Meet The Woman Behind Your Essence Empowerment Experience
Before she was helping over half a million women have an empowering and informative experience Gina Charbonnet was just a girl who looked up to her mother. “My mother is someone who inspired me” says Charbonnet, whose turnkey multi-media production firm is celebrating its 11th year as an executive producer for New Orleans' Essence Fest. “She had 3 kids, she was working a full-time job, she was really active in her church and she decided that she wanted to pursue her dream of designing clothes and start her own company DeChar Creations.”
“I just was so impressed that with all that juggling that she still wanted to be in charge and create this company that was really based off of her passion.”
Charbonnet’s mother wasn’t the only one in the family with an entrepreneurial streak. The prestigious New Orleans Charbonnet-Labat-Glapion Funeral Home has been in their family for nearly 140 years.
When it came to her own career she wasn’t sure exactly what path she would take but she knew that two things were non-negotiable. “I didn’t see any other women doing what I wanted to do but I always knew ‘I have to work in a creative industry’ and ‘I have to own a business’.”
That business was GeChar Inc. a firm that specializes in everything from talent acquisition and show direction to creative content development named in her mother’s “memory and in her honor.”
The relationship between GeChar and Essence is a special one that began forming long before the company’s founder had any idea she would one day be adding “principal” to her resume. “In 1996 I was hired as a production assistant and my role has sort of evolved from that year on to really start doing more coordination and more line producing and management and stuff like that for the overall festival.” During that time Charbonnet was able to “absorb the wisdom and light” of the then Essence Editor in Chief Susan L. Taylor.
It’s easy to see why Essence would be appealing to her. At first glance her lighter complexion, boyfriend blazers, and loose curls don’t fit what American society has placed into the monolithic and wildly inadequate box marked “black woman” and having to explain yourself can be taxing, especially in the South. “Both my parents are black. I’ve been socialized as black. We come from a Creole family.”
She describes the experience of working among Taylor and the other black women entrusted with safeguarding the Essence legacy as “cathartic”.
If Essence has given her something special she’s paid in back in kind providing the crown jewel of the brand’s year with the persistence and passion that can only come from sweat equity. When asked why she thinks the media mammoth still chooses to work with her boutique agency she said “I think it's just our approach to the way we work and definitely the attitude of our workers. We see ourselves as brand ambassadors for Essence. We know the brand pretty well and we’re invested in them.” The ‘we’ she refers to is her team, each member of which is chosen for a unique skill that helps make guests experience seamless.
“If you can train properly you can really make magic happen because what we do is unite the power amongst our team and we really do invest in whatever project that we’re apart of in making it a mega success. We’re a hands on kind of white glove company just because we’re growing doesn't mean we’re not pursuing the same sort of detailed approach with each client.”
“We really do give our all” she continued “We give our 300% all the time especially in this regard because we love the work that we do. It’s just an extension of all of us. I think we can relate to it. We really just enjoy working on this event we’re really grateful for that opportunity and I think we are blessed to be a production partner all these years.”
Charbonnet’s work on films like “Eve’s Bayou” and experience as the manager of a community arts grant at Louisiana's Xavier University uniquely prepared her to excel in her work with Essence. She overcomes production issues by working with skilled moderators and thoroughly vetted vendors.
With each year she proved herself worthy of more responsibility and “In 2002 I had the opportunity to do more one on one work with her [Taylor] you know as the producer of the empowerment seminar which what it was called that was that time.” Being afforded that chance resulted in Charbonnet having “a aha moment where you go oh my god! You know that definitely gave me I think a new perspective of who I was at that point. It changed the game for me and changed what I saw myself as and what I could do.”
One of the things she was able to do was provide others with aha moments of their own including a local makeup artist who moved to New York and began working with celebs like Michael Strahan after working on the event with Charbonnet’. “It’s those kind of stories I’m proud of.”
“So many young women who work on the Essence Festival with me have changed like their whole careers and invested in themselves more because of working at the festival.”
Based in New Orleans the business doesn’t just provide a creative outlet for it’s founder, who was once a self described “nerd” heavily into the city’s arts scence, it also provides professional and economic opportunities for young people in the region. GeChar Inc. hired 110 workers for last year’s festival giving them invaluable work experience.
“For the Essence festival we’ve been blessed to work with an amazing group of young people here in the city that really want to work with us so it's a great experience. We really do transition the details and put the right staff in place to make sure we’re caring for our clients needs and make sure that we can sort of bring on production assistants and other people that can really sort of step in and bring their attitude, their passion and just their capacity to learn to make it something great and successful. It’s been a great formula for us.”
Learn more about Gina Charbonnet here.
Learn more about Essence Fest Here.