By Candice Wagener | Photographed by Hillary Schave on location at Hilton Madison Monona Terrace
Growing up with entrepreneurial parents, Chantel Soumis never intended to own a business. “I remember [my mom] saying ‘never own your own business—you’ll never have time for family,’” she laughs.
At 26, with a newborn at home, Soumis started choking on food, lost vision in one, then both eyes, couldn’t walk, and was having seizures. She was diagnosed with MS and subsequently unable to find work in a conventional sense. She started talking about her experiences on LinkedIn, where she found a community of support, but also a community of people in similar situations who needed help marketing themselves. Stardust Creative was born.
Soumis helps “everybody and anybody who needs help with personal branding,” offering pro bono consulting for people with disabilities “because I do know firsthand how hard it is to market yourself as a superhero instead of a liability.”
Her sparkly personality and vulnerability in sharing her story of living with a disability and navigating the workplace with perceived limitations has led her to become a vivacious speaker, locally and globally. In October of last year, the Canadian Business Chicks recognized Soumis as a Woman of Inspiration for her work in diversity and inclusion.
Ellen Merker, a 2019 Woman to Watch for her work in helping differently-abled adults navigate relationships, admires the energy Soumis brings. “There’s a ton of burnout in disability advocacy. People get really jaded. She hasn’t. She takes every pitfall, every obstacle as a learning opportunity.”
While Soumis manages her symptoms with plenty of self-care like proper diet and meditation, unpredictability goes hand-in-hand with chronic illness, so she makes her goals flexible. For 2020, she wants to continue penning her book on mindset magic and hopes to split her business model 50/50 between branding and philanthropic work on inclusion and anti-bias, especially speaking to young adults.
“I hope that if people see me doing this, they’ll get inspired to do it themselves. I’m somebody that hushes the naysayers and just goes forward,” Soumis says.