By Matthew Biddle
Ever dream of quitting your job and traveling the world? For Leo Chan, BS ’11, that fantasy became reality—and helped turn his side hustle into a thriving business.
Four years ago, the accounting alumnus was building a successful banking career, while also nurturing another project, Levitate Style, with his girlfriend, Alicia Mara, BA ’13, whom he met at UB. Through an influencer blog, YouTube channel and social media pages, the couple combined their love of photography, Chan’s business acumen and fashion sense, and Mara’s skills in analytics and search engine optimization.
That’s when they got the opportunity that changed everything—a five-month trip around the globe to explore and create travel and lifestyle content on behalf of Plymouth Gin.
“A few months earlier, I started thinking, ‘What if I quit my six-figure job? Would I be happier doing this?’” Chan says. “When that trip came up, we had to go for it. We covered 50 cities in 26 countries, and when we came back, I was full time on Levitate Style.”
Since then, the couple has grown the influencer brand to reach more than 117,000 followers on Instagram alone, expanding beyond fashion to men’s lifestyle content, including partnerships with such brands as Audi, Lincoln, American Express, IWC and Movado. Chan has been featured in GQ, Forbes and top fashion blogs.
Day to day, Chan is the creative mind and face of Levitate Style, networking with companies and other influencers, posing for photos and developing ideas for outfits and content. Meanwhile, Mara works behind the scenes, taking the photos, optimizing the website and building an online store for their newest venture: an eco-friendly clothing line called Levitate Collection.
In response to the coronavirus crisis, the couple also pledged to donate 10,000 meals to the New York City Food Bank and launched a second clothing line, called Wear for Humanity, which gives 100% of its proceeds to Doctors Without Borders and Get Us PPE.
“We’re very blessed, and more than ever during this time, if you have the means, people out there need help,” Chan says.
“It’s about putting our money where our mouths are,” adds Mara, who has a background in nonprofits.
Through it all, one of Chan’s chief goals remains improving Asian American representation in media.
“Growing up, I didn’t have any Asian role models, and when I flipped through a magazine and only saw white guys wearing these nice outfits, it was easy to think, ‘That’s not for me,’” says Chan, who emigrated from Hong Kong at age 10. “But when someone sees me rocking a suit, that simple thing can bring their self-confidence up. It’s important for the next generation to have people they can look up to.”
Looking back, Chan says the most important lesson he learned at the School of Management came from Professor Muriel Anderson, who advised her students to find new opportunities to develop their skills and gain an edge in the market. Chan took that advice to heart, padding his résumé with internships, case competitions and clubs—and, later, developing his now-successful business during long nights and weekends.
“With anything, what you get out of it is what you put in,” he says. “I’m never complacent where I am and always want to do more.”