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How an Impromptu Getaway Unlocked a Purpose-filled Career

How Wendell Santiago Transformed Loss Into Luxury


Mar. 25 2024, Published 10:43 a.m. ET

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Wendell Santiago

In today's time, there’s a desire to “chase the bag” and live a luxurious life. But if there’s one thing the pandemic taught us, it’s that community matters. There’s nothing wrong with desiring a tribe to walk life’s journey with you, and creative entrepreneur Wendell Santiago used this thought process to fuel Linda & Lilo, a jewelry company powered by purpose. In an exclusive conversation with Bleu Magazine, the go-getter walked us through the unique way the business was birthed, his interactive workshops, and attending GLAAD’s Black Queer Creative Summit.

Before starting Linda & Lilo, Santiago worked in hospitality for 14 years. He was a manager but always had dreams of running his own business and knew at some point he would have his own. By the time Santiago moved from Charlotte to Atlanta, he had made the decision to start taking steps to make this a reality. He didn’t want to work for someone else – but he didn’t want to go in blind. As he put it, “it had to make sense.”

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Unfortunately, before having the chance to start his entrepreneurial journey, Santiago faced a handful of emotional challenges. He was laid off from his job and endured a trying breakup. In fact, it was an impromptu getaway to Puerto Rico that set things in motion. For a change of pace, Santiago took this trip to learn more about his birth mother’s heritage. Little did he know this would fuel his decision to create the cosmic elegance that we know today as Linda & Lilo.

“While in Puerto Rico, I remember walking around when I smelled an incense that led me into a beading store,” he says. “There, I found these white faceted beads and a third eye heart pendant. The woman in the store asked if I wanted to turn them into a necklace and explained the process. It was just such a beautiful moment. It made me feel connected to my heritage.”

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When he left the shop, his friend snapped a photo to commemorate the moment. In the future, he’d learn that this picture was coincidentally taken right in front of a Pandora store. Later this would affirm his desire to start his own jewelry company.

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When Santiago arrived back in Atlanta with a broken spirit, his sister recommended he start wearing tourmaline, a powerful crystal. After noticing the crystal seemed to lift his mood, he shared it with friends and family and began incorporating crystals and gemstones into his own pieces for sale. By building the community and hearing stories of how the pieces were also helping others, the brand began to grow.

One helpful addition was the Black Queer Creative Summit. “At the top of September, I collaborated with GLAAD on their Black Queer Creative Summit, and I was able to do a workshop. It was the first time I traveled for my business. Being surrounded by 152 creatives, some entrepreneurs some not, was really affirming for me. It let me know I’m not alone, and I’m supported,” he says.

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Today, Wendell has a two-tier business. He sells jewelry and hosts beading events, which he admits has been an emotionally fulfilling experience. “The event starts with intention setting and then moves to the practice of beading. It feels like arts and crafts. It’s really inner child healing work. People have started crying throughout the workshops.”

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While all of this feels very rewarding, the journey hasn’t been an easy one. Entrepreneurship brings its own set of challenges and honestly, this isn’t a path he intended to start so soon. It was only a few months ago that Wendell had a dream with a familiar story.

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He had lost his job, but it wasn’t a complete nightmare. He recalls feeling different throughout the sensation, and that he wasn’t defeated; his emotions were safe and secure. In the next morning, that dream became a reality, and he was forced to turn Linda & Lilo into a full-time career.

“The transition at first was heartbreaking because I really had to shed a version of myself that I thought was it,” he says. As a child, he was always told he could do whatever he wanted to. Now, life had forced him into that desire. “I felt like it was my ancestors telling me it’s time to transition. But now I’m very excited.”

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Today, Wendell feels like he’s truly living his purpose. “It was through me connecting with that woman in Puerto Rico, saying yes and being open to a new connection, that made it special. She made that piece for me, and through her insight and conversation, we connected. I understand that. Since I was doing hospitality, my favorite thing about being a leader was connecting and teaching others, and that remains in Linda & Lilo.”

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As an entrepreneur, he spends two hours a day in meditation and journaling. The balance is not easy, but it’s fulfilling. “The most challenging thing is making sure I’m being responsible with other people's emotions. You have a big duty to honor people as they are. It’s a challenge that requires me to work on myself. The best thing is the people I meet – our community. It’s small right now but I can see it growing, and I look forward to sharing this practice,” he says.

To learn more about Wendell follow him on social media at @Wendelldotme and make sure to check out Linda & Lilo at

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