When the pandemic hit Chelsea Brown needed to think fast, how could she take a company that was primarily leading the way in women’s travel to the Middle East, to transform into a digital company?
Chelsea is the founder and CEO of Millie, an organization that amplifies women’s voices, believing in the power of expanded perspective, connection and kindness to improve lives.
Chelsea is an equity activist and she started Millie to create jobs for women globally and to give voice to females who would otherwise not have a seat at the table. She created the Millie Marketplace to develop products that make a difference, partnering with Afghan fashion brand Zarif to create the Ikat tote bag for Afghanistan relief and with Femme International to produce African print dresses to end period poverty. She employs female artisans, many of whom are refugees and displaced persons around the world. This special collection connects people through stories and expands perspective, but most importantly, it creates employment opportunities and economic empowerment for women living around the world.
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Alice: Well, hello Chelsea. Thank you so much for being on today.
Chelsea: Thank you so much for having me. It’s my pleasure.
Alice: Yeah, we’re so excited for you to be on weekly woman presented by Jubilance. And so like the big question that we ask everyone right now is what have you been up to the past two years in this weird time?
Chelsea: It’s not so funny. What have you been up to for the last two years, like everyone it’s been a whirlwind, but the main thing that I’ve been doing is pivoting my business. How do you take a business that was routed in-person events and global travel and keep it going, right? A business that’s circled around in-person connection, but giving thought to this question, it kind of occurred to us that it’s not about in-person connection. It’s about human connection in general. So, I think what we’ve been doing and what I’ve been busy doing for two years is pivoting the business of Millie from Global Travel and in-person events to the podcast and also the Millie marketplace which creates economic empowerment for women worldwide. So we’re kind of hitting it from the two angles now and I’ve been spending a lot of time with my dogs at home because we’re not really going out anymore. So yeah, but just like everyone trying to get by. Pardon me?
Alice: Sorry. Did you get a pandemic dog or did you already have these?
Chelsea: I didn’t. I have three dogs. I know, to all the dog lovers watching.
Chelsea: I know, it’s crazy. So we’ll probably talk more about it but one of my dogs is from Jordan.
Alice: Wow, that’s amazing!
Chelsea: Yeah, it was crazy. I was facilitating a Millie trip pre-pandemic and found the dog and couldn’t give it up.
Alice: That’s amazing.
Chelsea: Thank you so much. So the pandemic has, you know, given us the space to spend more time with the dogs.
Alice: Yeah and Chelsea can you tell us a little bit more about what Millie is. So we’ve kind of touched on it a little bit, but Chelsea is the founder of this amazing company Millie and I’ve been following her progress for many months now, but can you explain what it is for everyone listening.
Chelsea: Yes so Millie is an organization that was founded in 2018. And it’s funny because what was founded on Global travel and in-person women-led conferences has now changed. So we found it, Millie, with the empowerment to empower and inspire Global perspective, connection and kindness, and compassion. And we think that we can achieve that through storytelling and in-person connection. Now, it’s Global, human connection in general. And yeah, so we launched Millie curating intimate women-led travel trips to Jordan and women conferences in Toronto. We hope to expand the conference’s but of course now at the pandemic it’s a bit more tricky and we just think through storytelling authentic storytelling and meaningful connection. We can grow as human beings and learn from diverse voices. So that’s what Millie is and now we have the Millie podcast and the Millie marketplace which works with women artisans from all over the world. I think we work with 10 countries now. So it’s really grown from our original platform into something that was probably coming anyway, but we’ve collaborated with over 60 women, formally collaboratively over 60 women worldwide and 36 women of color which were really proud of. Our teams are diverse as well so we hire diverse were inclusive of identities and everyone.
Alice: It’s amazing that you were able to pivot in such a quick and different way and kind of like what you were saying, kind of how you would expand naturally anyway, but just was pushed off the deep end into.
Chelsea: And there was a lot of like everyone self-doubt and the team, we’re thinking what are we going to do now? And we tried to reboot travel again, but then of course with variants, it’s just hard because a [inaudible] more boring. But outside of what we know which are the variants sometimes what we don’t know is are the government restrictions in other countries. So it’s hard sometimes to know where we can travel next. So we just went with what we know and, in action works so we just kept the storytelling. We just took it online.
Alice: And that’s so important right now, I think people are struggling and trying to find a connection in this super weird time. And that’s our only solution is online, which is so amazing that you’re able to keep that up.
Chelsea: Thank you. Well, you too! I was saying to my girlfriend, I was so excited to meet someone new today. [Chuckles].
Chelsea: Human connection, you know.
Alice: Yeah, I know. It’s so nice to talk to a human. [Laughing] and can you talk a little bit about why Jordan. Why did you pick Jordan to travel to? Why were you bringing women there? Can you talk a little bit more about how that sparked?
