As Told To is a recurring segment on xoNecole where real women are given a platform to tell their stories in first-person narrative as told to a writer.
This is Rachel James' story, as told to Charmin Michelle.
A few weeks ago, I was watching Alicia Keys host the 2020 Grammys while wearing my brand.
One of the largest artists in the world was real-life modeling this Chicago girl's wildest dream in front of millions, on one of the country's most historically prominent award shows. What a beautifully major moment for my entire team. I've hustled for so long for that moment, I've worked so hard. I'm still amazed by every milestone.
And my parents were pretty geeked, too.
A Star Is Born
Let me introduce myself: I am Rachel James—a learner, a wanderer, a lover, a fighter and way too blunt at times—a true Sagittarius. I'm a dreamer simply trying my best to teach my sons everything I can, put my life into my work, and have the best time doing both.
My business is Pear Nova, a vegan, cruelty-free lacquer brand based in Chicago. Pear Nova is, in essence, a combination of my experiences—clothes I've worn, art I've admired, music I've danced to, foods I've tasted, countries I've traveled to and women I've wanted to be like all bottled up—full pun intended. We've somehow managed to translate hustle into success, and have now been worn, and mentioned, by some of our industry faves.
Image Courtesy of Pear Nova
I've always known that I would somehow be working in the fashion industry, and nail polish turned out to be the perfect little accessory that sat between the beauty and fashion world. I remember my last day of fashion merchandising school; I was 7 or 8 months pregnant with my second-born, giving a marketing presentation on a fake brand for my final. My professor was so blown away that all of the feedback literally awakened the entrepreneur in me. That very day, I went home, googled "how to start a nail polish line," and began building my business.
I grew up in the south suburbs of Chicago with my parents and brothers. From an early age, I witnessed what hard work actually looked like, as my dad went from working as a janitor to becoming a principal, and my mom, assistant to VP. They taught each of us money management, standard practices of business, and going after our passions. I would always run behind my brothers, laughing and trying to keep up. In school, I was loud, outward, and always trying to figure out ways to make money so I could buy lip gloss. It's funny to think about how I was all about my business, even then.
Pear Nova was unfortunately born through tragedy. I named my company after my late sister-in-love, Nova (who we aren't blessed to experience anymore due to domestic violence). I began googling one day and came across a nova pear tree, which is known to withstand extreme temperature. It was so fitting for both Nova, and what I was creating. It was perfect.
From there, what seemed like an overnight success to you, had been a decade in the making for me. Now, we've built our portfolio and have been featured in Essence, Vogue, ALLURE, and more. We bought a full studio space, invited some techs to do nails, and created a full-service beauty lounge.
The Truth About Entrepreneurship
Has the success been trying at times? C'mon guys, of course. Everything you've heard about entrepreneurship is true, ten times over. I'm often asked for advice I would give to women who are pursuing the next step in their career journey, and there's plenty. And I'm forever open to feeding queens.
At Pear Nova, we even make it a point to speak life into our customers through polish names:
The time to start is now. I don't know about you but I look for black women-owned businesses to give my money to. So, please do something EVERY SINGLE DAY that will get you closer to entrepreneurship because we need you, ladies. We need your vision.
You have to strongly believe in your own crazy. Learn to trust and fall into your madness. Welcome your fears. Tell them to get comfortable because they aren't going anywhere. You will just learn to work through them.
Being a creative that happened to end up an entrepreneur, as someone who likes to sit alone in their own magical bubble with their head up in the sky generating ideas and creating, you have to pop the damn bubble and be open to learning every other aspect about entrepreneurship. I thought, Oh, I'll just make all these dope things! And then it was like, No, girl. Order those books on marketing, branding, and accounting too.
I'm speaking to myself and all introverts when I say this: step way out of your comfort zone and connect with more people! You're already going to get where the universe sees fit, but connections will get you there much quicker. And always remember that absolutely nothing is personal in business.
The Real Me
When I'm overwhelmed, honestly, I cry. That's just the truth. I actually cried about two hours ago... Afterwards, I take a break from anything that's contributing to that feeling.
But after a 12-hour work day, and an evening with my kids, I'm simply exhausted, but I know I kicked ass that day—
That's when I'm at my most fulfilled.
