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A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing Leo Chan and Alicia Mara, the founders of Levitate Style, a New York City based men’s fashion and travel blog they launched in October 2013. Since the creation of the blog, Leo and Alicia have seen great success. Leo has been featured in major publications like GQ Magazine and Men’s Health, and has also worked with big brands such as Hugo Boss, Audi, Tissot, and Macy’s. Over the past three years, Leo and Alicia have had the opportunity to travel to more than 40 different countries.
Levitate Style initially started as a side hustle for Leo and Alicia, but has now grown into a full-time job for the duo. The best part of their story is that they’ve been able to find success in something they are passionate about all before the age of 30 and in less than 4 years! Their story is a great example of how, if you work hard towards something you believe in, you can turn a dream into a reality.
Audio of Interview- Leo Chan & Alicia Mara creators of Levitate Style
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Levitate Style Interview
How old are you guys?
Tell us about your experience in the industry prior to launching Levitate Style
Leo: Well I’ve always had interest in fashion and I’ve always done photography. I’ve been doing photography as a hobby since I was in high school, almost 10 years. I’m self taught and I think that’s the great thing about technology and the internet today, you can literally just google everything and learn anything. Even while working, as a side hustle, I would do events and portraits photography on the side. Then, one day, I went to this small event during fashion week, someone saw me and was like “Why don’t you model?” and I had never thought of that. So that’s when I went into modeling from photography and then, I started doing both as a side hustle.
Where did the idea and the name for the blog come from?
Alicia: I think it was definitely over a period of time. Leo started modeling and sometimes would not like his outfit because when you’re a model, you don’t get to choose your look. I also know that there are and were, a lot more female bloggers out there but I didn’t really know any guy fashion bloggers. So, I was getting bored at work and started teaching myself how to build websites and he was interested in creating a blog.
Leo: To get very technical for all of your listeners out there, at the end of the day it’s all about your market fit. I started to listen to what Alicia was saying and we did notice that 90% of the market was female bloggers. I looked at the 10% of guys doing it and thought, maybe there is a fit for me. I also noticed that there weren’t any asian guys representing the market (maybe a few vintage or street wear guys), especially coming from finance, wearing suits all the time.
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Did you start off with the expectation of making this your full time job one day?
Leo: So, right off the bat there were definitely high expectations. I think with business in general, you want to model your business after some of the giants out there and there is nothing wrong with that, they’ve paved the way. My initial goal was always to get one million followers but reality quickly set in because something like that just takes time! The overnight celebrity doesn’t exist, it’s not something you can just aim for it. We knew we wanted to be big but even then, there was no real money backing it. We just knew we wanted to represent the asian community in the fashion world. In terms of money, we didn’t really know how much other bloggers where making until we met with them and started to learn the ins and outs.
“I think part of what makes blogging so magical is that, at the end of the day it’s your personal passion. In a way, it’s like even, if you’re not making money off it, you should still want to do it, you should still want to create.”
Alicia: We also loved the hustle of it, so we were perfectly fine starting a blog without the prospect of income. We liked it because it gave us something to do together and allowed us to be creative.
Leo: I think it’s also exciting because essentially you’re escaping your normal 9-5 job and to work on cool things after work. Even though we had the modeling and photography background, it was still so challenging to do. Having to learn things like creating a blog, html, how to email brands, how to get invited to shows, and how to convert what you are creating into paid services.
Alicia: Yeah, part of the fun was having to learn how to create and do all these new things. Like how can we learn to take better photographs or how do we communicate etc.
Leo: I think that’s the thing with creators, it’s never going to be perfect, I think that if you are trying your best and doing your best, right now, then it is your best. We are constantly challenging ourselves and learning new things. Asking ourselves, how can we improve?
Transition from Corporate America
Tell us about your transition from working a full-time salaried job in corporate America to making a salary from running your own blog. How many years did that take?
Leo: Levitate Style officially started Oct 2014. At the time, most of my day was like this, in the office from 9-6, then after work we would go to an event, I would change or switch up my look a little (at work). Then we would spend, I don’t know like two-three hours meeting people, making connections, taking in the space and, get home around 10pm? Then we would possibly work on a blog post, go to bed at 1am and then start the day all over again. It was def a hustle, working all day then going to an event, to go home to work on the blog, go to sleep, and repeat it all. The weekend was prime time for us, when everyone’s like hey lets go brunch, we were getting stuff done.
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Alicia: So I think we got our first paid campaign, 6-7 months in, we were still working full time. So when we first started, we would maybe get some small items for trade, like we got a free pair of socks and we got so excited. So the transition was first working for free/trade then we started getting paid projects. We still didn’t have enough work to make it full time yet. That was probably over the course of another year, where we would get small paid projects here and there. Leo: So the blog launched in October of 2014 and we both quit our full-time jobs December of 2015. GQ helped a lot with building the momentum as well. We got connected with someone at GQ and they thought our story was so refreshing and new, me coming from finance into fashion instead of the other way around. Anyways, I’ll never forget how the whole transition happened. We both quit because we had an opportunity to travel the world with Plymouth Gin. It was the biggest influencer campaign that I had ever seen. It was a contract to create content for Plymouth Gin and sail around the around for 5 months. I applied for it over that Thanksgiving break (2015). I told Alicia about it afterwards because I figured that it doesn’t hurt to apply, and if we got it we would figure it out. Well we got it, so I quit my job mid-December.
Alicia: Like how could you turn down something like that? We figured if we needed jobs when we got back, we would just get jobs. You can’t turn down something like that.
Levitate Style The Blog & Business
Levitate Style has over 100k followers on Instagram. Tell us a little about where Levitate Style started and where it is today? (IG Stats, Following, Traffic, Etc.)
Leo: Instagram is the biggest platform for us because the content is very photo and video based. I’d say our biggest growth was definitely the last two years.
What advice can you give someone who is just starting out or looking to create a blog or even change careers?
Leo: I get this question a lot and I always say there are a few points 1.) I think you have to find your market fit. At the end of the day, it’s all about the audience and what you have to offer that’s different from everyone else. 2) When you’re creating content, it’s all about quality over quantity. Then once you get that piece down, it’s quantity of quality. First focus on creating great quality content and then focus on how consistently you can churn that out and I think that’s how you can grow your blog to be big.
Alicia: It also has to be something that you are passionate about. If you don’t care, you wont have the drive or the passion, to put in the work, to get you there. But if it’s something you really love, the hustle doesn’t feel that bad.
Leo: Like from the start, we knew we wanted to bring something different to the table. If you want to start a blog, what are you really passionate about? That’s what you have to figure out.
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