Carly Kissane remembers the good old days, when Avon salespeople sold her mother cosmetic products in her Massachusetts home. Things have changed. Beauty gear is now, like everything else, sold widely on the Web. And Kissane, who grew up male, is now a 45-year-old transgender woman living in Burlington.
Three months ago, Kissane accepted a part-time job with Avon, a multinational cosmetics firm based in New York City. One of 45,000 company employees worldwide, she sells makeup, clothing, accessories and skin-care products in addition to working for a local manufacturing business. Seven Days caught up with Kissane, who has shoulder-length brown hair and speaks with a Boston accent, at a downtown coffee shop last Friday to talk about her new gig.
SEVEN DAYS: Why Avon?
CARLY KISSANE: It all started because a friend of mine from an online [transgender] support group didn't have a job. I was going to the Rite Aid for people to get makeup for them, because some people just never come out of their houses, they'll only dress up at home. Maybe they'll sneak out for a support group meeting at R.U.1.2? [Community Center], but other than that, they never come out. Some of them are married, and that's just the way it is. So I was delivering makeup for people, because once I came out, I basically wanted to get out. I don't have any problem going to stores or anything like that - I love getting out. There's still a few people who don't know about me, [but] I'm only in the middle of my transition.
I have this friend who wasn't working. I came up with an idea. I said, "We've got so many friends who I pick up makeup for. Why don't you become an Avon representative? You can work with them right over the Internet. You never have to leave your house."
Well, this person wanted no part of it. "No, that's too much like work, they'd never deal with me."
"I'll call them for you," I said. So I call, and the person who's now my district manager [asks] to interview me. So I call up my friend. "You probably won't want to do this, 'cause you have to interview."
She says, "Well, Carly, you're not afraid to do it, you might as well do it . . . You love to yak with people. You'll get your makeup cheaper." So I did.
SD: What happened after that?
CK: I became an Avon representative. I asked [the district manager] if she had any problem with me, and she said, "No, you're going to corner a market here that I don't think anybody has ever tapped into." She was so far from the truth: I have two transgender customers.
SD: Out of how many?
CK: Twelve, and they are my only two online customers.
SD: Why do you think that is?
CK: I really can't answer that. When I was picking up makeup, I was picking it up for more [people]. I'm thinking maybe they're getting their own now. I've lost touch with a few of them since I started [selling for Avon].
SD: What's a typical day like selling Avon products?
CK: It's usually a short amount of hours. [On] ordering day, I [place] everybody's orders and make sure that they're correct, ask them if they want more - and a lot of times they do. That's done on the phone and by computer . . . I order on Wednesday, and I get the order in on Friday. I package [the products] for Saturday delivery.
SD: What sorts of products are we talking about?
CK: Avon has makeup, Avon has skincare, Avon has footwear, pocketbooks, they have clothing. They have just about everything, at reasonable prices, and if you don't like it for any reason at all, you can return it. They're very good that way - they've been around for years. Everybody knows [Avon]. They have brochures, little catalogues. They've started a new company that has environmentally conscious makeup products. They work with mineral makeup, which has started to make it around because it's healthier for the skin, and they don't use animals to test it on. That's a thing of the past, anyway.
SD: Do you ever get any reactions from customers because you are a transgender woman?
SK: I tell people ahead of time when they email me. My name's right there when they go to [avoncompany.com] - they choose from about 10 of us in Burlington. When they email me, I email them back and tell them, "Hey, thank you. If you need brochures, I'll bring you brochures. I just want you to know: I'm a transgender woman, and if you want another representative, I could set one up for you."
I've had one person ask for another representative. Well, actually, she didn't ask me, she just didn't want Avon.
SD: So it's not something you think about, then?
CK: No, I'm up-front, and people around here are really, really wonderful. I'll get looks, but everybody's going to get looks. All in all, people are fantastic.
SD: Do you know other people in town who sell cosmetics?
CK: Macy's is a little miffed at me because I used to go in there and get makeovers and buy expensive perfume. I've gone in there a few times, and they're like, "Carly, what gives? I hear you're selling Avon now!"
SD: It's prom season - a busy time of year for you?
CK: Not really, because I don't have any younger [clients]. I don't know where younger people are getting their makeup. It must be Macy's, because Macy's has a very busy counter, and you can get anything online . . . But, like I said, you can get Avon online. Avon even has a line of things for men.
SD: Do you have any male customers?
CK: No, actually, I don't, but a lot of my female customers buy gifts for their husbands. For Father's Day, I'm probably going to have quite a [catalogue] on the next campaign.
SD: How long is a sales campaign?
CK: Two weeks. Every two weeks, another book comes out.
SD: That seems really fast.
CK: Yeah. The people love it. These brochures have makeup tips - actually, I thought it would [appeal to] transgender people, because it has makeup tips, and, you know, just tips in general. Clothing to wear in the summertime, colors to wear in the summertime . . .
SD: Do you have any strategies for reaching out to the transgender community?
CK: I keep trying . . . Actually, I'm on my way down to the first annual [New England Transgender Pride March] in Northampton, Mass. [on June 7], and I've got a lot of business cards to drop off there, along with my Vermont TransAction business cards, because I'm on the steering committee. We were the ones behind the antidiscrimination law signed last year [Act 41].
SD: So you've been over to the Statehouse a bunch?
CK: Oh, yeah, actually I was just there at [LGBTQ] Visibility Day in April. We really had no issues, but [Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force] is fighting for same-sex marriage. I really hope we get it . . . Now, with this California thing, we can shoot for third place, instead of first or second.
But, yeah, I've been in to see the governor twice. I'm hoping Gaye Symington is our new governor. I'm sitting at a table with the group of people who are behind her at the R.U.1.2? anniversary dinner [on May 31].
SD: Do you know where Gaye gets her makeup?
CK: [Laughs.] No, but once I talk to her, she better be gettin' it from me. She doesn't look like she wears any . . .
SD: I think you're right. But maybe that'll change, who knows?
CK: We'll have to work on it.
NAME Carly Kissane
JOB Avon Representative