What do you get when you combine the perfect pivot story with a passion for handbags so big it inspired it’s own tome? Monica Botkier, a mama to three, NYC native and woman we need to have in our tribe. We love that Monica started her award-winning company after a desire for the perfect bag went unfulfilled and she invested her energy into creating the perfect accessory for any busy woman on the go. Her success has been well deserved and her ability to prioritize precious family moments over her bulging inbox is enviable to say the least. Read on...
You created your self-titled line in 2003 with the cult-classic Trigger Bag. What was the pivotal moment that inspired you to create your own line?
In 2003 I was working as a fashion photographer. A born and bred New Yorker, I lived and loved downtown, life was very spontaneous. Back then, I could walk out of my Soho shoe box apartment for a meeting or a shoot and wind up at dinner and then later a club. The days would go on like that, constantly bumping into people and collecting experiences as the day wore on, the city felt so much smaller then, it was an amazing time. That said, I needed something chic and practical to take me from day to night, literally. I clearly remember being on a deli line with my first-ever designer bag (pre-Botkier, it was a Tom Ford YSL Mombasa) and struggling to find my wallet while my cell phone rang feeling the stares of the seven people behind me. That’s when I realized there had to be something better and I could create it!
The design for the Trigger came to me like a lightning bolt during my many long walks through the city. After that, it was about being resourceful. I knew what I needed for functionality and started to piece everything together. I did all of my sourcing from the yellow pages – pre-Google days! Found my leathers, hardware, my local manufacturer, (everything!) in my backyard.
We love a good pivot story. And yours, going from being a successful fashion photographer to designer is amazing! What are your thoughts on the rise of women pivoting post-baby to pursue something that drives their passion?
I think life should always be about reinvention and following your passions. I was in my late twenties and pretty carefree when I started Botkier, thinking I wanted to be the next Steven Meisel. Very soon after, I became a young mother and entrepreneur juggling a growing business and family. For me personally, I followed my heart (instead of my head) and it led to a lot of success, but also a lot of mistakes to learn from. I applaud women following the unique direction they want for themselves and making the conscious decision to do what they love. The world benefits from such pure passion, we all get inspired. That inspiration has a chain reaction within our strong female community. I say go for it, there is strength in the experience of motherhood to draw from, it’s the perfect time to explore and conquer.
You recently published your first book, Handbags: A Love Story. Congrats! What inspired you to write a book and what did you learn from the process?
I wanted to celebrate the 15 years I have been in the accessories business, and mark my experience by sharing something tangible with the world or at least those that are as handbag obsessed as I am! Working on the book was a labor of love and much more difficult than I imagined. In some way, it reminded me of my college intern days when I worked in the photo department of magazines, so much research! It brought me close to my first loves, fashion photography and my passion for handbags. As we mentioned the all-important pivot in life, the opportunity to become an author at this stage of my career brought another dimension of satisfaction. I also learned that giving myself even more to do was a challenge and it took another level of extreme focus. My kids are proud of it and that is everything. Showing and teaching by doing is a fantastic by-product of any success we have as mothers.
Do you have a company mantra or set of ideals that mean something to you? If so, what are they?
Respect, collaboration and teamwork is what it’s all about for me. You spend so much time with your team making the dream come alive and thrive, it’s imperative that the work environment reflects that. Clear, focused energy and the free flow of ideas is a magic place to be in. I am proud to say I have mentored and watched several young talented women get their start at Botkier and eventually move into their lives poised for their own successes. Nothing makes me more proud and it’s so much a part of what we create together.
We love your tag line, “NYC is our muse and the world is our playground.” Tell us more about that.
Much like myself, we are a born and bred New York brand. Everything started right here in my apartment, including the first samples and the manufacturing in the very beginning. This vibrant city and the incredible women that inhabit it are an endless source of inspiration. We are always speaking to our busy girl on the go. Designing for her in this beautifully chaotic city serves as the point of reference for our girl around the world. It’s a New York City state of mind that can be translated to anyone who wants it. That and we love to travel! I am obsessed with going everywhere and experiencing what is out there in this big world. The inspiration flows from inside out and back again, full circle.
Respect, collaboration and teamwork is what it’s all about for me. You spend so much time with your team making the dream come alive and thrive, it’s imperative that the work environment reflects that.
What are your favorite places to hang in NYC with girlfriends? With Kids?
