By Will Estell
Having just come through one of the most unprecedented years in American history, and certainly the strangest in most of our lifetimes, it’s no secret that with those treacherous times, came a lot of change for many among us. Some positive, some negative, and some simply serving as fuel for thought along the self-introspection highway. For many people, part of that change involved physical relocation from some of the largest cities in the world to rural areas dotting this country from coast to coast. As part of that mass migration to simpler and more serene places, many found themselves discovering just what makes the beach a great place to settle in.
I sat down with my friend, and this issue’s cover personality, Rebekah Letch, to find out a little more about her remarkable professional journey from Singapore to New York City to major cities around the world, and why once she hit the shores of Northwest Florida’s Gulf Coast, she decided to make it her new home.
You originally came to the U.S. from Singapore as a teenager to pursue an advanced career in ballet. Tell me about how that came to be and what it meant to have the opportunity to achieve your dreams in the country where so many dreams come true.
I attended The Juilliard School at the age of 16, right after I won the prestigious Adeline Genee Prix De Lausanne competition in Hong Kong. I entered the competition without having a ballet teacher and was the only student not represented by a teacher. It wasn’t easy — I didn’t have a studio and even trained in a swimming pool through an injury. But one thing was sure — I had to win, to prove something to myself, and I did. After that, I was asked to join every major ballet school in Asia and Australia, but I chose to go to Juilliard in New York City. I really wanted to come to America. It was one of the biggest achievements for me, having come from a small island like Singapore.
Tell our readers a little about your life in NYC during and after Juilliard.
During my time at The Juilliard School, I suffered a bad meniscus injury and shin splints. I was not able to audition for a dance company, and I was afraid my ballet career could well be over. However, I wanted to pursue other fields, so I applied to the University of London. I studied Business Management and majored in Marketing. After that, I moved back to the U.S. and attended NYU, where I did a double major in Marketing and higher education with a major in Ballet Pedagogy from NYU’s Steinhardt. While attending NYU, I auditioned for American Ballet Theatre and danced with them until 2012, when I graduated Valedictorian and moved to Italy.
What opportunities did your formal dance training afford you that you may not have had otherwise, and how much does that rigorous lifestyle impact what you do now as an influencer?
My dance training gave me discipline, in all aspects of my life. It taught me about endurance and grace during the most difficult times. It afforded me opportunities to travel the world at a young age. I competed from Singapore to Australia, Japan, the U.S., London, even Russia, and winning many of those competitions meant prize money to keep it going. I also got to perform and be the star of many ballets in Asia as an Asean Brewery Scholar, which made me a ballet prodigy. There was even an Asian documentary show, called “Young Wonder,” that I was a part of, as well as getting to be a judge on other television dance shows. My dance training has literally impacted everything I do as an influencer, from my dance videos to my technique and even my current yoga training videos.
Taking a turn at something totally outside of dance, you went on to co-found a beauty products company that quickly became the #1 selling beauty line on Amazon. How did that happen, and what did you learn along that fast-paced journey?
In 2014, I started a company called Radha Beauty while living in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. I had just started my Instagram page and was randomly posting my yoga pictures when the first picture I did in pointe shoes in a yoga pose went viral. I was immediately approached by a few brands and my page grew to 10K followers in less than six months. I didn’t know what was happening at that time. People would follow me because of the way I moved when I did yoga and they would comment they loved my long hair and skin color, which was all very strange to me [laughs].
The first product I brought to market was Argan oil, and it failed miserably. I lost my first $20,000 investment. But that didn’t stop me. I launched my next product after doing some quick competitor and market research, and that product became the best seller on Amazon in the beauty products segment. That really launched Radha Beauty, and within six months, we were doing $300,000 in gross sales each month. It just kept growing and by the end of the first full year, the company did $1,000,000 in sales, before growing to $33,000,000 the following year. My partner and I decided to sell the company during our third year, as it was at $75,000,000 in sales, just through Amazon. The company sold in 2017.
