Repeat After Me / Leandra Nel's Inspiring Story
by JANIE LOUBSER
Reading Time: 10mins
If you’ve ever spent even a moment chatting to Leandra Nel — whether sitting down for a hair treatment at PAUSE Hair & Body, or while trying on shoes or garments at her and business partner, Lucy’s boutique clothing and accessories store Repeat After Me Collective — you cannot help but be mesmerised by her infectious energy; the kind you wish you could bottle and keep with you forever. But for her, a trained hairdresser who spent half her time debunking the typical 'high-school drop out' stereotype, it wasn't always this easy.
We stepped into Leandra's vibey Church Street retail space to learn how a trip halfway across the world opened her up to a chance opportunity to pursue the foreign fashion import business began and where it’s poised to take her next. While we spoke about many, many things during this whirlwind interview, there was a moment — that could easily have been missed — that stood out for me as truly profound, so read to the end so you don't miss out.
As you listen to her recount the serendipities of her adventures, you could easily find yourself transported to the winding back-alleys of Istanbul and a sweaty back-room at the Turkish Border Patrol. Your head, now spinning with the craziness of it all (and you're not entirely sure if half of these racy tales of adventure and global fashion curation are even possible, much less true). Yet, the look in her wide blue eyes tells you that it’s all true and that she ain't bluffing for a second, baby! She overcame the odds and somehow made it back by the skin of her pearly whites to tell the tales of near-broke, near-death escapes and safe returns with empty pockets and bursting suitcases. A bounty of foreign treasure from faraway lands and a passport full of stamps as a reminder of where the heck she’s been on this twister-of-a-tour to the not-so-near-East and back. Be warned, keeping up with her is tough, but we came prepared with every manner of recording equipment to capture as much of her story, energy and heart as we could.
"I used to think that if you want to do something you have to know exactly what you need to do. I used to have these reoccurring dreams that I am on a stage and I don’t have any make-up on. I felt completely unprepared. But actually, it was good that I didn't know about all the stuff that could go wrong. I could completely go with what I felt. I didn’t let those 'what if' fears creep in. When I decided to pursue this I asked myself 'what is the worst thing that can happen?' And the answer was that nothing changes. I had nothing to lose. So I thought: what can be worse than the situation you were in when you started? You can’t fall back further than that. That’s bottom line. And that’s not so bad. In fact, I would say that you actually need to appreciate where you are and what you have been through if you want to start a new venture. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. I still love being a hairdresser because I learn so much about people and it is a way to connect. It still influences my business decisions.
It also helped to know that my highest value is to empower people. If you pursue what you value more than the business itself then it makes the work easier. So even though it has been very challenging to create this space, it helped me to know that I wasn't only doing it for my own brand, NOMAD, but I was also doing it to help others who wanted a space for their products. I also value the freedom to travel. So even though there were many challenges when I went to Turkey to buy shoes for the shop, I had fun because I could travel.
But the truth is that two years ago everything overwhelmed me. I didn’t know where to start. All the details of starting a business overwhelmed me. And it’s in those details where people get stuck before they even take the first step. It feels too much; too high; too far. But if you persevere, your capacity grows. And, I understand that fear creeps in and you feel that it’s impossible but what if you imagined that it is possible? If we think about all the details of what we can’t do, then nothing is possible. But if we don’t think about it then everything is possible." - LN
With these profound words still ringing in my ears, Lea and I collapsed onto a couch at PAUSE and without realising it, she had revealed the most precious of all gems.
While Leandra is talking about the anxiety she used to battle with, what struck me most was how different it felt to be with her in this moment compared to how it had felt just a few short years ago. Her presence and her energy are completely different. A palpable deep inner calm and her relaxed confidence permeates the air. It was so uplifting hearing her share how she rarely questions, doubts or second-guesses herself. “When I want to do something now, I just DO it” she laughs. Her capacity for handling life has grown significantly. And you can see it in her body language and hear it in her voice. She’s carved out her niche, found her groove and going for it! What she said next meant so much to me that I had to fight to contain my emotions while she spoke...
Reading this, one might be left with the impression that Leandra’s confidence is bulletproof, almost superhuman, but her calm confidence is balanced by a genuine humility. You see, the peace and contentment she now experiences has been hard-won as she battled such shadowy evils as anxiety and self-doubt. If anything, Leandra is the living example of overcoming fear and resistance and going out into the world and making things happen. She’s loved this dynamic life she’s created for herself from the start and by the sound of it, she has no plans of stopping anytime soon. Who knows, we may even see a future collaboration happening. But more on that later…