These days we love to hang at each other’s homes and apartments, cook fantastic food, drink some wine and keep it low key. My girlfriend dates are usually dinner dates, nights off from kid duty and after work so it’s about restaurants too – Indochine is a classic favorite, Roman’s in Fort Greene, AITA in Clinton Hill and I love Le Cou Cou at 11 Howard for a fancy lunch. Work out dates are a thing too, multitasking is the best! I’m loving New York Pilates these days.
With the kids taking a stroll on the High Line, going to The Whitney or Brooklyn Museum and ice skating at Le Frak in Prospect Park or Chelsea Piers Sky Rink. My kids are starting to get a little bit older so what my thirteen-year-old daughter wants to do is very different from my nine-year-old son and even eight-year-old youngest daughter. Compromise is always a big topic. We do love to go the Brookfield Place downtown and grab an early dinner at the amazing food court there, Blue Ribbon has a sushi spot that we usually all agree on!
You have a huge celeb following including Angelina Jolie, Sienna Miller and Beyonce (hey now!). What are your thoughts on influencers and how does your brand collaborate with them?
It’s been wonderful to see these dynamic celebrity women wearing and enjoying Botkier. In the beginning when I first started it was organic and honestly the thrill was not unlike just walking down the street in NY and seeing women in their own lives wearing the bags or shoes. I’d be standing next to a woman with my handbag and smile to myself, it felt so real, a true honor to put something out into the world that women actually used and loved. That Beyonce moment was a defining one, we had a Rihanna one too! Later, as the business and brand grew, we formed relationships with stylists, celebs and social media influencers.
It has become an important and measured part of the business in terms of marketing. Collaborations are always exciting, especially when working with women we admire. We get together creatively and connect to do what we love in a different way for a special project.
How has becoming a mom impacted you as a business woman? Has it changed the way you run your business at all?
Throughout most of my business life I have been a mom. I had my oldest daughter Sloane about a year and a half into founding Botkier. In those early days, I had to rely on my husband to step in a lot because I was so busy with the business. He helped me at work too, Botkier was another baby after all and we were trying to manage everything. My mom and our long-time caregiver were life savers. You simply cannot do this without a strong support system.
Fifteen years in now and three kids later, I think a lot about the experience that we as a team have working together. You can relate the skills you have as a mother to running a business and vice versa. Running a family is not unlike running a business in so many ways. There are certain things that need to get taken care of, there is the big picture to think about and the goals for the entity as well as the individuals. It’s all beautiful chaos even when you think it’s streamlined and humming.
How do you manage your time between work and family? Do you have any favorite “life hacks” or “non-negotiables” you’ve picked up along the way?
Personally, I never really found any balance, and still don’t today. I think that’s a myth. I have days when I’m so focused on work and giving it my all I may not be having dinner with my children or putting them to bed and it’s okay. We working mothers teach our kids about possibility, responsibility and the struggle for balance. It’s real no matter who you are. Other days I am all about the kids and spend time and energy on everything as it relates to them. So, the work emails take a little longer to get answered, the world doesn’t end.
Figure out the difference between important and urgent. It’s tempting to want to check things off the list that seem urgent just to get them done when in fact spending time on the really important things has much more impact overall. I know it’s cliché but put that phone down when you are with your kids, they do not need your half attention and your business doesn’t need your half-focused efforts either. Designate time to give yourself fully to either but not at the same time. That just winds up being lukewarm, 50% each doesn’t actually equal 100% in that case. Better to just devote designated time to each separately has been my experience.
What does “community” mean to you and how do you carve out time for your girlfriends?
Community is all about my girls these days. I love my girlfriends so much! We make the time to support each other, talk, text and get together. I give myself those guilt free evenings a couple times a month to get together with different groups of friends, they literally keep me sane sometimes. I have one friend that I speak to everyday, my bestie I grew up with. It means everything.
What 3 things are you coveting right now?
Only one thing, an around the world adventure trip with my kids for a few months in an effort to stop time and simultaneously prepare for their inevitable growing up. Someone once told me they’re yours until they are about 7 and then they belong to themselves. It’s a proud moment when your kids are self-possessed and on their own path. Also, really feeling these new Botkier shoes!
It’s going to be okay. The mistakes we make are what our kids learn from, and if we teach them to see mistakes this way they will spend their lives always learning rather than regretting.
A hug can make almost anything better in the present moment. It’s the best reset to face a problem with.
No matter how much time you spend trying to keep your kids away from sugar and candy you will lose. Sugar is by nature addictive and your kids will eventually be out of your physical control so pump them full of veggies to balance it out. Let them learn to love kale from an early age and hopefully it will stay with them forever.