Image Courtesy of Pear Nova Studio
I love to meditate and I love to write. I'm currently writing a journal for my children to read one day. I'll let them know what is happening and what I learned at that moment. It's killing two birds with one stone because it serves as a release for me, and more wisdom for them.
For 2020, I plan to release new classic lacquers, gel lacquers, and a brand new beauty product for Pear Nova. I'm going to make Pear Nova Studio the top beauty lounge in Chicago. I plan to grow more meaningful business relationships and utilize my social media more (ugh, I low-key hate social media). The fact that manicurists rarely get credited for their work is an industry pet peeve of mine, so I plan to lead the culture in being a part of that change. And personally, I just really want to be better at forgiveness, so I'll be working on projecting a more forgivable energy into the universe.
I have so many ideas and things that I want to do—a lip lacquer collection being next. I actually haven't told anyone that yet but now that I have, it's for real, for real. Thankfully, my team and I, we always figure it out. We always find a way to make it happen.
It's crazy because both my ideas, and the ocean, are what scare me more than anything. It's the unknown that's both terrifying and captivating.
But I always manage to be the first to jump right in.
To keep up with Rachel, you may follow her on Instagram. You may also visit Pear Nova Studio's Chicago location for beauty services, or shop polishes by visiting their website.
If you have a story you'd like to share, but aren't sure about how to put it into words, contact as at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject "As Told To" for a chance for your story to be featured.
Featured image by Charles Andre' Thomas
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Exclusive: Gabrielle Union On Radical Transparency, Being Diagnosed With Perimenopause And Embracing What’s Next
Whenever Gabrielle Union graces the movie screen, she immediately commands attention. From her unforgettable scenes in films like Bring It On and Two Can Play That Game to her most recent film, in which she stars and produces Netflix’s The Perfect Find, there’s no denying that she is that girl.
Off-screen, she uses that power for good by sharing her trials and tribulations with other women in hopes of helping those who may be going through the same things or preventing them from experiencing them altogether. Recently, the Flawless by Gabrielle Union founder partnered with Clearblue to speak at the launch of their Menopause Stage Indicator, where she also shared her experience with being perimenopausal.
In a xoNecoleexclusive, the iconic actress opens up about embracing this season of her life, new projects, and overall being a “bad motherfucker.” Gabrielle reveals that she was 37 years old when she was diagnosed with perimenopause and is still going through it at 51 years old. Mayo Clinic says perimenopause “refers to the time during which your body makes the natural transition to menopause, marking the end of the reproductive years.”
“I haven't crossed over the next phase just yet, but I think part of it is when you hear any form of menopause, you automatically think of your mother or grandmother. It feels like an old-person thing, but for me, I was 37 and like not understanding what that really meant for me. And I don't think we focus so much on the word menopause without understanding that perimenopause is just the time before menopause,” she tells us.
Photo by Brian Thomas
"But you can experience a lot of the same things during that period that people talk about, that they experienced during menopause. So you could get a hot flash, you could get the weight gain, the hair loss, depression, anxiety, like all of it, mental health challenges, all of that can come, you know, at any stage of the menopausal journey and like for me, I've been in perimenopause like 13, 14 years. When you know, most doctors are like, ‘Oh, but it's usually about ten years, and I'm like, ‘Uhh, I’m still going (laughs).’”
Conversations about perimenopause, fibroids, and all the things that are associated with women’s bodies have often been considered taboo and thus not discussed publicly. However, times are changing, and thanks to the Gabrielle’s and the Tia Mowry’s, more women are having an authentic discourse about women’s health. These open discussions lead to the creation of more safe spaces and support for one another.
“I want to be in community with folks. I don't ever want to feel like I'm on an island about anything. So, if I can help create community where we are lacking, I want to be a part of that,” she says. “So, it's like there's no harm in talking about it. You know what I mean? Like, I was a bad motherfucker before perimenopause. I’m a bad motherfucker now, and I'll be a bad motherfucker after menopause. Know what I’m saying? None of that has to change. How I’m a bad motherfucker, I welcome that part of the change. I'm just getting better and stronger and more intelligent, more wise, more patient, more compassionate, more empathetic. All of that is very, very welcomed, and none of it should be scary.”
The Being Mary Jane star hasn’t been shy about her stance on therapy. If you don’t know, here’s a hint: she’s all for it, and she encourages others to try it as well. She likens therapy to dating by suggesting that you keep looking for the right therapist to match your needs. Two other essential keys to her growth are radical transparency and radical acceptance (though she admits she is still working on the latter).
