Inspiring women of NYC: Milène Jardine
Everything started with a simple like on Instagram this spring. The picture was one of the first I posted about my upcoming adventure to New York. I browsed through the profile the like came from and something about it intrigued me enough to follow it. Surprisingly, I soon got a message that thanked me for the like. And before I knew it, I was exploring the website of Milène Jardine Chocolatier, getting familiar with the magical world of chocolate truffles.
Time passed and my trip to New York grew closer. I happened to see a picture of Milène on Instagram, talking to teens about her jump from the corporate world into making artisanal chocolates. That moment sparked an idea in my head: what if I interviewed inspirational successful women who have taken the brave jump to chase their dreams in New York? So, in the first part of the series, we’ll get to know Milène and the story behind her inspiring chocolate business.
FROM CORPORATE FASHION TO CHOCOLATE TRUFFLES
The question I’m personally most intrigued to ask Milène is how she became an entrepreneur. She tells me she worked in men’s fashion at Macy’s for twelve years, starting as an intern and working her way up to product director. Macy’s has its own designers who create the designs for each clothing line made for their private labels. Milène’s job was to take those designs and make them into reality.
In her job in fashion, Milène traveled the world to see factories, handled the bids on materials and production, presented the new lines to clients, planned production and logistics, monitored quality and tracked the success of each line to name a few tasks included in her job. Basically, she was in charge of the clothing lines from start to finish. In addition to all this, she would travel around Europe searching for inspiration and new trends for the next lines waiting to be designed. In the busiest times there could be up to three different lines all going on in different stages for her to handle – talk about keeping busy! At the beginning of her fashion career, she would make chocolates for weddings and small private events, but her career quickly took off and there was less and less time for her passion for baking.
In 2016 there was a big twist when Macy’s sold Milène’s unit to a third party to cut down on costs. Milène had been working at the same company for over ten years, so losing her job all of a sudden was quite a shock. She was offered multiple amazing job opportunities from companies she had worked with during the years, but she turned them all down. Milène believed this break in her life had come for a reason and she wanted to really take her time to think what she wanted in life. She wanted to do something that made her heart and soul smile. She rediscovered her love for baking and decided to combine that with her love for traveling. This is how her idea of creating chocolates for a living first began.
WHAT IS MILÈNE JARDINE CHOCOLATIER?
Milène creates and manufactures handcrafted artisanal chocolate truffles. She uses only natural ingredients in her products: no artificial sweeteners, no added sugar and no preservatives. Milène tells me her goal is to make the natural flavors of her ingredients shine through as well as possible. She also wants to educate people on the health benefits of certain ingredients through chocolate. Her chocolates are incorporated with different types of herbs, spices and other ingredients that have been researched to have positive health benefits. What would be a better way to educate people than do it through delicious chocolate?
What makes Milène’s business especially intriguing is the story behind it. Each chocolate truffle she designs is inspired by a country she’s visited. There is lots of inspiration to choose from as Milène has visited over 35 countries! Her goal is to capture the soul, vibe and atmosphere of the country of inspiration into a chocolate truffle. For example, Egypt inspired her to create the truffle called Goddess, which is a tasty combination of hibiscus and mint. Hibiscus is an essential element while visiting the ancient pyramids, whereas mint is a standard flavor served in tea in Egypt. The name was inspired by all the strong female characters Milène learned about during her trip.
Milène tells me she’s sad about all the evil and negativity going on in the world nowadays. Chocolate is her way of bringing alive small, forgotten and beautiful details and moments of the world – pockets of hope, as she describes them. Milène wants to cherish the unique beauty of the world and each of its countries with her chocolates. The name of the chocolate line comes for her personal motto: live by love.
HOW IS A DECADENT CHOCOLATE TRUFFLE BORN?
Milène explains that most chocolate truffles are made by molding the creamy ganache filling first. After that the chocolate is poured on top of the ganache to create the final truffle. Milène’s truffles are made in a different way, which allows her to play around with the textures of crisp and creamy better. She starts by tempering chocolate and pouring it into molds. Once the chocolate has hardened, the ganache is poured into the crispy chocolate molds. This provides a creamier and softer ganache compared to the other way.
I am fascinated how Milène has time to prepare the chocolates by hand with everything else involved in running a business. She tells me she has a chef and an assistant who help her, and she also hires seasonal help in the busiest seasons. One of her biggest area of sales are the Christmas gift chocolates companies send out to thank their clients for the past year. Even though Milène’s business is still quite young, she has already worked with companies such as Google, The Huffington Post and Roger Vivier. Even the Serbian royal family has tasted her chocolates.
