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In ELLE.com’s monthly series Office Hours, we ask people in powerful positions to take us through their first jobs, worst jobs, and everything in between. This month we spoke to actress, model, entrepreneur, and mother of two Shay Mitchell, who is not only celebrating five years of her travel brand Béis, but a just-launched kids collection. (Béis translates to “beige,” after a beige bag Mitchell used to travel with.) “It truly is my first baby,” she tells ELLE.com of her company, which specializes in functional luggage. “Every single detail, from the design to the models we book for our ad campaigns, I oversee.” It‘it’s hard to believe she still has time to run her tequila seltzer brand, Onda, too. Here, Mitchell talks about diversity in Hollywood, what‘s always in her bag, and why Drake is her secret fan.
My first job
I worked at a café in Vancouver called Coco Loco. They served sandwiches and coffee, and I could never figure out how to get the damn coffee machine to work—it was this elaborate Italian espresso maker and I always messed it up. I think my salary was $7 or $8 an hour. I’m still scarred from that experience. People would come in with the craziest coffee orders. Now, my order is super simple because I know how hard it is for the baristas.
My worst job
Bottleservice. I hate it. It wasn’t the job as much as the situation—navigating crowds, dealing with really difficult customers when they’re intoxicated, etc.—but the money was very good. You’d leave with great tips, but you never knew what you were getting into on any given night.
On diversity in Hollywood
I remember getting the audition for Pretty Little Liars, and the character of Emily in the book had strawberry blonde hair with freckles and a very fair complexion. When I first booked the part, everybody was like, “What? You don’t look like the girl next door.” But I think, in this day and age, I am the girl next door. That didn’t deter me back then. I was going to go for it regardless, because I didn’t want to look back with regrets.
How I transitioned out of the entertainment industry
There was always a lot of downtime on the Pretty Little Liars set while I waited for the next scene, so I started a blog, which kept me busy between takes. From there, I wrote a book. And then, during our breaks from filming, I would travel, so I created a YouTube channel that documented my trips. When Shaycations took off, my friends would constantly ask me for recommendations and packing advice.
The power of self-documenting
I was always that girl with the camera. Like, at the club, I’d have the digital camera. I have way too many photos on my phone and on my laptop. Documenting has always been important to me, so that I can remember the experience and share it with others, so they can go and experience it too. It felt selfish to do otherwise. i was like, this is too good to just keep to myself. My trip to India is still one of my best pieces of content.
Why I started Béis
I’ve always known that there was an entrepreneurial side to me, and I always wanted to get into business, but I had never been to school. I’ve had experiences with luggage where wheels would fall off and I’d get angry at myself for not spending more money to get a better bag. When I knew it was time to start my own company, I noticed there was a huge gap in the market: you either had super expensive companies with crazy bags that weren’t even functional, and on the other side of the spectrum, you had affordable bags that were ugly and not well-made.
Basically, I wanted a line of affordable bags that had all the functions I could dream up and look really good at the same time. The price is really important to me, because I know how expensive traveling is—I don’t want the bags to break the bank because you should be able to spend that money on the experiences you have. It’s an on-the-go brand, whether you’re going on a hike, to the gym, or to the grocery store. I want to provide different accessories for all of those different things, so everyone can have a bag that makes them feel at home when they’re not at home.
What’s always in my bag
My cosmetics case for on-the-go touchups. When I’m traveling, I use our recyclable tote because of the functionality—certain compartments just make everything so easy. I know exactly where my passport is and exactly where I put my snacks and water bottle.
Best career advice I’ve ever received
Work with people who are smarter than you. My whole motto in life is “I have this one life. What do I want to do?” I never want to look back and wish I had done something. So regardless of the experience or lack of experience I have in terms of design, business marketing, all of it, I just had to [launch Béis]. I brought people onto my team who were smarter than me and had way more experience and were experts in their own fields. That’s something I’ve never been afraid to do.
How I balance work and family
I take time to myself because I have an incredible team around me. There’s no way I could do what I do without the help of people—everything from childcare to my team, my publicist, my agent. I owe it all to them.
Most surprising Onda fan
My number one customer is Drake—and he has nothing to do with me. He found it on his own and pays for it, gets it delivered, and travels with it. He has Onda on him at all times!
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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