"I was a bad motherfucker before perimenopause. I’m a bad motherfucker now, and I'll be a bad motherfucker after menopause. Know what I’m saying? None of that has to change. How I’m a bad motherfucker, I welcome that part of the change."
Gabrielle Union and Kaavia Union-Wade
Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images
“I hope that a.) you recognize that you're not alone. Seek out help and know that it's okay to be honest about what the hell is happening in your life. That's the only way that you know you can get help, and that's also the only other way that people know that you are in need if there's something going on,” she says, “because we have all these big, very wild, high expectations of people, but if they don't know what they're actually dealing with, they're always going to be failing, and you will always be disappointed. So how about just tell the truth, be transparent, and let people know where you are. So they can be of service, they can be compassionate.”
Gabrielle’s transparency is what makes her so relatable, and has so many people root for her. Whether through her TV and film projects, her memoirs, or her social media, the actress has a knack for making you feel like she’s your homegirl. Scrolling through her Instagram, you see the special moments with her family, exciting new business ventures, and jaw-dropping fashion moments. Throughout her life and career, we’ve seen her evolve in a multitude of ways. From producing films to starting a haircare line to marriage and motherhood, her journey is a story of courage and triumph. And right now, in this season, she’s asking, “What’s next?”
“This is a season of discovery and change. In a billion ways,” says the NAACP Image Award winner. “The notion of like, ‘Oh, so and so changed. They got brand new.’ I want you to be brand new. I want me to be brand new. I want us to be always constantly growing, evolving. Having more clarity, moving with different purpose, like, and all of that is for me very, very welcomed."
"I want you to be brand new. I want me to be brand new. I want us to be always constantly growing, evolving. Having more clarity, moving with different purpose, like, and all of that is for me very, very welcomed."
She continues, “So I'm just trying to figure out what's next. You know what I mean? I'm jumping into what's next. I'm excited going into what's next and new. I'm just sort of embracing all of what life has to offer.”
Look out for Gabrielle in the upcoming indie film Riff Raff, which is a crime comedy starring her and Jennifer Coolidge, and she will also produce The Idea of You, which stars Anne Hathaway.
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Feature image by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images
Entrepreneur and community curator Chanise Robinson moved from her hometown of Seattle, Washington, to Los Angeles in 2015 for the life she’d always envisioned for herself.
From a young age, she knew her dreams were too big for the Emerald City so after a quick trip to southern California it was only a matter of time before she called it home. “I’ve always wanted to leave Seattle. There wasn’t enough culture for me, and having grown up there, I knew every Black person, whether it was from school or church,” says Robinson. Immediately after obtaining her Bachelor's degree from the University of Washington, it was then she decided it was time to make her move. “I exhausted all the options, opportunities, and resources I thought I could get from living there and knew I had to leave eventually.”
After graduating from her Alma Mater as a first-generation college student, she chose to continue her education, completing her master's degree at USC. After entering the corporate world, she noticed a lack of information sharing within the Black community, which led to a strong desire to gather community peers, leaders, and experts through sit-down panel discussions. “In corporate spaces, white people are talking and sharing ideas with each other behind closed doors, and I felt Black people didn't have that same network, so I created that space where I saw the gap.”
“In corporate spaces, white people are talking and sharing ideas with each other behind closed doors, and I felt Black people didn't have that same network, so I created that space where I saw the gap.”
Receiving a little motivation from a friend, Conversations with Chanise was created in 2018 with the goal of hosting professional events people could resonate with. “A lot of the time, industry panels can feel dry and disconnected from our culture and community, so I wanted to build that network myself, using it as a platform for others to find knowledge, information, and resources needed to navigate corporate spaces, tools that I didn’t have.”
Continuing to climb in her career, in 2020, Chanise landed a role as a recruiter for one of the fastest-growing tech companies in the world, Snapchat Inc. During her time at the company, she held multiple roles from Recruiter, Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion manager, to eventually landing on the Venture Capital Team, a position that was given because of her impressive community efforts outside of work.
During this time, Conversations with Chanise evolved into Out Of Office due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “In 2020, I changed the name because we were working remotely. Working from home for two years, if you weren't fortunate enough to work for your company prior to the pandemic, then you didn't know your co-workers, especially other Black co-workers.” With the pandemic creating an even bigger challenge to the lack of networking amongst diverse employees, what began as events became a community for Black and Latinx employees from across a number of tech companies to come together and meet fellow peers from across the industry.
