Hella Original: Paving the way the original way
When Omar Wandera, 38, fractured his Achilles heel playing basketball with his students in 2013, the longtime educator never expected he’d become an entrepreneur while recovering from his injury.
A break may have been much needed for Wandera who is constantly on the go as a father and vice principal of Leadership Public Schools (LPS) in Hayward, but it wasn’t long before the restlessness sank in. That’s when a friend recommended that Wandera do something original and unexpected – to follow his dream of starting a clothing line.
“I didn’t know it was going to take off,” Wandera said.
But it did. What was meant to be a clothing line for kids inspired by Wandera’s son, grew to become a national brand for all ages known as Hella Original. Hella — meaning very or really — is a word that originated in Northern California just like Wandera who is an Oakland native.
Shirts by Hella Original have been on stage with Snoop Lion (formerly Snoop Dogg) and have even been specially requested for professional boxer, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and his security guards. Wandera’s Hella Original shirts have also been sold in thirty eight states.
Yet Wandera’s entrepreneurial successes are not what defines his originality, it’s a genuine combination of dedication, passion and purpose to inspire his high school students to succeed at multiple things just as he has as an educator and entrepreneur.
“I’m an educator first,” Wandera said. “My primary goal in life is to get kids to college and not just to teach math, but also teach team them to be independent and successful.”
For this reason, Wandera is LAM’s latest Member of the Month, presented by Ford. Member of the Month highlights LAM members with unique personal and professional successes who continuously give back to their respective communities.
Since 2005, Wandera has served as vice principal of LPS. “I love my job because it’s always a new adventure, and every day I see the fruits of my labor.” Wandera said. “I see the [students’] transformation from freshmen to senior to adulthood.”
In August of 2013, LPS was listed as the third best charter high school in the state of California in a report by the University of Southern California (USC).
“The goal is to get one hundred percent [of students] into four year colleges and universities [and] we sent eighty percent last year,” Wandera said. “That’s my number one goal. That’s what pushes me more than anything else.”
So far, LPS has alumni at campuses throughout the country and Hella Original is doing its part to support their education.
Wandera hires LPS alumni to wear and sell Hella Original shirts at their respective campuses. In return, the alumni receive a portion of the profit.
“They [the alumni] earn money to help them through college and to teach them about sales and entrepreneurship,” Wandera said. “The most excitement comes from the students who graduated.”
Part of Wandera’s purpose is also to teach students a valuable lesson that he learned from his own mentors growing up.
“Nothing happens unless you make it happen,” Wandera said.
Wandera leads by example by continuously working to send students to four year colleges and universities.
Twice a year, Wandera organizes and chaperones college tours for groups of close to fifty high school students per trip. Trips include tours of college and universities in and outside of California.
“It’s important to give those opportunities to kids,” Wandera said. “To show them things they wouldn’t have seen otherwise.”
It’s evident that one of Wandera’s proudest achievements is to have to LPS alumni at every University of California campus. “We don’t have to rely on tour guides that don’t look like them [my students],” Wandera said proudly. “We have our own students [alumni].”
Wandera’s commitment to higher education comes partly from his own mentors. ” I had a lot of mentors in my lifetime,” Wandera said. “Paving the way for others is a way to repay them.”
Wandera has paved the way for others through his current position and through past positions at Instituto Familiar de la Raza in San Francisco, Upward Bound and as the former dean of students at KIPP in San Francisco.
Now, he is also inspiring and supporting students through Hella Original.
“When I told students that I was flying to the Mayweather fight to hand deliver shirts for the team, they were excited,” said Wandera. ” It made it more real to them.”
Without question, Wandera’s enthusiastic, persistent and humorous personality contribute to his success as an educator and entrepreneur. We look forward to seeing what the future has in store for Wandera as he continues to create, inspire in the highest form of originality.
All while keeping one thing in mind one thing — nothing happens unless you make it happen.
Checkout the Hella Original website for some hella original clothing http://www.hellaoriginal.com/