For those with even a minor interest in the fashion industry, Leandra Medine's origin story is a familiar one. In 2010, a 21-year-old Medine started a blog called Man Repeller as a resume booster while studying journalism at The New School. It didn't take long for the site's title to weave its way into the cultural lexicon, with "man repelling" becoming an adjective widely used to describe a certain unconventional sense of style. Man Repeller also became synonymous with Medine herself which, to a certain extent, remains the case even though the blog has since grown into a bona fide media brand.
Though the site has long been applauded for its humor and intellect, Medine largely attributes its early success to timing — and a certain sense of naiveté. "I started writing Man Repeller because I was arrogant enough to believe that I was my best editor," she said at Fashionista’s New York City meet-up event on Monday, moderated by Chantal Fernandez. "At first I really felt like it was a moment, so I wanted to ride the wave while I was still on it and not under it. But after the wave wouldn't break — which was great — I realized that I was sitting on something that could be a potential business."
Indeed, Medine's instincts didn't steer her wrong. When she first launched the blog six years ago, Medine sensed that she had tapped into crucial discussion happening among women at the time. "I very much believed that I had an opinion that was being underserved," she said. “So much of the dialogue around our conversations with each other was clouded with shame or would come from us talking about certain things because we'd be like, 'We're not allowed to talk about those things.' But once [we did, we'd say]: 'Huh, that felt good! I don't feel bad; I don't feel worse; I don't feel guilty for thinking that.' I think marrying those two things really struck a chord and resonated."
Medine's own vulnerability has become Man Repeller's calling card. Most recently, she has been incredibly open about her struggles to get pregnant, a topic often discussed on Man Repeller's podcast, Monocycle. (The June 10, 2016 episode, "Not Pregnant," is especially and deeply candid.) Indeed, Man Repeller's commitment to authenticity is what sets the site apart from its competitors. She told Fernandez:
"One thing I tell all my editors when they start working at Man Repeller is: 'Don't think about whom you're writing to; just pretend you're writing an email to a best friend about something you just experienced. That's the way we approach our content. That's the stuff I want to read; that's the stuff that resonates with me, what matters for me. I don't necessarily think about the gravity of the reach so much as I do [think about] what my experience is and whether or not it's going to be able to resonate with other people."
Medine also shared advice she once received from Diane von Furstenberg: "With an audience comes a very important power you have to use, and that is voice. I think about that all the time now. With the content we write, with the way that it's positioned, with the people we feature on the site."
Medine applies that same mentality to making hires. She began growing her team in 2012; today, the site has a 12-person staff — including a director of integrated marketing and a film director — each of whom Medine believes embodies the ethos of Man Repeller. For a business that's still very much an extension of Medine herself, it's important that each member of Man Repeller's team passes what J.Crew's Mickey Drexler refers to as the "fire pit in belly test." Medine explained: "That's when you meet someone and you just feel like, 'This person makes so much sense — yes!' for no real reason."
With the Man Repeller brand continuing to grow, is there a reason why company hasn’t taken on an outside investment? Medine explained that one of the most noteworthy aspects of Man Repeller is that none of its decisions are made because of "fancy men in suits" — rather, "they're made because we have feelings." She continued: "The reason our model of monetization is so interesting — and we're so open about it and excited about our partners — is because they provide us an opportunity to up our production costs and values." Medine went on to say that she's admittedly "kind of scared of [venture capitalists]," and still believes in self-funding because it continues to allow for growth.
As with most founders of self-funded companies, Medine doesn't take a salary out of Man Repeller’s earnings, instead taking on her own personal projects to, in her own words, "continue paying [her] rent...and IVF." In the past, this has included a slew of design collaborations with brands including Nina Ricci, Atea Oceanie, Dannijo and Être Cécile. Come November, Medine is launching her own shoe line exclusively on Net-a-Porter, produced with an unnamed licenser in the U.K.
Clearly, the Man Repeller wave has yet to break, and with Medine’s keen editorial and emotional prowess, we shouldn’t expect it to anytime soon. “It’s sort of like getting married or having a child in that you have to be a little naive — you have to believe you can do it — because the world is going to tell you that you can't and you're not going to realize that until you actually start doing it," she said. But what about trusting your voice so blindingly that it becomes your brand's identity? "At a certain point, you have to let it out. What's the bigger risk: Saying it or not saying it? For me, it's not saying it."