Mélanie Myriam is a self-proclaimed “business womum.” Born and raised in Morocco’s most populous city, the headstrong 30-year-old is now living abundantly in New York as an entrepreneur, while being a wife and mother of three wonderful children under the age of four.
Mélanie’s unwavering drive and determination has led her on an incredible voyage. It all started in the northern African coast of Casablanca, where the then 16-year-old Myriam felt that it was time to escape from her home base so she could attend school in Paris. “My native language is French and I wanted to study in a more developed country in order to get a good education,” she states.
After two prosperous years of high school in Paris, Mélanie was accepted into the prestigious Applied Mathematics and Computer Sciences program at Dauphine University. She studied applied mathematics for five years and eventually received her master's degree in Financial and Statistical Engineering. During the last year of college, Myriam fell in love with her husband who received the same degree. Following graduation, the mathematically inclined lovebirds left their nest and headed to the U.S, where they are currently living out their long-desired American dream.
I recently sat down with the thriving luxury minaudière designer to further discuss her life back home in Morocco, the inspiration behind her huge career change and find out how she juggles work and family. Check out our dialogue below:
FRENDY: As a child growing up in Haiti, I frequently heard stories of how amazing Morocco was from family members who travelled there. Unfortunately, I never got a chance to go. Can you provide a glimpse of its beauty since you actually lived there?
MELANIE: Casablanca is the economic capital of Morocco. The streets are always crowded and loud. From the bazaar to the beach coast, the diversity of people is astonishing. Modern and traditional Muslims, Christians, Jews, Asians, Central Africans and tourists--you can discover and meet much more cultures and people than you would expect to. Casablanca is a developing city where modernity and traditions meet at every corner. You can buy handmade artisanal items in the souk or shop luxurious products at the Morocco mall - largest mall of Africa, whose fountains are way more captivating than the ones in Vegas. You can play in neat and selective golf/tennis /basketball courts or enjoy good surf and even horse rides in the public Atlantic sea beaches. The ideal weather makes life easier and more agreeable.
No one could resist the delicious and worldly renowned food--from couscous to tajines made of 100% organic veggies and fruits, like locally raised lemons, oranges, olives or even Argan oil (which are exported and used worldwide). For a fun night out, hookah bars, clubs or restaurants never get empty. For a more spiritual moment, the largest mosque of Africa and 2nd largest mosque of the world, the "Hassan II Mosque," is open to everyone. People are tolerant, welcoming, warm and helpful in Casablanca, although the traffic could try their nerves.
The history of the country is rich and full of surprises. It starts with the original Berbers -nomads that mostly lived in the mountains- to the Arab invasion that brought Islam and the Arab culture to Morocco, to then the Judeo Spanish culture brought by Jews escaping Spain and finding refuge in Morocco, to finally the late French influence debuting with the French protectorate in the 1920s. Please take a second to imagine the resulting multicultural and diverse country that Morocco is. Imagine that wonderful Mediterranean and oriental style - in architecture, fashion and art. I wouldn't have wished to be born and raised anywhere else.
FRENDY: Jheez! It feels like I know everything about Casablanca now. I’m definitely going to visit real soon. How difficult was it for you to leave such majestic scenery at the age of 16?
MELANIE: At that time, I was so ambitious, I felt “young, wild and free.” And I already loved traveling and discovering new places, people and cultures; it was exciting, not scary. Banal events would turn into fun adventures. For example, I remember my first time taking the subway- so cool, but it didn’t last long! *Laughs*
I left a very comfortable routine around my family in Casablanca for sure, but this move was much needed for my soul. Paris is magical! I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to live in such amazing city. The experience enabled my growth in so many ways.
FRENDY: Which high school did you attend in Paris? And was it difficult to get accustomed to the school system there?
MELANIE: I studied in Morocco at the Alliance group, and then transferred to the one in France quite easily. It was the same curriculum in both countries, so I was able to continue the program normally. I was a very good student. The transition happened smoothly and successfully.
FRENDY: You have an immense love for math and finance, when did it begin?
MELANIE: My interests began when I was 10 years old, playing all sorts of board games with my older brother--my favorites being Cluedo and BattleShip. The plot twists, schemes to bluff the adversary, and tactics to win enticed me. I was good at it and I enjoyed it. It reinforced my competitiveness and desire to tackle everything in my way. Mathematics is abstract, it relates to numbers, quantities and space. You must learn the rules, theorems and definitions, to play the game. Finance is strategic, you have to be able to predict the next move of your adversary, anticipate the next trend and be convincing. And so, I started acquiring most of my tricks as a young sister playing those games of logic.
FRENDY: When you moved to New York, did you abruptly acquire a job in your field of study?
MELANIE: I applied to a prestigious master’s program in Mathematics of Finance at Columbia University back when I lived in Paris. I was selected along with 30 other students from a pool of 800+ applicants. Opening the acceptance letter was one of the most intense moments of my life. I packed my luggage with my husband in less than a month and flew to realize my dream.
