Born and raised in a refugee camp in Argentina, Monica Phromsavanh moved to New York in 2006 with just $200 in her pocket.
10 years after, Monica is now the CEO and Co-Founder at ModaBox, and has recently been invited to share her personal story at The White House Summit hosted by President Obama, First Lady Michelle and Oprah Winfrey.
Sorry but there are no excuses after hearing Monica’s amazing story.
My life began in a refugee camp in a small town called Misiones in Argentina. My parents fled war in their native Laos to find a better future for themselves. We lived among many other refugees in a camp without electricity or running water. Life was very difficult and often just having a meal on the table was a luxury. When I was 14 I dropped out of school and when I was 15 I was living in a boarding house in Buenos Aires with two other girls, all of us sharing one bed. I got my first job working for a clothing wholesaler making very little money- but for the first time in my life I could afford life’s basic necessities. It wasn’t easy but my life was great! When I was 17 I boarded a plane for the first time in my life and landed at JFK airport in NY not knowing a single word of English. My first job in the States was in a chocolate factory in Pennsylvania making $5 per hour. I had to wake up early every morning to ride a company bus 2 hours just to begin my shift.
When I was ready to leave Philadelphia and I moved around a little before settling in Connecticut. I got a job working at Express where I would never refuse an extra shift or an unpopular task. I went above and beyond what was expected of my position determined to make something out of this opportunity. My bosses noticed and I was promoted to manager. In 2006 I bought a bus ticket to NY and with $200 and the two suitcases holding all of my possessions, my life’s next chapter began. I shared a room with a friend in Coney Island and spent $73 on a monthly metrocard, budgeting the rest of my money by eating only from the dollar menu. My dream was to land a job on NY’s famed Fifth Avenue. After a couple of interviews I was hired at Burberry to work in men’s RTW. In 2009 I started to think about having my own business. I’d met a lot of great designers and I was able to convince enough of them to let me take their merchandise on consignment. I quit my job and for the next several months I hustled all over New York City selling clothing and accessories at street fairs, sample sales- anywhere people were shopping I tried to be. One day while walking through the Chelsea section of NY I stumbled into the Limelight Shops. One of NY’s most iconic buildings, the Limelight was once a church then a notorious nightclub. After sitting empty for years, it was now a shopping galleria. I put in an inquiry about renting space and a couple months later I opened my first store, Modalistas. Well, it was really more of a “kiosk”- I started out with 100 sq.ft. As my business acumen grew, so did sales. I met more designers and manufacturers and little by little my space grew. In less than 2 years my store occupied 4000 sq.ft. At the end of 2013 I took a trip to Asia to unwind and see where my family began. I knew I was ready for the next step and I thought taking a little break might help me to see what it should be. When I got back the idea for ModaBox was born. I wanted to take the type of personalized service we were providing in the store online to reach a larger audience. I developed a business plan, enlisted the help and advice of the great network of people I had built, and launched the company. By September of 2014 we launched our beta version and I closed the store so we could all focus on developing ModaBox. I always thought it was better to be 100% great at one thing than 50% good at two. We’ve been growing ever since and most importantly I will never forget where I came from……….
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