How Marie Jean-Baptise, Founder of Rue 107, Found the Courage to Switch Careers & Launch Her E-Commerce Brand
By Brittney Oliver
There are many first-generation millennials who struggle with creating their own paths to success, or following the blueprint or rather expectations of their immigrant parents. Some decide to follow their hearts and with determination achieve what their parents thought was unthinkable.
Marie Jean-Baptiste did just that when she went from being a licensed nurse practitioner to fashion designer and founder of popular e-commerce brand RUE107. The self-taught designer moved to the United States from Haiti when she was 13. Straight from middle school, Marie’s sister enrolled her in a high school nursing program. Entering the workforce as an LPN at the age of 17 wasn’t all that bad because it developed her work ethic and built her confidence and ability to launch her business! However, her change in career paths created an estranged relationship with her parents when she didn’t talk to them for a year. The Life Currency sat down with Marie to talk about changing career paths and letting go of the pressures to live the life her family wanted for her and creating her own narrative:
When and why did you decide to quit nursing and follow your heart and pursue design?
So my sister enrolled me in this special LPN program, which is like a license in practical nursing. I actually graduated high school as a nurse already. There were three high schools in New York that offered it. After that, I entered college right away to finish my nursing studies. But a few things happened: I couldn't really afford the tuition, and I didn't have a green card yet so I wasn't qualified for financial aid. Also, my family wanted me to do this, but nobody could pay for college, I had to pay for it for myself. So at eighteen, I'm like this is going to be expensive. So I still hung in there and tried, but took some time off and went back. The whole time I was nursing my craft by making dresses, making things for my friends and making uniforms for the nurses at my job. I was always doing it. I think eventually it was like I'm working in a nursing home and I have green hair. Okay, this is enough, I've done this long enough. It was so scary to walk away from my job. However, within one year of working full time as a designer, I made more from making my clothes than I made in three years of nursing combined.
What were your parents’ expectations for you and when was that pressure too much?
I think it started probably in my teen years and it reached a boiling point. By the time I was 20, I was like you guys are absolutely crazy, I don't want to be a nurse, I don't want to live in the suburbs, I want a 212 area code [New York City’s area code] and a driver and I'm going to be a fashion designer. Around this time, I'm at peace with my decision to leave nursing. I thought, I'm going to do this and you guys have to respect it. I held this crazy grudge against my parents for this, and I didn't fully understand it. I had to cut them off for a little bit to just focus and not get distracted. Once I launched my business and it started getting real, I became more empathetic and more understanding because it is really hard. It's brutal. I'm much closer to my parents now, because once you see what they were trying to protect you from, you're like, "Oh my God, they're not crazy."
How did you start your business once you quit your nursing job?
I knew a lot of people that asked me, "Can you make me a dress? Can you do this? Can you do that?" So, the first thing I did was sit down and create my client list. I learned the power of discipline, and you would be surprised by how much you know. My dancer clients kept asking for more and more and very quickly I realized what works, what doesn't work and what I needed to do. You would be surprised if you have a single laser focus on something how fast it can manifest.
What was it like during the period when you didn’t speak to your parents?
For a while, it was very freeing. To being told that I was crazy and foolish for so long to not having to hear it was actually very freeing. I really enjoyed that time in some sense, but, home is home. After I started the business, eventually I had to leave Brooklyn and I moved to Holland. I would speak to my parents here and there, but compared to how much I speak to my family now is nothing. It was interesting because when I came back they were all like, "Did you cut us out?" The major difference was that they respected me once I returned. Nobody asked me again when I was going back to nursing. They just respected me and really just wanted me to succeed. Something completely shifted, and I discovered nobody's going to respect you until you actually give it your damn best. You're going to fall, but you have to try. I don't think the people who love you really realize if you fail. If they see you're giving a hundred percent and it doesn't work, then I think they respect you as well. However, not doing it and just being stagnant doesn't work. Nobody respects you for that.
What advice would you give someone who carves their own path instead of following the blueprint that their parents had for them?
The first thing I would say is to forget your parents for a second. Just quiet that noise and shut it up because sometimes we hide behind that, too. I think a lot us, I know I did, for a long time. I was like, "Is this them? Or is it just me? Am I a coward? Am I a punk? What's going on?" How much can you blame them? At some point, you have to take responsibility for your own future. The older you get, the weaker their voice will become. I think that's why a bit of separation is important.
What’s your advice for millennials who are looking to launch their own business?
The first thing I would say is to be really honest with yourself. Can you really work as much as it's going to take, can you really do it? You’llgo from working really hard to working really smart, and then eventually it will kind of balance out. I'm still in the developing my working smart phase, so I'm still working really hard. I think I meet a lot of people and I do see this trend of everybody wants it very quickly. You're going to have to make some radical changes in your life, but are you ready for it? Everybody wants to be comfortable, and entrepreneurship is not for the comfortable. There's nothing comfortable about this space. It's brutal but it's a beautiful journey. I wouldn't change it for the world, but I think a lot of people are not being really honest with themselves. If you have the itch to do something in your twenties, do it because you're going to regret it so much later.
Brittney is a freelance writer and marketing communications professional based in New York City. She has written for ESSENCE, Huffington Post, xoNecole, Levo.com and other online publications. This Tennessee native is a proud Howard University alumna. She is using her career journey to inspire and motivate others through her Lemons 2 Lemonade platform. Follow her on Twitter @Britt_S_O and visit www.brittneyoliver.com to see what she's working on!