Xenia Tchoumi | ELLE UK

Europe's Top Digital Entrepreneur Xenia Tchoumi On Female Empowerment: 'Transform Envy Into Inspiration'

Ahead of her first talk at the United Nations in Geneva on women in technology to mark International Women's Day, we caught up with digital entrepreneur Xenia Tchoumi to find out what really makes a successful businesswoman in 2017.

'If you feel like being feminine, girly or want to wear a skirt and high heels and be respected, go for it. It's very important for a woman to be herself and refuse to conform.'

It's a refreshing message for women in business from a 29-year-old scheduled to appear on BBC World News Global to talk about female empowerment later today, but to describe digital entrepreneur Xenia Tchoumi (born Tchoumitcheva) by her age would be to underestimate her profound knowledge and years of experience in commerce, finance and the fashion industry.

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Let's get one thing straight, Tchoumi isn't your average entrepreneur.

The makings of a digital mogul

An economics graduate of University of Lugano, Switzerland, Xenia speaks an impressive six languages, is a regular TEDx speaker and boasts eight million followers on her blog, Chic Overdose – a career that came about after a stint as a model as a teenager.

However, after several years working as a 'face' in fashion, the Swiss-Italian native soon realised she no longer wanted to be 'treated like a doll'.

After placing second in a popular Swiss beauty pageant at 18-years-old, Tchoumi became a house-hold name in Switzerland which sparked off a career writing for finance magazines such as Bilan (the equivalent of Forbes in Switzerland) and presenting on television about her real passion – business. 'Opposed to being just a model, I realized I could have a voice,' she explains.

Years later, Xenia found herself interning with several of the most highly-respected finanicial institutions in the world, including Merrill Lynch, The London Hedge Fund Duet Group and JP Morgan Chase.

But, rather than accepting a coveted full-time job offer from the latter – a career that no doubt would have seen the then 23-year-old on the path to earning a six-figure salary and liaising with the world's top entrepreneurs – Xenia turned her back on the world of finance to become her own boss.

However, the decision didn't result in an overnight success.

The positive side of failure

After a failed book contract in the US, Xenia soon found herself sitting on her mum's sofa, 'eating and not doing anything because I didn't really know what I wanted to do'.

'I'd finished university, dropped the world of finance and tried several different careers. From the outside, it seemed like I was really successful but in my own personal journey, I was lost,' she adds.

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Right before the @albertaferretti show in a total look. Shot by @eloan_anquez #MFW #streetstyle

A post shared by XENIA TCHOUMI - London (@xenia) on

It was only when a friend who was experimenting with blogging suggested she started her own online platform that her life changed forever.

From the outside, it seemed like I was really successful but in my own personal journey, I was lost.

After a year publishing articles and building up a contact list in the fashion industry, Xenia soon hit one million followers – a growth she describes as 'exponential'.

Reflecting on her 'eureka' moment, Xenia admits: 'That was when I realized blogging could be my focus. That could become my job.'

It's a career that has since seen her model for the likes of ELLE, Vanity Fair, nab acting roles alongside Eva Longoria and Christian Slater, host Miss Ukraine 2012 and strike up friendships with fellow models Adriana Lima, Winnie Harlow and Bella Hadid.

Despite her success, Tchoumi credits failure as an important part of carving out her own business trajectory.

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Opening up on the negative side of social media, that often sees users post perfectly-curated, idealistic versions of life, Xenia believes it's important to speak openly about the setbacks, the struggles with confidence and the failures many budding entrepreneurs experience in the early days of starting a business.

She says: 'Being lost and in a crisis is part of researching who you are as a person. I tried to embrace when I was lost. It was by wallowing in that feeling for a while that I was, somehow, able to find an answer to what I wanted to do with my career.'

As a result, Xenia feels inspired to talk to woman about the need to feel self-assured and empowered to carve out a career in business and has led her into another unexpected sphere of her career – public speaking.

Female empowerment and leadership

After a month travelling between New York, Milan and Paris for fashion month, this week Xenia appeared at the United Nations in Geneva to discuss the power of digital women in business, two years after presenting her first TEDx talk on how to overcome prejudice through the internet and in the workplace – a phenomenon known all too well for the young entrepreneur.

Having worked in finance for several years, Xenia reveals: 'People would say 'this is a male environment' and I would ask, 'Why? What makes it male dominated?''

'When I was growing up, I never thought, 'I'm a girl, therefore I can do this or that.' It was never in my mind so I'm constantly shocked when someone claims a woman can't do something due to her gender.

'For me, its very important for a woman to remain herself. She doesn't have to be masculine to be strong. You can be incredibly feminine, strong and be respected. Women often think they have to act like a man, dress like a man, speak like a man in order to be respected in a male-dominated environment. No, you should just be yourself.

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'If you feel like being feminine, girly or want to wear a skirt and high heels and be respected, go for it. It's very important for a woman to be herself and refuse to conform,' she says.

I'm constantly shocked when someone claims a woman can't do something due to her gender.

Naming Oprah and Chelsea Handler among her business role models, Xenia is quick to emphasise the path to gender equality starts first with women learning to support each other.

'Envy is healthy but we should transform it into positive energy. By all means, envy another women because they have achieved what you wanted, but transform that bitterness into positive inspiration. Look up to her, don't hate her,' she advises.

It's also about time we drop the strive for perfection.

'You're going to make mistakes and that's fine,' explains Xenia. 'Don't be afraid of making mistakes and don't be ashamed to ask for help and advice when you need it.

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Getting ready for a big BAFTA nominees night with @lancomeofficial and @nespresso #eebaftas

A post shared by XENIA TCHOUMI - London (@xenia) on

'There are so many female communities and entrepreneurs out there who can be great mentors who want to support you. Having a union of women at your disposal is a very powerful tool,' she adds.

Women often think they have to act like a man, dress like a man, speak like a man in order to be respected in a male-dominated environment

While there is no recipe to a successful business woman ('it's very personal'), there are two traits Xenia has found always to be at the core of finding success and happiness among her fellow businesswomen.

'Everyone who is successful has put in the hours and effort to working hard – there's no way around it. Another thing I see in every successful female entrepreneur is believing you will succeed. Shake off any self doubt, right now.'

Following the success of International Women's Day, we couldn't think of a more important message.

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