It wasn't until 2022 that OOO hosted its first brunch for Black History Month. The invite-only event hosted sixty-five people tech employees, complete with a five-course meal. “Eight people from Amazon attended the event, and that was the first time they had ever met each other, they were all Black.”
Earlier this year, there was an inclination of a soon-to-come recession, which hit the tech world head-on, causing many Americans to be affected. In May of 2022, Chanise was laid off from Snapchat after three and a half years. “I didn’t take the layoff personally. You would think that after being at a company for three years, you would be sad, but since my entire team got laid off, including the people that brought me on, it was just business.”
With a few inside connections, her unemployment was short-lived after receiving two job offers within the following weeks of her being let go. “A former manager on the recruiting team is now the Director of Talent and Acquisition at DoorDash. She reached out about the Senior Program Manager role and encouraged me to apply. All you need is a referral.” She describes this carefree moment of her life as funemployment. “I had another offer from a VC firm, I was on funemployment. I blew my severance check going to Miami buying tables at popular nightclubs, I was having a great time.”
"I didn’t take the layoff personally. You would think that after being at a company for three years, you would be sad, but since my entire team got laid off, including the people that brought me on, it was just business."
With two offers on the table, she went with DoorDash in late September of 2023 as a Senior Program Manager. She was indeed feeling like that girl. Less than 30 days into her new role, she woke up to an unexpected text that sent waves of uncertainty and doubt. Three weeks and two days after starting her new role, Chanise was included in a company-wide layoff.
“A former co-worker from Snapchat was also working at DoorDash at the time and called me at 6:00 a.m. informing me she was included in a company-wide layoff. At that moment, I just knew I couldn’t have been laid off, I just got here,” Chanise recounts. Quickly opening her emails, she saw the dreaded subject line 'Your Employment at DoorDash.' “This time, I was pissed. I was upset and in shock.”
“The first day I was still in positive spirits, it wasn't until the next day I woke up and realized this was real, and I was scared.” With the economic uncertainty looming, there was a mix of emotions. “A lot of times we talk about recessions, and we know what happened in 2008, but I was a kid in high school. Now I’m an adult, and I’ve been laid off twice. I know it’s not the skillset, and I know it's not my work ethic, so now I’m scared.” The most obvious question she had on her mind was, “What am I going to do?”
Being in such a vulnerable space of fear and uncertainty can bring back traumas buried within our deepest childhood memories. “Not only am I only a first-generation college graduate, but I grew up in a single-parent household,” Chanise details. “My mom's ex-husband had a drug problem, and by the time I was nine years old, my mom filed for bankruptcy, leading to my family and I living in a homeless shelter for a year.”
After being laid off, the possibility of being homeless was a looming fear, but it was only because of past trauma. “My work ethic and drive comes from never wanting to put myself in a position that I was in as a child. When you’re a kid, you don't have control over what happens to you, but I made a pact with God that I would always do whatever it took moving forward, and I would never be disqualified on paper.”
"My work ethic and drive comes from never wanting to put myself in a position that I was in as a child... I made a pact with God that I would always do whatever it took moving forward, and I would never be disqualified on paper."
With what seemed to be back-to-back failures, there were many conversations with God that led her to realize life happens fast and it’s up to us how we deal with it. “I’m in a situation where I can't blame anyone for what I’m going through, I can't say it's anyone else's fault, it just happens to be life.” As scary as it was to be without a job once again, this was a wake-up call for the steadfast entrepreneur. “It’s taught me a lot about the recession. It's understanding that it has nothing to do with me personally. It gave me fuel to never work for just one company at a time. You should always have multiple streams of income, and most of those streams should be things you can control at all times.”
Chanise began to realize that maybe this was the time to take her dreams for Out Of Office to the next level. “OOO was always something that I wanted to do full time, but I don’t think I would have pushed myself to be as full-time as quickly. The summit would have never been something I envisioned for myself to happen this year if I wasn’t laid off.”
Not one to back down from an opportunity, Chanise began to use what she had curated so well within her time in Los Angeles, her community. “I was listening to Kirk Franklin on The Breakfast Club podcast, and his message was to win wounded. When you're trying to cross the finish line in a race, sometimes people get hurt and want to give up, but even if you’re limping, you still need to cross the finish line.”
