naturalbeauty °9: Leonie Arau & Vanessa Engelkes

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If you think Berlin is all monochromes, minimalism and sharp lines, the NANDI Store is a beautiful exception to the rule. Step through a bright turquoise doorframe in a leafy street in the Prenzlauer Berg neighbourhood and you enter a space filled with greenery, colour and texture. It is warm and inviting, just like its founders Leonie and Vanessa. Best friends for many years during which they spent long periods travelling around the world (a passion both share!), they founded NANDI two years ago. Their goal was to create a space to bring together their love of travel and the beautiful pieces they fell in love with at their exotic destinations.

Spend a little time in the store and you quickly realise NANDI isn’t a regular commercial establishment: neighbours drop by to say hi (one particularly charming young lady looked around 6!), buy a plant or a basket or enquire about something. The ladies themselves are so friendly, answering questions, sharing their stories and fun facts about the beautiful pieces they showcase. 

We sat down for a chat, to learn more about them and their brand.

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Hi Leonie and Vanessa. Could you tell us a little bit about yourselves
Leonie: I'm 30 years old and was working in marketing before we started NANDI. I was always really passionate about traveling, which I did mostly by myself and for longer periods of time. I met Vanessa roughly 11 years ago, shortly after moving to Berlin. That’s when we became close friends—we’ve always shared a passion for traveling and handcrafted products.

Vanessa: I'm 33 years old and worked as an event manager for about 10 years before we started NANDI. As a child, I was fortunate enough to have the chance to travel the world with my family and was introduced to many different cultures as a result. This shaped my path to self-dependence and, eventually, to NANDI. I love to travel and have always had a weakness for textiles, especially collecting pieces from distant countries.

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How did the vision to start nandi come about?
L: The vision was always there—for at least three years before we really started NANDI. I was very unhappy at my job and even took two long sabbaticals to travel around the world, I always ended up back in my old job, to make money to travel again. Finally two years ago we just did it: we quit our jobs. That was probably one of the bravest days we’ve had so far.

V: As Leonie said, the vision just stayed put in our heads for a long time. We  share the same passion for travel and travelled together several times. Years before founding NANDI, we joked that one day we’d quit our jobs and travel to as many countries as possible, to bring beautiful and rare products back to Germany. And luckily, we were able to accomplish this dream years later!

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What is the most fulfilling thing about working for yourself?
L: For me, it’s the freedom of being my own boss. I have a lot of flexibility and most importantly, I love what I do. What I really couldn't stand at my old job was not that working for a company or a brand; it was the fact that what I was doing was clearly not my passion. I worked because I had to earn money, even I didn’t stand behind what I was doing. With NANDI, all this changed. Now I want to give 200% and more—because I love what we do. I won’t lie: it’s way more work than being an employee but at one point, it's all worth it! 

V: I agree with everything Leonie said: being self-employed is no walk in the park, especially the first few years. You have to work twice as hard and still manage to stay optimistic and keep track of your vision. BUT the best feeling is to wake up every morning, thinking about your achievements and the freedom that comes along with with working for yourself. It is awesome being your own boss especially if you love what you do. If you’re convinced by what you’re doing, that’s definitely a key to a happy life.

What has been the most challenging part of running your own business?
L: After all the financial struggles one has when starting a business and huge amounts of paperwork (which literally never ends…), for us it was being friends and business partners at the same time. It's something that definitely wasn’t easy. 

V: Besides the many tasks that are part of starting a business, you have to find a way to have a healthy work-life balance. It’s very important to remind yourself that there is more to life than just work. Also, working with a close friend is an amazing experience but it was also a real challenge that put our friendship to the test! At the beginning it seemed logical to partner up—but when you work with a friend, your relationship changes. It's inevitable. You start spending more time with her as your business partner discussing strategies and everyday tasks. It’s definitely not easy but hey, nothing comes easily.

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What is your go to when you need inspiration?
L & V: Traveling is definitely our biggest inspiration. Since we can't travel everyday and our job also requires a lot of research, we get our inspiration from books, Pinterest and, of course, Instagram.

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Are there other ladies that you look to for inspiration and guidance?
L & V: We are lucky to have a good network in Berlin where we constantly meet up with young, amazing ladies that have also started their own business. It's important to have these chats and it's always such a blessing to meet these women through NANDI. Talking to our artisans also inspires us. We always aim to have a close relationship with our partners and are happy that technology has made communication easier.

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Do you have any advice for someone wanting to start their own creative business?
L & V: Since we only started just 2 years ago (which feels like 6 months though!) it's hard to give proper advice—but there is one thing that we really had to learn: being patient. Also, if you have a dream but are struggling with the risks, we always recommend going ahead with it and giving it a try. At the end of the day there is no one recipe or pieces of advices we can give, since all the mistakes we make (or atleast most of them! ;)) were good in that they taught us something important.

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Thank you so much Leonie and Vanessa. Lots of luck in the years ahead. Follow the ladies on their adventures and shop NANDI treasures here.

Images courtesy NANDI

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