Career Code: Meet the Bondi Nomads Who Turned a Love of Travel Into a Business
In honour of our co-founders Hillary Kerr and Katherine Power’s latest book, The Career Code: Must-Know Rules for a Strategic, Stylish, and Self-Made Career ($24), we’re running an interview series featuring 17 questions (to parallel the book’s 17 chapters) about the work lives of inspirational female leaders who are at the top of their fields. So far, we’ve tapped Lisa Gersh, Pip Edwards, Kelly Wearstler, and more. Up next? Hanna Axelsson Sahlen (aka Axel) and Ashleigh Powell.
Often, people assume that a serious case of wanderlust can be dangerous. After all, travelling the world and sipping on exotic cocktails aren’t always conducive to being financially responsible or holding down a day job. However, founders of Axel & Ash, Hanna Axelsson Shalen (aka Axel) and Ashleigh Powell have proved that entire philosophy to be wrong. In fact, the two self-dubbed “wanderlusting souls” used their passion for travel to inspire their business: A series of products that encourage people to create and write down their own stories. Whether it’s a road trip, a bucket list, or placing pins on a map of every country you want to see, Axel & Ash are encouraging us to take a break from the hustle, and start dreaming instead. Below, we interviewed the duo about their career journey so far, and what it takes to build a business.
IN CIVILIAN TERMS, HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR JOB?
Being part of a duo and having built our company from scratch, we really take on all different parts of our business and neither of us really knew exactly how much work there would be! We are constantly ticking off never ending to-do lists to keep the business running—from managing finances, finding new stockists, promotional drives, managing current relationships, product development, photo-shoots, and thinking of what's next. No two days are ever the same. We wear lots of different hats which is a balancing act, but it also teaches us a lot.
WHAT PART OF YOUR JOB DO PEOPLE FIND MOST SURPRISING?
There is a lot of work behind the scenes. Many people tell us how lucky we are to have our lives. We're extremely grateful, but there is also a lot of work behind the pretty pictures on Instagram. We are not only Instagrammers, but run a whole business that people tend to forget about. We create products, have a distribution house, travel a whole lot for relationship management, and manage a team of staff.
Also, I think people would be surprised how much time we spend with our eyes locked to our screens and ears glued to our phones. There is a constant flow of interaction for all the different aspects of running a business, let alone a global brand. We are constantly working across time-zones, and can be making calls literally any time of the day.
What did you wear to your first job interview?
Ash: I think I was in my school uniform for my very first job. But for my first 'adult' job interview. I wore my sister’s grey blazer, collared blouse, and black pants (at that time, I was really trying to fit in to that corporate job).
Axel: I've had so many jobs since I was 15, but my first real full time job interview was at the ABC. I remember being so excited, wearing a black dress from MARCS where I was working at the time, and my hair in a slick bun.
Who would you like to have a 30-minute meeting with?
Ash: Ahhh so many... Lady Diana, Coco Channel, Elvis, Jimmi Hendrix, Audrey Hepburn, Marion Cotillard, Michelle Obama, Frida Kahlo... the list is never ending.
Axel: I would love to meet my grandmother and grandfather on my dad's side. Grandma was an actress and opera singer and grandpa was an artist. Both passed away before I was two, but their creative side definitely kept living in me. I always wish I would have grown up around them, playing music and painting. I would love to meet them and hear all their amazing stories.
What are your go-to resources for keeping up to date with the industry?
We live in such a fast-paced, social-media-driven time and it is important to stay on the pulse with the ever-changing trends. Instagram is huge for us. We love the visuals, and it is amazing to understand how brands develop and what kind of content people enjoy. We also make sure to visit at least one (but ideally two to three) tradeshows a year, clocking in to the American, European and Australian markets. These are especially amazing for stockists and others to get to know us in person!
What is one thing in your career that you’ve regretted?
Ash: I don't think I actually regret anything in my career as I feel that I needed to learn what I did before starting my own business... but if I did it over again, I would definitely take the chance and believe in myself from the get go. I guess at times I have contemplated that if I had followed my passions from a younger age and took the chance; where would I be? Hence why we love to try to inspire those younger kids to follow their dreams. Don't let anyone deter you from that.
Axel: I've worked since I was 14 and have loved my career so far and had so many fun jobs! I’ve lived and worked in three continents, six countries, got one of my dream jobs as a TV director and started my own business which I love. Still, there are so many things I want to do—and will! The only thing I regret is that I wish I started earlier. So, my advice is: Go with your gut feeling and not the safe option! And don't be scared or ashamed to knock on doors to learn from people you look up to, even if you don't have knowledge or experience.
What do you do when you’re feeling uninspired?
We have such a fast pace that we rarely have time to stop to feel uninspired. However, with so many things going on, sometimes we may feel overwhelmed and need to bounce back. We both find that there is no remedy like a great workout, so whether that is going in for a sweaty session in the park, a run, or just a walk by the water, this often gets us back on track. Calling a friend who doesn’t naturally define you by your business is good too, so you can have a chat about all other things in life.
SHOP AXEL & ASH:
What are your morning and evening rituals?
Ash: I absolutely love the mornings. I try to wake up at 6-6:30 a.m. every morning and do some morning yoga, just to get my body awake. I then have some warm lemon water, then either I will go do a work out or I love to have my coffee and sit and check my emails. It's my favourite part of the day and it doesn’t feel normal without it.
Axel: Routine? What's that? I have only ever had a normal job for a year of my whole life so I've never followed my body clock. I love to do exactly what I feel like in the moment. Night time is my creative space where the world sleeps and I get time to listen to all the wild things happening in my brain. So even if I try to get to bed before 12, suddenly it's 3.30 a.m. and I've been working on new ideas like never before.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
To believe in yourself. We didn’t know how to run a business, but we took our strengths and came together. And never stop learning.