Faces of Friday: Leah Russell

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The purpose of Faces of Friday:

Faces of Friday is a new series I started to provide readers with insight into the lives of inspiring everyday people. Life can take you to unexpected places and these amazing folks are willing to share with you where their lives have taken them. Not everyone in life knew exactly what he or she wanted to do or who he or she wanted to be. They had to learn from trial and error along the way and now they are willing to share with you what they have learned.

I believe that one of the most important things in this life is the connection we share with one another. Identifying with another human being is an amazing gift, it can inspire you to learn, grow, create, and opens your eyes to what more the world has to offer.  We are not alone in this crazy thing called life.  Life is a beautiful thing filled with beautiful people, and some people don’t get the opportunity to share their story. I want to help others get the opportunity to share their story and I want to give you the opportunity to hear it, learn from it, and maybe, just maybe identify with it. I believe whole-heartedly that you all were meant for incredible things, so I hope you enjoy reading stories of others, and I hope it gives you comfort knowing that you are not alone. We are all learning to navigate life’s murky waters, why not learn from each other along the way??

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Leah Russell

I met Leah when we worked together at Anthropologie and we just hit it off! We would make jokes over the walkie talkies and make everyone laugh (or wonder what was wrong with us). Whenever we get together it's as if no time has passed, we can talk for hours without running out of things to say. One day we went out for drinks and I mentioned that I wanted to backpack Europe. She said she wanted to go back to Spain (she had studied abroad there and wanted to go back to see her host family) I told her we should go! Over drinks we decided that we would backpack Europe! The next morning we asked each other if we were serious, we were! So we were off! A month together we trekked across 9 countries, with our backpacks strapped to our backs. It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life, and Leah is one of the most incredible people I have ever known.

Where are you from?

I grew up in Minneapolis, MN.

Where do you live currently?

New York, NY – currently in Manhattan on the Upper West Side.

Did you pursue higher education? What did you study?

I attended Grinnell College and received a double major in Psychology and Spanish.

What do you do for a living? Is this always what you had planned to be doing?

I’m a Merchandise Planner for Shopbop, basically managing the financial end of the buying business for all mid-tier fashion and denim. I definitely did not expect that this was what I’d end up doing, especially given that I went to school for absolutely nothing related, but I’m so glad that my choices led me here. I started working at a theater non-profit after college, but it wasn’t until a year later when I moved into fashion that I realized where I was meant to be.

What are your hobbies?

I like to run, and competed in track and cross country throughout high school and college. These days I run more for fun than competition, but it continues to be something I need to do to feel sane. I like to sew, and often alter or create my own pieces. I’d also say traveling is my hobby. I’m one of those people who without any details will say yes to a trip, whether it’s across the state or around the world.

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 What are you the most passionate about?

This week I’ve felt passionately about eating pizza. Some days it’s social affairs or politics. When Kasey and I were traveling together in Europe, I felt passionate about making sure we absorbed every new experience we could. I think the beauty in passion is that it is pure emotion – able to be changed and adjusted depending on the moment.

What/who inspires you and why?

So many things. I’m inspired by my grandmother, mainly for the example she set on how to be a loving but stubbornly independent woman. I’m inspired my work, by the innovative collections we see each season and the continuous evolution of fashion as a form of personal expression. I’m inspired by songs that give me goosebumps, the brownstone block that I live on, and always by my friends.

What is your personal mantra?

I love the book Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed, and somewhere in her many lines of advice she says that you should “be about ten times more magnanimous than you believe yourself capable of. Your life will be a hundred times better for it.” I’ve tried to live by this as much as I can, and she’s right. People fault you, people change, and sometimes you learn things you’d rather not know, but by approaching all with an open forgiveness it at least makes it so much easier to move forward afterwards.

Has life taken unexpected turns? And if so what were they?

Life certainly has. There was a time when I thought I knew who I would marry, and could completely see what my life would look like ten years down the road. But couples break up, and despite how passionately I loved that relationship, I realized I lost pieces of myself in it. When it ended, I knew my future now had to be based completely off of what I wanted it to be, nothing else. I built a life I loved in Minneapolis, surrounded by some wonderful people, but lost my job at Target Headquarters and was forced to reevaluate once again. After a few months of whirlwind applications and interviews across the country, I packed up and moved to NYC for my role at Shopbop. There was a moment this past fall at New York Fashion Week when I finally realized I was living my dream, and it could not have been better.

What is the best piece of advice you have been given?

Maybe just “it’s ok.” It’s thoroughly the most calming thing to hear. I think often we hold ourselves to unreasonable standards, saying we should be recovered from heartbreak in a certain amount of time, or have achieved specific things by a certain age… But that’s not the case. There’s never a perfect timeline, and sometimes we just have to be reminded that it’s simply ok.

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If you could give advice to your younger self, what would it be?

Not to worry so much. I was so scared for so long that I wouldn’t end up where I wanted to be in the future. I couldn’t tell you then where it was that I actually wanted to be, but despite that I was always afraid I would never get there. At a certain point I learned to love the fact that I may not always be able to see the endgame, but I have to trust that the choices I make are at least going to bring me somewhere interesting.