Meet Chaya, Founder of Mechanic Shop Femme
Chaya is empowering women to learn about their cars, and how to get the best deal possible from purchase to maintenance. She uses her automotive knowledge to empower women and queer folks through online classes and personal consultations. I sat down with her to learn more about her background, what it’s been like in the male-dominated auto industry, and what’s next. Read the full interview here:
You grew up in foster care. What about that experience prepared you for who you are and what you do today?
Foster care made me tough and compassionate. Struggle is a natural segue to passion and a unique ability to understand other people on a pretty intimate level.
You started your career at Sears. How’d you get the job and what did you do there?
Sears Auto Center was the first stop in a career journey that gave birth to Mechanic Shop Femme. I was aging out of foster care and quite desperate for a job, any job really not even one that made a difference. A kind woman saw my GoFundMe and approached me connecting me with this opportunity at Sears department store my hometown. Going in for an interview I was resigned to folding clothing for the next few years while I worked my way through college but instead a powerful life changing opportunity was offered to me. Service writer in Sears Auto Center. The rest as they say is history.
How’d you make your way from Wisconsin to New York?
Three months into working at Sears Auto Center a drunk driver crashed into and totaled my 2004 Buick Century. I was working two jobs averaging 80 hours between Sears and my delivery gig. There was an opportunity at Sears Auto Center in Brooklyn, NY and I almost literally jumped on the first plane to New York City. In my heart of hearts I always planned on coming back home to Milwaukee but the opportunity to earn at a much faster pace (and not needing a car) was too much to pass up.
Do any particular experiences come to mind where you had to deal with sexism or discrimination in some form? How’d you handle it?
I can't count how many times people asked to talk to the "big man" instead of me, or would dismiss my knowledge, passion and expertise instead settling for their ego. Working in a shop seemed at times like a measuring contest. Who was the bigger man. Who could outshout? No one would call me a quite woman or meek by any stretch of the imagination. I'd often educate men on their sexist behaviors at the beginning of my career, turning my biggest critics into lifelong customers. I have to be honest that things have gotten, in ways, tougher. I've gotten tired of always having to teach. To prove. To conquer. Education turned into humor and then into a form of defeat, even. Honestly, I take the time to educate everyone about their cars, but I no longer take the time to stand up for my femininity. I prove with actions and make it my business to educate people who want to be educated, not those that fight be every step of the way.
Many women struggle to show their worth (i.e. they’re uncomfortable talking about their accomplishments because they think it sounds self-promotional.) Is that something you’ve also struggled with? If so, how have you handled it?
When I just started maybe I struggled with this a little bit but I've grown a thick skin. Here's the thing, babe: Having an ego is not a bad thing. There is literally no one that is going to talk for you, advocate for you or help you climb that latter. Build relationships and self-promote. Be silent while you make your moves and once you have the facts to back up your claims talk about them all the time. Opportunities come within our own circle and if no one knows about what you do and what you've accomplished they would even think about you.
Talk to us about starting your own business. Why’d you create it? What have been the most difficult and best things about doing it?
Cars are such a scary topic for some many people. They only know enough to scare them. Mechanic Shop Femme started as a blog about cars, fashion and queer lifestyle. It's become so much more with classes, one-on-one car support and consulting and industry career coaching.
The best part about running Mechanic Shop Femme is the people who I serve. When someone's face lights up because they finally got something or someone saves hundreds of dollars on a car purchase that just lights up my soul. Changing someone's whole perspective about cars or even empowering them to go get that oil change themselves is amazing.
The hardest part is probably the feeling that I can be doing so much more! I strongly believe that in order to do this work you have to be fully immersed in the automotive industry. (My mentors disagree, so of course things may change) I work full time (50-55 hours) at my automotive job and run Mechanic Shop Femme on the weekends and evenings. Makes for some long long weeks sometimes and the inability to make everything I dream up a reality.
Where can we follow/find you, etc?
My next automotive class is coming up in March on the topic of Maintenance 101. This is not a DIY opportunity but rather a way to learn about all the maintenance you car needs, why and when. Great opportunity to empower yourself through education and save you money in the long term by taking care of your second largest investment.
Although cars are my first passion I also blog about plus size fashion and lifestyle. If you sell a product that you think would be a good fit for my audience please reach out and let's see how we can collaborate. Chaya@mechanicshopfemme.com.
Anything else you want our readers to know?
You can accomplish ANYTHING that you truly set your heart to. Sometimes the only one in your way is yourself.
Bonus: how was your experience at Get Money Get Paid?
What an empowering conference. I learned so much about budgeting, money mindset and even Venture Capital. It was incredible to see so many women in a room together working to make each other and the world an easier place for women to get paid.