Chantelle Baxter

Chantelle Baxter

Ceo & Founder / One Girl, Be. Bangles

CEO

According to the Urban Dictionary a ‘Rebel’ is a person who stands up for their own personal opinions despite what anyone else says. A true rebel stands up for what they believe is right, not against what’s right. It’s not about smoking crack, drinking till you’re rendered unconscious, or beating the crap out of anyone that crosses your path.

It’s all about being an individual and refusing to follow a crowd that forces you to think the same way they do even if it means becoming an outcast to society. True rebels know who they are and do not compromise their individuality or personal opinion for anyone. They’re straightforward and honest and they will sure as hell tell it like it is. 

Everything about Chantelle Baxter screams Rebel. From her pot smoking uprising in Year 8, to endless detentions in Year 11, Chantelle challenged life – and life, challenged her right back. This career story is of epic proportions, and diverse juxtapositions, but ultimately it is a tale of one girls plight to make the world a better place.

Please meet Chantelle Baxter…

chantelle-baxter-headshot2

Hey Chantelle, can you tell us a bit about where you grew up and how your experience shaped the person you are, and the career that you are in today?

I grew up in Melbourne, with my mum, dad and my two little sisters, Courtney and Brittany. In many ways I had a really privileged upbringing – I got to go to private schools, went on overseas holidays most years, and had nannies to take care of us. On the other side of the coin, my childhood was pretty rough. I grew up in a home affected by alcoholism, domestic violence, emotional abuse and almost lost a parent to a suicide attempt.

By the time I got to high school, I was a pretty miserable kid – and I made a decision that life sucked, and the only way I was ever going to be happy was if I made a lot of money – so that became my quest when I was really really young.

I managed to finish high school (my teachers were happy to get rid of me), and although I went to university for a couple of years, I ended up dropping out because I figured there were faster ways to get rich. I started a business in uni selling handbags, then I moved onto starting a web design company with a friend of mine after I’d dropped out. We earned quite a lot of money in our first year of business, and I found myself in a position where I felt like I had everything I’d been aspiring too. I was living in Toorak (Victoria), buying lots of clothes, wearing all the right ‘brands’, had a boyfriend that drove a cool car – and it all felt really empty. I knew I needed to do something else – turns out that having a lot of money is NOT the key to happiness.

It’s funny now that I’m working as the CEO of a charity – we make a lot of money, but we give it all away to help women and girls. I’ve also just started another company called Be. We sell beautiful bangles that inspire women and girls to be the best version of themselves.

So much of my career now is driven by what I experienced growing up. Being a girl in an environment where I often felt helpless, scared and alone was pretty terrifying. And so now I want to create things that help women and girls who might be in similar situations.

Where did you go to High School and how was that experience for you?

I went to Our Lady of Sion in Box Hill. My first year of school went pretty well – but by year 8, things started to turn. I began to realise that I didn’t have to do what my teachers and parents told me to do, so I really began rebelling.

I started drinking and smoking a lot of marijuana in year 8, and did this all the way through until year 11. I wasn’t a bad student when it came to getting good marks, I was pretty bright so I still managed to do pretty well – but I got naughtier and naughtier. I got caught smoking at school, I was suspended a couple of times, my friends and I got banned from going to our school social, and I think I had a detention every single week in year 11 because I refused to take out my tongue ring or wear the school uniform in the right way.

I think I’ve always had a big problem with authority and rebelled against it. I knew that I wanted to do well in year 12, so I stopped smoking marijuana in year 11 and partying so much. I really applied myself in year 12 and ended up with a ENTER score of 89.9 which wasn’t too bad – it got me into the course I wanted!

In many ways, I loved school – it was a sanctuary away from home, and I LOVED hanging out with all my friends. There were classes that I really enjoyed (like Maths) and other classes that I hated (like P.E). But my home life was so tumultuous from year 8 onwards, that I acted out constantly. The teachers had a nickname from me and my friends, they called us the “Red Gang”. I’m not sure what it meant, but the teachers certainly had their eye on us a lot of the time because we were known for causing trouble.

Did your high school play an important role in helping you choose your further education and future career?