Chelsea: Yes. So in 2017, I think I was on a project called the pin project and we planned a development trip to Jordan. We brought the Globe and mail, which was amazing to bring awareness. There’s a beautiful article online about the Syrian refugee crisis which the pin project supports. So in 2017, I work with the founder, Hedwig Alexander. And we collaborated with Millie was a collaborator artisan goods, turquoise mountain, who now develops the pin exclusively craft the pin exclusively and in 2017 that was my first country in the Arab world that I had visited. So I was really excited and Hedwig, she’s lived in Afghanistan for years working with turquoise Mountain. So I was under strong leadership going into this new country and it was through that development trip, trip for the pin project that really opened my eyes to how important connecting with diverse cultures, is that are geographically far away, and sometimes emotionally far away for people. So I think it’s important that we kind of lead the charge with that but it was that trip that open the door and why I chose Jordan, so that was a really interesting experience.
Alice: Wow, that’s so fascinating. Yeah. I studied Arabic in college. And so I studied abroad in Morocco so, far away from Jordan but I always wanted to make it there. So hopefully in a couple of years when the pandemic is.
Chelsea: Exactly. I’ve always wanted to go to Morocco.
Alice: Oh my gosh. It’s amazing! You’ve gotta go sometime.
Chelsea: It’s so beautiful and the people are amazing so I’ll give you a list of everything.
Alice: Okay, Perfect!
Chelsea: restaurants to dine in.
Alice: Yes, I would love that. Yeah, just like the craftwork too in like all of the different marketplaces is just amazing, which is kind of what you’re incorporating with the Millie marketplace. Can you talk a little bit about that and how you’re giving voices to women in your marketplace?
Chelsea: Thank you so much. Yes, so the marketplace is packed well curated I guess, it’s a small marketplace but handmade pieces from women from all over the world. I’m like where to start because there are different countries that I can discuss but for example, the pin project in Jordan, we carry that and up until so turquoise Mountain, although they employ and work with women artisans in other locations. In Jordan, they did not work with women Artisans until their Artisan scholarship that Millie helped them launch, I guess in 2018 and through that, three Artisans were trained and then has worked on our projects and other projects even when they’re a huge designer. And she helped build products for fashion week. Very, very cool. So, we are creating an outlet for the women to sell the turquoise Mountain product. So we now carry the pin and a bracelet as well, that’s made by their jewelry department led by women. So we’re really proud to be part of that creation. And then I want to talk about in Africa, the dresses are one thing that I think we’re talking about today, but there’s also other parts of Africa that we work with and they, it’s all weaving, basket weaving and its really special. Because these are talents that are passed down from generation to generation like many skills in the Artisan world. However, the access to selling the pieces to create that livelihood is limited given their geographic location. So, when you are purchasing an item from the Millie marketplace, you are putting dollars directly into the artisan’s pocket. So we are just another, I guess outlet for the Artisans to have access to sell their beloved pieces that are made in a highly-skilled way and we are really in love with this new chapter in the marketplace. I want to keep everything but it’s hard.
Alice: Yeah [chuckles] I know! I was browsing through and I was like I want this and I saw that like the beautiful placemats that were handwoven. They’re just gorgeous.
Chelsea: Thank you so much.
Alice: Yeah, it’s just amazing.
Chelsea: It’s really special. Even when you get into the fine print of the descriptions, which are sometimes things are made seasonally. One of the bread plates that’s made in Jordan, the artisan grows and dies everything naturally. So the hibiscus is growing backyard.
Chelsea: So it’s almost farm to table and then it’s really interesting. It’s the process as slow production slowed batch production. So sometimes things are carried in only two pieces, but we’re really really proud of this project.
Alice: Yeah. That’s awesome and I really want to talk about your collaboration with Femme International because it kind of ties with us Jubilance for PMS and you’re working to help stop period poverty with this organization. Can you talk a little bit more about in this collaboration that you have?
Chelsea: Yes. I’m like again, where to start. I was introduced. I have to give my father-in-law credit. He was leading a project that the founder Sabrina was working in Toronto
Alice: Yeah no problem.
Chelsea: And he was leading this course or this workshop and Sabrina is created Femme International after a trip, it was in Kenya and she did a trip there and she met amazing women who, it was very clear that period poverty is very real in the world, even in our backyard but they’re, so this NGO from International is Canadian founded and it’s operating to alleviate taboos associated with menstruation, there’s so many and also alleviate period poverty in East Africa, so they do that through two of their programs and we just reached out to them. I invited the managing director to my podcast. So her stories out there. She’s amazing. Her name is Florence. She’s a former lawyer. And then she changed into NGO work to find something more meaningful. And we felt this desire to help them fundraise because covid has affected fundraising for a lot of organizations. So we wanted to [inaudible] that, but how can we be part of that and also help people learn something along the way. So we thought through the dresses that we designed with the local dressmaker in Tanzania, people can buy something that they love and contribute to something important. So that’s basically what the project is and 100% of proceeds go to Fem International through the sale.
