Mentor of the month: Avis Charles
Avis was matched with Yasmin, from Harrow College, just under a year ago. Avis encouraged Yasmin not to limit her aspirations, and with over 40 years’ experience in the fashion and textiles industry, she was able to support her mentee in pursuing her dream career.
When you first heard of The Girls’ Network, why did you decide to get involved?
Avis: I think it’s really important for a black business woman to support a young girl. I’ve been mentoring young people for over 20 years but what’s great about The Girls’ Network is you provide that framework too. The way the girls are selected, and the way you arrange the speed-mentoring matching event is absolutely great. I think The Girls’ Network works perfectly, actually.
Yasmin: I’d never heard of anything like The Girls’ Network before. I just thought it would be stupid not to try it, because you get matched with someone specifically and it comes down to your individual ambitions.
What happened at the matching event?
Yasmin: It was great to see so many professionals in one room. Where I’m from, women from ethnic minority backgrounds are all very ambitious, but they often stay at a job level until they retire. To see women who have accomplished so much already was encouraging.
Do you remember your first meeting? What did you do?
Avis: We met at Selfridges, I think both of us were quite nervous and I didn’t know what to expect. But in the end we chatted for two and a half hours at least…
Yasmin: When I met her I wanted to be a make-up artist, I didn’t see anything beyond this. She asked me, do you just want to be a make-up artist or more? And I was like, what, more? She talked about starting my own brand, and I’d never thought that was possible. Avis has showed me it takes hard work, but you shouldn’t rule things out just because they’re big. I’m really determined now, I know it’s going to happen with Avis’s help if I work hard. Before to have my own brand was a distant dream but now I see it as a realistic dream.
What’s been the highlight?
Yasmin: I got to work with a lady who was creating her own fashion brand. It made me really excited to see someone actually go through it… it felt closer, much more doable. Now I think in a different way; before it was less practical. Now I can see myself doing it. Also the Balenciaga exhibition. I told Avis that Balenciaga was one of my favourite designers, and she invited me to a show.
Avis, what’s the biggest change you’ve seen in Yasmin over the past year?
Avis: I think she’s grown immensely. I have never mentored anyone who has grown so quickly. Her thought processes are extraordinary, and this is not purely down to me, I’m there as a conduit. Her belief in herself is extraordinary. I’m certain there’s nothing she couldn’t achieve.
Yasmin: I’ve been reflecting on how I was a year ago, and I know I have changed. When I met Avis she asked me a lot of questions that made me think: why not? Why can’t I do this? I can! Obviously I’ve got my parents, but to have someone in that industry who has gone so far is so helpful. I feel confident now that I can develop my brand. If I hadn’t met her I wouldn’t have grown anywhere near as much, I wouldn’t be at the College that I am at now either. I don’t even know what I’d be doing. I don’t know if I’d have believed it if someone had told me a year ago!
What are you up to now, Yasmin?
Yasmin: I’m doing a course at the Arcadia Academy. I didn’t have the qualifications to go straight into uni to do fashion so I was restricted. Avis asked me if I had heard of Arcadia Academy, and it was everything I could ever want from a course. It’s Fashion Design Level 3 which will get me into uni after these two years.
What advice would you give, Yasmin, to a girl who is about to start her mentoring journey?
Yasmin: I would say you’re one of the luckiest people alive! Getting onto The Girls’ Network is the best thing that’s happened to me.
And what words of wisdom do you have for mentors, Avis?
Avis: You just need to listen a lot, and I mean really listen. And through The Girls’ Network mentees don’t end up with just a mentor, they end up with a whole team of mentors. Yasmin has access to any of my friends and contacts now.