Wounded, she was still on a mission to fulfill the desires of her heart regardless of her situation. “Before I was laid off from DoorDash, there was a woman on the Diversity and Inclusion team who reached out, informing me they would like me to run their Black employee resource group because of my experience and what I was doing with my Out Of Office events.” She continues, “We had a meeting set for Friday and I was laid off Wednesday, two days before the meeting. Reaching out via LinkedIn, [I] informed her that my role had been eliminated; however, I would like to schedule a call to talk about OOO and what we can do.”
“During the meeting, I spoke with her about my vision to do a cross-company employee resource group summit, and it just so happened the company had plans for one the following year for internal employees. They loved that my vision was much bigger, so they decided to give me the money and let me run it instead.” And just like that, a full circle moment. The company that laid her off after three weeks of employment was giving her $45,000 to become the first official sponsor of her biggest corporate summit to date.
This was the momentum she needed to propel her into her destiny. “Even though I was sad, faith without work is dead,” says Chanise. “A lot of times, people let life stop them from pursuing their dreams, and they just give up, and you never know what it could have been.”
"Faith without work is dead. A lot of times, people let life stop them from pursuing their dreams, and they just give up, and you never know what it could have been."
Once the idea of the Employee Research Summit was to become a reality, there was a lot more work to be done. While planning for the ERG Summit, OOO was to host an upcoming event, and while excited about what was in the works, Chanise states, “I remember telling God I really don’t want to do this. This was the first time I charged people to come to a happy hour, and that’s not normally something I would do. I didn’t know if it was worth it and wanted to cancel, but I didn't.”
After the event, she was approached by someone from Amazon’s Cross-Functional Strategic Marketing Team, who had consistently attended a number of OOO events. After a brief conversation, Chanise was informed of a sponsorship for professional development opportunities leading Amazon to become the second official sponsor, providing funds and a space to host her upcoming ERG summit. “At that moment, I knew God was telling me to 'keep going and I will provide all the resources.'”
"At that moment, I knew God was telling me to 'keep going and I will provide all the resources.'"
Fortunate to have really great friends, “I was in search of a keynote speaker, I reached out to Trell Thomas, founder of Black Excellence Brunch, who has a great relationship with Ms. Tina Knowles, among many other celebrity influencers. After discussing ideas and budget, he asked me who I’d like to speak at the event, and thinking it was a reach, I requested Ms. Tina.”
To Chanise’s surprise, Ms. Tina confirmed within a week. “She poured so much life into the audience with her message of not giving up or quitting no matter your age. Speaking to her felt like Sunday dinner, my spirit was full.” After a day full of corporate connections and panel discussions, as an added bonus, the summit wrapped up with an after-party performance by Eric Bellinger.
The Out Of Office ERG Summit was not just a moment to bridge the gap between culture and corporations but it was a culmination of hard work, faith, and determination. No matter what door closes, never be afraid of chasing your dreams. “Throughout this journey, I continued to pray. Lord, please send the resources and opportunities. Give me favor with people and help me do the work in which you have given me,” says Chanise. In the end, official sponsors for the summit included Amazon, Doordash, Snapchat, Google, YouTube, Jack Daniels, FIJI Water, and Bumble for Friends.
As far as going back to work full-time, Chanise shares, “I’ll pray and apply for jobs, but I'll keep working as an entrepreneur. My level of faith has been elevated. What started out as doubt turned into crazy faith.”
On words of encouragement, Chanise advises, “Just keep going, even when you're sad or don’t believe in yourself. Find one person to talk to that you know is going to push and elevate you, an accountability partner. Even if you don’t believe in God, find a faith partner. Find someone who believes and has the faith that you don't, to speak it over you, carrying the faith for you when you can’t.”
This year, Chanise learned that what God has for her is for her, and she’s the only person who can stand in her way. “I’m in my own way sometimes. There's also a difference between providing and sustaining. God will provide you with just enough, and He’ll give you the wisdom and the resources to stretch it long enough for it to last. That's different from asking God to provide.
"We underestimate our creativity. God never gives you a finished project but He gives you the creativity, ideas, and resources to be able to build, sustain, and provide for you. It’s being able to tap into that.”
For more of Chanise, follow her on Instagram @conversationswithchanise.
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