I was really into computers when I was a teenager, and we had one information technology class at school. To be honest, it wasn’t that great! I learnt a lot more by just teaching myself and learning from friends that I’d met online. I also loved maths – there was something about the problem solving that really got my brain going – so I excelled there too.

I also remember absolutely loving my media class. It was all about making things – I got to design posters, create videos – and I spent hours making a little animation out of clay figures for my final year 12 project. Looking back, it was a sign of what was to come. I’d study computer science in university for a year (very heavily maths focused), and then move into multimedia design and entrepreneurship. I loved making things.

If you look at the things you’re really passionate about in high school, the subjects that really light you up, I think that can be a good path way for choosing a university course. But don’t worry if you make the wrong decision! I started out in Computer Science at Uni – I got really good marks, but I wasn’t all that passionate about it. When I moved into Multimedia Design and Entrepreneurship, I loved that SO much more so I knew I was on the right path.

Did you complete any internships or work experience placements in high school? Tell us about that experience.

I remember doing work experience with disabled children for about a week in year 10. I can’t remember much of the experience except that I was very confronted by what I was seeing and what I was being asked to do.

Did you go to College, University, Tafe or another equivalent? Take us through the courses that you studied and why you chose them?

I went to University and studied Computer Science in my first year. I was really into computers and all things geeky whilst I was in high school, so I wanted to try computer programming and really get into the guts of how computers and programs work. I was one of 2 girls in a class of about 250 guys, so that was pretty scary to start with – but I finally found my place there after the first semester.

I found programming really hard – I could do it, but it took a LOT of effort – I got great marks but I wasn’t 100% certain that I’d chosen the right path for myself. In my second semester I took a Photoshop elective, and I absolutely LOVED it. It was so much fun being able to design beautiful things and I was really proud of what I had created.

I met a guy who was studying Multimedia Design, and he kind of talked me into jumping ship and trying my hand at Design and Entrepreneurship instead. It was a good mix – so in my second year I swapped. It turned out really well because a lot of the courses I’d done in my first year also formed a part of my new degree, so I ended up knocking off what we were seen as the really difficult classes in that first year. And off I went down the design and entrepreneurship path! I think when it comes to choosing your degree, it’s important you choose something that you’re interested in – something that really lights you up. If you think taking on some boring ass degree, and forcing yourself to stay in something you’re not all that interested in is going to serve you well – you’d be very wrong.

If you hate your degree, you’ll go on to hate the career it gives you access too! Switching was one of the best moves I ever made, and it sent me down the path that I’m on now.

Tell us about your career journey so far. Who you have worked for, and explain any highlights.

While I was at uni, I got a job as a junior web designer at a new up and coming digital agency. That was the start of my career. I stayed at IE for about a year, and then moved to a new company called Get Started. By this stage I’d also dropped out of university – I found that I was learning way more on the job than I was at school, and figured if I stayed in the digital space as a designer, a degree wasn’t really all that important. All I needed was a nice portfolio. I also got into property investment when I was quite young, so I was investing a lot of my money into my first apartment that I’d brought when I was 21. I was a busy little bee.

To be truthful – I was a pretty horrendous employee. I always felt like someone was taking advantage of me and my skills (even though I didn’t have all that much experience), and I kept thinking – “I could do a better job if I was running my own business.” After my boss at Get Started registered me into some amazing leadership programs run by Landmark Education, I realised what I really wanted to do is work for myself.

I started freelancing and getting my own clients, and after about 6 months I finally got the guts to step out on my own. I ended up joining forces with a friend of mine a few months later, and we created our own little business called Mod Digital. It turns out that I was wrong, and running a business was a little harder than what I thought! We did pretty well in our first year of business, but that was mostly due to my business partner – he was bringing in most of the clients and getting most of the work, and I was trying to contribute as best as I could – but he was in way more demand than I was as a designer.

At that stage I was having a bit of an existential crisis as well – I remember finishing a design for a dentist website one day and thinking – “is this really going to be my life? Am I going to be designing websites forever?”
I was earning good money, partying a lot with my friends, living in a wealthy part of Melbourne, had a lot of nice clothes, but it all just felt empty. I knew I needed a change. I wanted something that was going to give my life meaning.