During that venture, I learned so much about people and businesses, consumerism, and the power of scale. As the director of marketing and product development, I designed every single package, most very simplistic and basic in design. So many people told me I would fail because the beauty industry was already so saturated. But, I didn’t listen [laughing] and we made it… BIG!
When we first met this past summer, you had been visiting our beautiful beaches since the spring of 2020, and were staying in the area to get away from the issues that New York and other major cities around the country were facing due to the pandemic. You’ve since gotten rid of your Manhattan digs, and moved here full-time. What made you decide to make this area home?
I love living in Sandestin. I’m so addicted to the beautiful water, the sunsets, even the great seafood.
When I got quarantined here during one of my visits, I realized such a new, simpler way of life.
I have always been a big city girl, but I really needed the change since going through some of the ups and downs of life, including losing my precious dog last year. Once here, I found the water was helping me heal my heart.
Having lived in Singapore, London, Paris, San Francisco, and The Big Apple, what are some of the things you’ve been able to experience here that you had never done before?
So many great things! I have never shot a gun before, so going to a gun range and shooting a .45 was so exciting. I learned how to build my own fire in a fireplace. I have had unbelievable experiences visiting the Gulf and the Springs. I learned how to do Stand Up Paddle [SUP] Yoga and use a paddleboard for the first time. I’ve learned a lot about the great outdoors. I even got to go to my first rodeo, which had been a dream of mine for so long. I love where I live because it seems like a little bubble where everything is safe and perfect.
What does a day in the life of an influencer look like? Walk me through it.
A day in the life would be waking up at 7:30 a.m., walking my dog three miles, then coming home and making coffee, before I journal and meditate for a while. Then I usually get to my work emails where I respond to brands or hop on phone calls. After that, I often start filming content for brands like Alo Yoga, work on my new workout program for the Moviing. co app, then film content for Revolve, the fashion and lifestyle brand I represent. With over 400,000 followers on Instagram and Facebook, sometimes it’s a process to figure out what to do next to keep people engaged. Therefore, I always try to get creative and study new and exciting things so I can strive to do better each time.
If you could live anywhere in the world, no strings attached, where would it be and why?
NYC will always be my home and the place I would love to return to someday, post-pandemic, but I love it here in this part of Florida, and I would love to live here as long as I can. I love the weather, the vibe, the friendly people, the homes, and the overall lifestyle of this area.
Aside from the work, tell me about some of your hobbies and interests. What do you like to do to get away?
I love spending time with my little Jackapoo puppy, Samson. I love reading books and magazines. I’m also studying Italian. And I love learning about new social strategies and trying to upgrade my skills by doing new workouts or yoga and fitness master classes. Cooking is something I enjoy, so I spend time looking for new recipes for healthy vegan and vegetarian dishes.
What’s the biggest thing you’ve taken from the year we just went through?
I learned so much about self-love. I learned about independence and being strong during adversity. I learned how to live without many things that I am used to. Some of my changes were hard to make at first, but necessary too. I believe times like these help us grow. Self-love and learning to recognize, live with, and face my own limitations was a hard but valuable lesson. I learned just how healing nature was, the springs, the trees, the Gulf, the Bay, even the first hurricane season I made it through. It was all-powerful, healing, and strengthening. I valued the sense of touch more, a handshake, a hug, the presence of my friends and family. The whole past year taught me how to be kinder and more patient, more compassionate to people who may be going through things we don’t understand. This pandemic changed me. And I hope it did all of us in some positive ways.
Any parting words for our readers?
Be yourself, but try harder to accept others for who they are, too. We don’t have to be the same to give grace and show compassion and love. Sometimes, even uncomfortable conversations are necessary to advance our understanding of one another, and that’s perfectly fine. Try to focus and enjoy the little things in life that make you smile and laugh. We are all human, and humans need social connection. The adversity we face and the resilience we respond with has the power to shape our lives, and so many around us too. With each challenge, we are given the opportunity to persevere, learn, and grow into stronger and more grateful human beings. I hope these are the lessons that we all strive hard to carry forward with us for many years to come.