Growing up, Chaya Milchtein was never driven to learn about cars.
“I did not know anything about cars. In fact, I was in foster care at around 17 years old and I told my foster parents that I wasn’t interested in getting a driver’s license,” Milchtein says.
She turned 18 and struggled to land a job. As fate would have it, she’d find one at an auto repair shop. She spent time as a service advisor and in collision repair. It was a learning experience, and she’d get her driver’s license.
Eventually, Milchtein hit a fork in the road. “I decided, you know what, I need to find another way to make money. This isn’t happening fast enough for me,” Milchtein says.
That’s when Milchtein started “Mechanic Shop Femme,” a blog where she could write about her passions, including cars, plus-size fashion, life, love and empowerment. “Taking control of what clothes I want to wear and where I want to wear it and how I want to be portrayed. As an automotive consumer, taking control of what services I want to do and understanding what my next steps are and budgeting for those things,” Milchtein says. “As a queer woman, holding my head high and being who I am fully at every given moment.”
The blog launched her writing career, but after a while she again decided to shift gears. “I don’t know what I should do next with this,” Milchtein says. “I’m writing this blog. People like it. What’s the next step? And somebody is like, ‘You should totally teach classes!’”
Now Milchtein also teaches automotive education classes in addition to her writing. These online classes often cover basic questions such as buying a used car, or why and when a car needs maintenance. She’s using her experience in the auto repair industry to educate others. “So I’m not a mechanic,” Milchtein says. “I’m not teaching you how to fix your car. I’m giving you the tools to be an educated consumer.”
The goal of her classes is to take the stress out of going to a car dealership or repair shop. “They’re entering a space where that centers queer people and women and centers knowledge for people who don’t understand. There’s no such thing as a stupid question, whatever you ask,” Milchtein says.
Between the blog and her classes, Mechanic Shop Femme is a hit. Milchtein’s written for several national publications and created workshops for libraries, schools and non-profits. She says there’s a key fueling her success. “People tell marginalized people to shrink themselves, to make themselves more palatable for general society thinking that’s the way that they can succeed, but I think they’re wrong,” Milchtein says. “You will find the people who will resonate with what you’re doing if you remain true to yourself.”