Not too long after that I jumped on a plane to Sierra Leone, West Africa – and that’s where my life and career really began. It was a life changing experience for me – I realised I definitely didn’t want to be designing websites for the rest of my life, I wanted to change the world, make it a better place. And upon my return I founded One Girl with a friend of mine. One Girl has easily been the highlight of my career – I’ve been doing this for 7 years now, and built this organisation up from raising almost nothing (our first fundraiser earned us about $700), to this year raising over $1.25 million and helping more than 20,000 women and girls. It’s been the most challenging, yet rewarding thing I’ve ever done.

How did you get into the job that you are in now?

After I came back from Sierra Leone, I didn’t actually want to start my own charity. Not right away. What I really wanted was a job in International Development. So I left my web design business and went on a quest to get a job working for a big international charity. Turns out those jobs are pretty hard to come by – and after more than 35 resume submissions all I had to show for is was a failed interview. I was getting disheartened – all I wanted was to make a difference in the world and it seemed I couldn’t get a job in the one thing I really cared about. So I decided to start my own charity – funnily enough, these days we do EXACTLY what I was looking for. We train people to become Ambassadors for Girls Education and work with them to create their own project to raise money in order to educate girls. Pretty funny how that works.

What is the hardest part of your current job?

Probably getting motivated to do things that I don’t find all that interesting. As CEO, a lot of your role is focused on administration – reading contracts, signing documents etc. I really thrive in environments where I can be creative, so it’s been a challenge trying to force myself to focus on those nitty gritty details. I’m very much a high level / vision kind of purpose – so that is definitely one of the most difficult parts of my job.

What does a day a typical business day look like for you in your current job?

Honestly, it varies so much. At the moment I’m travelling across Australia teaching workshops in almost every state – so a lot of my July will revolve around travel and speaking gigs! Last month it was focusing on pulling the team together to launch our biggest campaign of the year (Do It In A Dress) which will go live in August. There isn’t really a ‘typical’ day to be honest. We’re a small charity, resources are tight, so every day there are a million and one different tasks to be done. All you can do is get in there and do it.

Who has been your hero, or greatest inspiration growing up and why?

There is an amazing woman named Eve Ensler who I look up too. She had a pretty rough start in life, but rather than letting it define her, she turned it into something positive. She runs safe houses for women in the Congo, and has start a movement to end violence against women, plus written multiple plays and books. She is definitely one of my heroes.

What advice would you give girls who are interested in your career?

My career is really focused around entrepreneurship. I’ve just started another business, a social enterprise, that makes beautiful bangles engraved with powerful sayings for women. It sounds odd, but my career is really an entrepreneur. My advice would be to the girls who feel like they don’t quite fit in anywhere just yet – I was quite a rebel in school, I wasn’t good with authority at all – but it turns out that is the perfect mix for pretty epic leadership skills. The fact that I was a bit different and refused to follow rules, means I’m quite successful in starting businesses because I’m always looking to do things differently.

Gorgeous bangles from the range. Credit: @bebangles

Gorgeous bangles from the range. Credit: @bebangles

For girls interested in one day starting their own business or charity – just do it. When you’re young it’s so easy to make mistakes and not have HUGE repercussions – it’s really the perfect time. So don’t feel like you need to follow the typical path – finish high school, go to university, get a job, get married, have kids etc.

There is a BIG WIDE world out there. Have a year off after you finish high school, get a job, travel the world – we can put SO much pressure on ourselves to have it all together while we’re still in school. You’re 17 or 18! The world is your oyster and ‘adult life’ can wait. Get out there, have fun, try new things, find what you’re passionate about and most importantly follow your dreams. Your parents, your teachers, your family and friends, EVERYONE will have an opinion about what you SHOULD do – but you know you best. If you want to study music, do it. If you want to take a year off to travel the world, do it. If you don’t want to go to university at all, then don’t.

Your life is yours and there is no ‘right’ path. I’ve become successful by consistently taking the path others told me was ‘wrong’. Follow what gets you excited, what lights you up, and you can’t go wrong.

List your most valuable resources that you turn to constantly for inspiration in your profession?

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