When I ask Milène if she can name one truffle that’s her favorite, she replies it’s completely up to her mood. When she’s in the mood for something rich, she chooses the Puriste, which instantly takes her to the ambient streets of Paris. Serenity (whisky/seasalt) reminds her of the misty and mysterious vibes of Ireland. Harvey Wallbanger is a citrus flavored truffle that is in tribute to Milène’s late grandfather, who had the biggest sweet tooth in the family. He was always Milène’s number one fan and cheerleader and a big support in Milène’s baking hobby as a child. He passed away while Milène was building her business, so it was natural to create a tribute truffle for him.
MILÈNE’S TIPS TO SUCCESS
Milène talks about the importance of networking many times during the interview. She tells me she’s had good support from the networks she established during her fashion career. She used to be the one receiving boxes of chocolate from her contacts at the end of the year as gifts, so when she started her own company, she contacted many of those companies and asked if they would like to try her chocolates to send out instead. Many of the companies switched to Milène’s chocolates and her business got off to a good start.
You can hear a smile in Milène’s voice as she tells me about how you should always keep your mind open as you never know where you’ll find the right contacts. Milène’s mom works at an airport’s VIP department, where she keeps some of Milène’s business cards always at hand. Through this link, Milène was introduced to famous wedding gown designer Ines di Santo. Through networking on Instagram, Milène met amazing women entrepreneurs who connected her with a private jet company, who started serving her chocolates on their flights. Out of the blue, Milène received a letter of testimonial from Hillary Clinton who had enjoyed her chocolates on the plane and fallen in love with them.
I ask Milène about what it’s like being an entrepreneur in New York where competition is tough and success is harder than in many other places. Milène admits competition is tough, but she also says that the city offers so much help and support for businesses. Especially foundations and nonprofits dedicated to helping female entrepreneurs have been helpful to her. Milène has received help in for example setting up a commercial kitchen, law questions and permits, marketing, finance and trademarking. She does remind me that the help is out there, but it will never come find you. You have to actively make noise of yourself and your business and be present at networking events.
THE SUCCESS AND CHALLENGE OF AN ENTREPRENEUR
Milène started building her chocolate business from scratch, which was overwhelming and even scary in a way. She had gone to work for over ten years, knowing exactly what she needed to do and what was expected of her. She was in charge of a 200-million-dollar department at Macy’s with big teams and a hectic pace. All of a sudden she was on her own without a clear path ahead of her. Milène hired a business coach that helped her dig her dreams and goals into a clear plan. She tells me hiring the business coach is one of the best decisions in her life. Her coach helped her find a new focus and keep her routines going.
Milène’s biggest challenge is probably familiar to many entrepreneurs: the uncertainty and unknown future. There are many things you need to know, find out and learn, but sometimes you don’t realize it until you have to learn through a mistake. Sometimes it’s hard to believe in yourself and stay positive. Milène says that routines are a good way to deal with uncertainty as they create structure to life. In addition to good routines, Milène works with a meditation coach, exercises, hikes and spends time in nature. She says that in addition to networking, peer support is one of the essential things in keeping your head on track as an entrepreneur. When you talk with other business owners, you realize that many have gone through exactly the same feelings you have, gotten through them and succeeded.
OUR DREAM LIFE IS NOW
The last question I ask Milène before we wrap up the interview is whether she is living her dream life or not. She thinks for a bit and then the answer comes out confidently and with such sunshine: yes, I am! She tells me that of course she has things she wants to achieve in the future such as growing her business, possibly hiring more people and expanding to new products. She also has goals and dreams in her personal life, but she tells me she’s lately understood that a dream life is really an attitude of how you live your life. She has decided that her dream life is here and now, not once this or that has happened. Milène tells me she’s happier than ever, even with so much to learn from life and this world.
I think Milène’s story is such an inspiration! Her happiness and passion towards what she’s doing really resonates from her. You can hear from her voice that she speaks from her heart. These stories give me so much inspiration, empowerment and energy to go after my own dreams as well. It’s awesome to see someone doing their own thing and succeeding in it. And who knows, maybe one day we’ll see what Milène’s vibe of Finland tastes like. Until then, remember that a piece of chocolate a day keeps a powerful woman on the right path!
Check out Milène’s website and the stories behind her chocolates here: https://milenejardine.com/