debuted on the runway for a Haute couture designer at New York Fashion Week in September.

@audychoo_

I'm currently working on revamping my eCommerce platform and have some projects that I'm excited to share with the world. Between that and my career as an influencer and entrepreneur, I can proudly say that I am finally living my dream.

My goal with sharing my story is to continue encouraging women to follow their own dreams no matter what people think. Throughout my journey, I've learned that you always have to remember that nobody can limit you but yourself. Little girls with dreams become women with visions.

​4 Min Read
Business

Please Don't Put Yourself On Mute

During a recent meeting on Microsoft Teams, I couldn't seem to get a single word out.


When I tried to chime in, I kept getting interrupted. At one point two individuals talked right over me and over each other. When I thought it was finally my turn, someone else parachuted in from out of nowhere. When I raised and waved my hand as if I was in grade school to be called on (yes, I had my camera on) we swiftly moved on to the next topic. And then, completely frustrated, I stayed on mute for the remainder of the meeting. I even momentarily shut off my camera to devour the rest of my heavily bruised, brown banana. (No one needed to see that.)

This wasn't the first time I had struggled to find my voice. Since elementary school, I always preferring the back seat unless the teacher assigned me a seat in the front. In high school, I did piles of extra credit or mini-reports to offset my 0% in class participation. In college, I went into each lecture nauseous and with wasted prayers — wishing and hoping that I wouldn't be cold-called on by the professor.

By the time I got to Corporate America, it was clear that if I wanted to lead, I needed to pull my chair up (and sometimes bring my own), sit right at the table front and center, and ask for others to make space for me. From then on, I found my voice and never stop using it.

But now, all of a sudden, in this forced social experiment of mass remote working, I was having trouble being heard… again. None of the coaching I had given myself and other women on finding your voice seemed to work when my voice was being projected across a conference call and not a conference room.

I couldn't read any body language. I couldn't see if others were about to jump in and I should wait or if it was my time to speak. They couldn't see if I had something to say. For our Microsoft teams setting, you can only see a few faces on your screen, the rest are icons at the bottom of the window with a static picture or even just their name. And, even then, I couldn't see some people simply because they wouldn't turn their cameras on.

If I did get a chance to speak and cracked a funny joke, well, I didn't hear any laughing. Most people were on mute. Or maybe the joke wasn't that funny?

At one point, I could hear some heavy breathing and the unwrapping of (what I could only assume was) a candy bar. I imagined it was a Nestle Crunch Bar as my tummy rumbled in response to the crinkling of unwrapped candy. (There is a right and a wrong time to mute, people.)

At another point, I did see one face nodding at me blankly.

They say that remote working will be good for women. They say it will level the playing field. They say it will be more inclusive. But it won't be for me and others if I don't speak up now.

  • Start with turning your camera on and encouraging others to do the same. I was recently in a two-person meeting. My camera was on, but the other person wouldn't turn theirs on. In that case, ten minutes in, I turned my camera off. You can't stare at my fuzzy eyebrows and my pile of laundry in the background if I can't do the same to you. When you have a willing participant, you'd be surprised by how helpful it can be to make actual eye contact with someone, even on a computer (and despite the fuzzy eyebrows).
  • Use the chatbox. Enter in your questions. Enter in your comments. Dialogue back and forth. Type in a joke. I did that recently and someone entered back a laughing face — reaffirming that I was, indeed, funny.
  • Designate a facilitator for the meeting: someone leading, coaching, and guiding. On my most recent call, a leader went around ensuring everyone was able to contribute fairly. She also ensured she asked for feedback on a specific topic and helped move the discussion around so no one person took up all the airtime.
  • Unmute yourself. Please don't just sit there on mute for the entire meeting. Jump in and speak up. You will be interrupted. You will interrupt others. But don't get frustrated or discouraged — this is what work is now — just keep showing up and contributing.
  • Smile, and smile big. Nod your head in agreement. Laugh. Give a thumbs up; give two! Wave. Make a heart with your hands. Signal to others on the call who are contributing that you support and value them. They will do the same in return when your turn comes to contribute.

It's too easy to keep your camera turned off. It's too easy to stay on mute. It's too easy to disappear. But now is not the time to disappear. Now is the time to stay engaged and networked within our organizations and communities.

So please don't put yourself on mute.

Well, actually, please do put yourself on mute so I don't have to hear your heavy breathing, candy bar crunching, or tinkling bathroom break.

But after that, please take yourself off mute so you can reclaim your seat (and your voice) at the table.