Vodka CEO Chanel Turner on Breaking Barriers in the Spirit Industry

After taking a huge financial risk at 25 years old, she became the first and only African-American woman to own her own vodka line.

Posted: 05/02/2014 04:15 PM EDT
Chanel Turner, Vodka

Meet Chanel Turner.

A full-time web developer for the Pentagon by day, this ambitious entrepreneur launched FOU-DRÉ vodka in 2009 after being fed up with other spirit brands on the market. 

At the young age of 25, Turner poured her entire savings into researching and developing a clean tasting, flavor-infused vodka that didn't smell like rubbing alcohol. Her bold move made her the first and only African-American woman to own her own vodka line.

Today, FOU-DRÉ (a play on the French word for "lightning") can be found in nine different flavors and in more than 30 liquor stores nationwide, as well as Canada and Singapore. 

We caught up with Turner to learn more about her non-stop drive, her fearlessness and the challenges that come with being a pioneer.  

BET.com: How do you find the time and energy to run a full-fledged business while still working full-time?

Chanel Turner: It has its challenges at times when trying to do both. However, the drive for success trumps all that I may be feeling at times. When I am mentally or physically tired, I just shift focus into another gear.  

Pouring all of your savings into starting your own business in a competitive industry outside of your professional field is a pretty gutsy move. Where did you find the courage? Were there times when you wondered if you made the wrong decision?

I've always been the type to do unimaginable things. I like challenges and overcoming obstacles bigger than me. My mother always told me, "Sky's the limit; you can do whatever you want to do." And, that always stayed with me. Of course, there were plenty of times where I second-guessed myself, as the financial demands to do something of this magnitude became more and more difficult. The spirit industry is one of the most tightly regulated industries, making it nearly impossible for someone without large financial backing to gain serious headway. But, through faith, commitment and an excellent team and support system, we have made the impossible possible. 

You've said in a previous interview that some of your peers in the spirits industry doubted you because of your gender. Tell us a little bit about what it's like being a Black female pioneer in that space. 

Being a woman in most industries has its challenges. You have to break many glass ceilings to get to where you are trying to go. However, I never viewed this as a male-dominated industry. I viewed this as an industry that needed to be changed, redefined and disrupted. Every half century or so, something or someone changes the conversation in every industry and the change becomes the new standard and redefines that industry being redefined.  We're here to redefine. 

What is the best advice you've received and successfully implemented as an entrepreneur?
 
The best advice I've received and implemented is get over the fear of what people say you can't do and just do it, despite it all.

Anything you'd like to say to the B* Real readers?

FOU-DRÉ celebrates the essence of freedom: being liberated to resist the status quo, go against the grain and do the unthinkable. Follow your dreams until they become realities.


Patrice Peck is a multimedia maven who spends her time covering important Black stories and individuals and running her beauty start-up, Fussy.  


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(Photos from left: Johnny Nunez/WireImage, FOU-DRÉ Vodka)

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