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Chantel Terrell Finds Confidence in Connections

Chantel Terrell reflects on the mentorship, professional connections, and empowering experiences that have defined her success as a leader of color

“You make it look too easy.” Chantel Terrell, vice president of global sourcing and production at Savage X Fenty, admits she was a bit stunned when her mentor told her this on one particularly frustrating day. After all, being responsible for the popular lingerie company’s distribution, sourcing, and production strategies is no simple task. The challenges are inevitable, and as her mentor put it, results are expected. Problems are what get people’s attention.

“After that conversation I began to focus on building cross-functional relationships that were more than tactical,” Terrell recalls. “Internal partnerships are just as important as the external partnerships. My overall leadership style started to take shape after that lesson.”

Terrell says that her mentor made a point to invest in her when she was still a junior member of the sourcing team. “He noticed my work ethic and potential . . . Working with him showed me how valuable it was to have an advocate. He is invested in me as a person and as a female leader.”

And today, the VP strives to do this for her own team, empowering them and setting a standard for personal growth, something that she herself is passionate about. She keeps busy with career seminars, networking, and guiding her own mentees. The latter may be the most important to her, as she credits the guidance she received from mentors as pivotal to her career development.

“This is always the opportunity to be able to look at [myself] from someone else’s perspective and to [identify] the areas that I need to improve and can do better,” she explains.

“[My mentor] noticed my work ethic and potential . . . Working with him showed me how valuable it was to have an advocate. He is invested in me as a person and as a female leader.”

Career coaches may advise newly minted professionals to seek out high-level connections within their industry to get a foot in the door, but Terrell sees it differently. “It’s important to build that network of people who you can go to for different things,” she affirms. “It’s not one person. I’ve found that it is not even related to title or if they’re an executive or not. Some of the people who have really helped me the most don’t even work in my industry, but they can relate.

“They can also help you see things from a different perspective where you remove yourself out of it to see the bigger picture,” she adds, as an epiphany of her own came when she was asked to participate in the Management Leadership Training for Tomorrow program. The nonprofit aims to “build diverse leaders and equitable workspaces” by empowering individuals from underrepresented communities of color to discover their potential and build a strong network.

“I had the opportunity to share experiences with senior managers from a wide range of companies. Discussing personal and professional challenges with other people of color helped me work through the hints of imposter syndrome that flare up from time to time,” Terrell says.

But one topic stood out to her: reflective leadership.

“The session exposed how I show up as a listener, which was also pivotal in my development as a leader. Listening with the intent to problem-solve does not foster development for my team members. Reflective listening is the key to fostering trust, healthy debate, and empowerment,” says Terrell, who now applies this tactic to everything from stakeholder communication to imagining long-term strategies on a grand scale.

Armed with knowledge and expertise garnered from so many defining experiences has inspired Terrell to give back to other people on the path she once walked. The VP is an active contributor to the Women of Color Retail Group, which she joined in 2020 to connect with other women of color—especially those also working in sourcing and manufacturing. “It is a great forum to share ideas, discuss industry trends, network, and hear from other women of color in the industry,” Terrell enthuses.

“Reflective listening is the key to fostering trust, healthy debate, and empowerment.”

She admits that before joining the team at Savage X, finding a brand that truly championed diversity was a challenge. “Women in leadership have been rare for me in some stages of my career. Although some industries are considered male-dominated, it doesn’t mean you can’t find your place and thrive,” Terrell shares.

The culture at the company recognizes that this applies to its employees, too. “In my personal life, I like to express myself through the way I dress or the way I style my hair, and to just know that I’ll be accepted in any room I enter,” Terrell says, which has undoubtedly contributed to her confidence of being the right person for her role.

These encouraging experiences shouldn’t be rare. Terrell remains a steady source of support for other women in the field, newcomers in particular, who may share some of that imposter syndrome she’s worked to banish before. “I am always open to share my perspective and journey in hopes that anything I learned along the way could empower or help others be confident to know that they, too, can achieve.”

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