As soon as the school year started, I received job offers from renowned banks and financial institutions. The HRs placed me on a pedestal; I could feel I was already doing something unique and recognized. I accepted a full time job at Exane-BNP Paribas, and managed to take all my classes from 6pm and on at night. I juggled between work and school five days a week, and spent my weekends doing homework or touring in NYC. Overall, everything happened really quickly but I lived each moment intensely. It would be safe to say that it was an abrupt transition and goal reaching time.
FRENDY: What compelled you to eventually quit your stable 9 to 5?
MELANIE: I found out that I was pregnant for the first time on my graduation day from Columbia. I decided to dedicate myself entirely to this happy event, in order to live the motherhood experience to the fullest. I neither wanted to miss a bit of it, nor be constantly stressed out at work, thinking about my baby at home. Although I loved my job, Pearl, my first baby girl, did not make me miss any of it. Every day was incredible, it gave me a sense of purpose and constant joy in my life. I had my first son Eli-Raphael and my second daughter Rose within the next two years. I rapidly became a full-time mother of 3 under 3 and felt showered with blessings. The journey of motherhood has been incredible. I will never graduate from this lifetime learning experience.
FRENDY: Incredible! There’s nothing more precious than a mother’s love. Moving forward to the business side of things, why did you start making minaudières and accessories instead of actual clothes?
MELANIE: In August 2016, I started designing my first clutch, simply driven by the desire to get my unique and own minaudière to match my outfit for my cousin’s wedding. As I began to look for a special motif, colors and an overall shape, I felt that my creativity was limitless. Ideas were bursting in my mind; I drew many schemes and patterns.
As my kids entered pre-school at that period, I had more free time to go back to work. And this time, I wanted to express my second passion, my love for designing and fashion. I developed this passion very early during my childhood, when I played running “fashion shows” with my friends as early as 4 years old and later, when I actually walked real kids runways at 10 years old. So, I decided to launch my brand and become a clutch designer. My husband was very supportive and pushed me to follow my heart, and do what I aspired to. He encouraged me to take that challenge and become an entrepreneur.
I believe I made a very good decision taking this path, as I am both creative and pragmatic. I need some hours of “rational math” or simply rationality during my day, but I also need my moments of evasion. I find inspiration by walking in the streets, looking at what surrounds me such as the urban life and different cultures. New York City was the perfect place to amplify the artistic side of me. Therefore, designing clutches represent to me much more than it seems to be. It is the realization of my inner self through matter. I make rectangular shapes, very straight very geometrical, and then add to them some “magic powder”, product of my artistic side - whether it is a particular pattern or a word that projects me to a specific context. And VOILA! I combined my love for fashion designing and mathematics.
FRENDY: You say that your brand is an “Invitation to your Voyage," citing Charles Baudelaire, from Morocco to NY, via Paris and London. How do we learn about your story through your creations?
MELANIE: Indeed, the names of the collections- Arabesque, Courtesy, Romance and Modernism- refer to my multi-stops journey. The “Arabesque” collection is an allusion to my Moroccan origins, both as an Andalusian (Spanish culture under Arab influence) from my mother, and as a Berber (Moroccan pre-Arab culture) from my father. The “Courtesy” collection is for the endless Londonian tea parties, which I attended for 3 months as I participated in an internship program with the Merrill Lynch bank, to warm up myself from the cold atmosphere. The “Romance” collection is inspired by the ten years I spent in Paris, its grandiose architecture, timeless fashion and gourmet food. Finally, the “Modernism” collection is for New York, the city I belong to, the city where I accomplish my dreams and where nothing seems impossible.
FRENDY: It’s astounding how you’re handling full time mommy duties and entrepreneurship. What’s your everyday schedule like?
MELANIE: I wake up everyday at 6am by the cheerful screams of my kids, re-energized from their night and eagerness to conquer the day. Then follows breakfast, dressing and school dropping. It’s now 10am. I have my first coffee break of the day at Starbucks, and immediately start dealing with the manufacturers and customers. Photoshoot scheduling, customer’s feedbacks to take into consideration, new ideas and inspirations to mark down, fixing the website, and more.
I make a quick stop at Whole Foods marketplace before going back home. It’s now time to organize the house and the dinner, to welcome the kids who are coming back from school. Mommy is busy from 3pm until the kid’s bedtime: fun at the park, playdate in the building’s playroom, shower, dinner and story time.
After an exhaustive day, I finally enjoy a peaceful one-on-one dinner with my husband before folding back my sleeves one more time and switching on my computer. From updating my social media and designing personalized orders, to preparing the next collection. I fill a milk bottle once in while.
FRENDY: Do you visit your hometown often?
MELANIE: Yes, at least once a year to refill my batteries and reconnect with my roots. It is also very important for me to go back home to enjoy some leisure time with my parents.
FRENDY: I truly commend you for following your passion. Do you have any words of encouragement for those who are reluctant to fully focus on accomplishing their lifelong goals?
MELANIE: The key is to believe in your project. Be prepared to face some obstacles, to start over many times and to make mistakes. But never forget your primary motivations and your final goal. Work hard and don’t lose hope or patience. People need your ideas out there.