Alice: That’s amazing. Wow! That’s just incredible what you guys are able to do and partner with like different organizations over 60 women that you’re collaborating with.
Chelsea: Thank you.
Alice: It’s amazing.
Chelsea: Thank you so much. I mean it sounds crazy but it’s like, okay, let’s email you. Let’s call you, right? Let’s connect. Let’s do this because as we know two is better than one and when we can come together with a shared goal, we can really make more impact than just doing it alone.
Alice: Yeah. Well, that’s awesome, Chelsea.
Chelsea: Thank you.
Alice: And then it’s something that we always ask on this podcast is what is your definition of womanhood?
Chelsea: Yes, I saw that. I think that womanhood, so I was giving this a lot of thought and what comes to me is that womanhood is just being a human being who feels deeply, who loves deeply, and most of all, who wants to be seen. So often, I have traveled to countries and met these and interviewed these amazing women who have conviction and who are brave and who are savagely strong like women are just insanely naturally strong, but they’re not seen given several reasons, geographical location, lack of access, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t want to be seen and that doesn’t mean that they are stopping to be seen and stopping their path forward. So in a long-winded way, I would say, women really were just at the end of the day, human beings with human rights and women who just want to be seen. And people who identify as women, it’s inclusive. We live in a world and people who identify as women.
Alice: Yeah, kind of like Lizzo if you feel like a girl, then you feel like a girl.
Chelsea: Yeah I love it! And I think it’s effective but at the end of the day, they’re meeting people it’s very clear that I think women hood, it’s just wanting to be seen for who you are and then what I identify as being a woman and my peers in my circle, it’s mentorship. It’s trailblazing, it’s acceptance and not judging and honestly, women to me, are just the strong. Like we’re just there’s so much strength that goes into being a woman and I really look up to, I think the common factor of the women that I look up to are just fiercely strong.
Alice: I think that’s lovely what you were able to say about being seen and whether or not we’re seen because of our geographic location or access or just like gender and the fluidity of it and who sees us. So I think that’s really interesting and like interesting to think about and I think what Millie is doing is letting those women be seen letting people from all over the world have access to like, telling their story or just like, how you say storytelling is part of the Millie idea. And so you’re sharing those stories of other women to let them be seen in the world, which is so cool!
Chelsea: Thank you! I’m going to like float out of here. It’s so nice [inaudible] good. [Chuckles]. But exactly and I think through storytelling, it’s where true empathy can happen. I was listening to my podcast interview, with the Syrian author, and she and I have a very similar definition of why she’s a writer. So she is talking about storybooks, but storytelling and that’s where true empathy can happen. And how we don’t know, we can be afraid of it. So I think through understanding and storytelling is how we can really learn and have an empathetic and
Alice: Yeah. Oh, that’s definitely true. Just hearing like what you’re doing with Millie or like, what’s happening in Toronto?
Chelsea: I know.
Alice: Because we’re based in the United States, but there’s so much happening all over the world, about period poverty, about lifting women up, anyone who identifies as a woman up. Yeah, and Chelsea is there anything else you’d like to add? Like, what is Millie going to do next?
Chelsea: I know. Thank you so much. We’re really excited about the podcast.
Chelsea: Podcast for us is so important because it’s connecting people. It’s actually if not more effective than Global travel because anyone can listen to a podcast if they have a phone or a computer or access to the internet and we think that’s amazing because, we can just like what you’re doing, with your storytelling, we can talk to many women and you
don’t have to fly to Senegal or India to meet someone, we can meet them over the internet and we can hear their story and learn something. We can have fun and learn something along the way. But I would say if anyone is interested please reach out we’re accessible and we’re open. So if anyone’s interested to connect with any of the organizations we work with or wants to learn more about, please we’re just a click away.
Alice: That’s awesome Chelsea. And what’s your website and your Instagram handle, so everyone can find you.
Chelsea: Thank you. Thank you so much. We are www. millie Millie.CA or Canadian so CA and our Instagram handle is @theMillieCommunity.
Alice: Amazing. Thank you so much Chelsea for being on today. It was so nice to meet you!
Chelsea: It’s so good to meet you and I can’t thank you enough. It was so lovely receiving this invitation and connecting with you and getting to meet you. Hopefully, we can meet in person one day soon, and good luck with everything.