What happens when you have a passion for fashion and an interest in social change? Nikita & Vesper, of course – an online marketplace for the ethically fashionable. And sisters, Courtney and Kelsey Montague (aka Nikita & Vepser ) – or as I like to call them, Wonder Women – are changing the world with style. Their collection encompasses everything from vintage to artisanal and their products come from around the world (the Guatemalan backpacks are absolutely awesome). And definitely check out the stunning iPhone cases designed by Kelsey – they are truly something special. Without a doubt, these two have an incredible (and fashionable!) road ahead.
NAMES Courtney Montague & Kelsey Montague
AGES Courtney, 33 & Kelsey, 29
LOCATION Denver, Colorado (right now)
EDUCATIONAL BACKGROUND Courtney | NYU Grad School (MPA in public administration with a focus on international development), American University of Paris (BA in Comparative Literature) & Kelsey | Richmond University, London (BA in Art, Design and Media)
COMPANY We run 2! Kelsey Montague Art | Nikita & Vesper
ESTABLISHED both in 2014
WEBSITE www.kelseymontagueart.com | www.nikitaandvesper.com
INSTAGRAM @kelseymontagueart | @nikitaandvesper
Tell me a little bit about yourselves & how you landed in fashion. Courtney: Kelsey has always been creative and incredibly fashionable. When I would go to high school and my friends thought I looked especially cute, they would always ask if my sister dressed me (she was 13 at the time) and she always had! Kelsey: We’ve both always also been interested in social change. In high school Courtney was constantly raising funds for charities, working in homeless shelters etc. Throughout college I traveled with Courtney when she was running an international development nonprofit (GVN Foundation). When we traveled we were both struck by the stunning products we were coming across from women running small businesses in developing countries. These are products that we were sure would sell well in the US but these women had no way to access a larger global marketplace. Nikita & Vesper is that marketplace. We are combining our mutual love of social change and fashion with the creation of this shop.
You each represent one half of Nikita & Vesper. Is there a story behind the name? Yes! So glad you asked! Beyonce’s alter ego is Sasha Fierce… our alter egos have always been the spy from La Femme Nikita (Courtney) and the first Bond Girl,Vesper (Kelsey). Nikita and Vesper is about ‘being your alter ego. This isn’t about becoming someone else- it’s about becoming that strong, confident, sexy woman you know you are.
You both had very interesting & successful careers before launching your company. How did your respective backgrounds influence the way you approached Nikita & Vesper? Courtney: Kelsey was a social media strategist in NYC and a full-time artist in school. I was in international development for 6 years before coming to the city. I ended up in digital strategy. I think that our careers before we were full-time entrepreneurs were critical in that they provided each of us with the necessary skills to launch our own business. Kelsey uses her creativity and social media acumen to run most of our marketing campaigns, while I use my digital background to manage the backend of our site and my international development background to source products. Kelsey: We are very grateful for all of the experiences we had before starting our companies. It’s funny how things you learned early in your career, things that you thought would never help you (like an in-depth understanding of social influencers in the DIY space) end up helping you a ton in your new venture.
Between your website, blog & Etsy shop, things must get a bit busy! What does a day in the life of Nikita & Vesper look like? Courtney: Every day is different and most are pretty exciting. Last Friday is a good example. Kelsey had an early morning interview about her creative process. Then I had a call from a customer who wanted to buy a number of our Guatemalan bags. Then I spent a few hours marketing on Etsy and filling orders while Kelsey worked on our social media calendar for the next month. We usually end the day answering customer requests, checking stats on both of our shops and planning for the following day.
As sisters & business partners, how did you go about divvying up business responsibilities? Kelsey: It’s been a very natural thing for us. We both just fell into our different roles. I love anything creative and therefore really enjoy working on the creative aspects of our marketing campaigns, our photo shoots and curating products. Courtney loves the business end of things. She is always looking at stats, cash flow spreadsheets and ways to make our backend work more efficiently.
How have you approached the marketing for your company? Has social media been particularly effective? Courtney: We do a lot of our marketing on Instagram and have found it to be very effective. We also are working with a lot of social influencers/bloggers on product reviews/shoots and that is also really increasing our traffic.
How do you hope to see your company evolve? We have huge huge dreams. We want to be the next Modcloth or Nasty Gal in the socially responsible space. This means we want to sell large volumes of awesome product. Additionally, as we grow, we want to invest more in the communities and small businesses we are working with. This will probably mean a partnership with a nonprofit focused on providing small business training to individuals around the world.
What advice would you share when it comes to 1) business and 2) fashion? Business:Figure out how you are going to sustain yourself as you grow your business. Whether that is doing side jobs, taking a loan or moving in with your parents, this is the most important thing. As soon as you figure that out a huge weight is lifted from your shoulders and you can really focus on your dream. You aren’t going to get anything without asking for it. Kelsey is awesome at this. She is fearless and if there is a partnership or commission or client we want she will just go for it. Don’t hold back.
There is always a silver lining in every failure… find it, analyze and do better next time. Fashion: I think we are learning every day exactly what our niche market ( stylish, socially conscious young women) really want in their shopping experience. Give yourself as much time as possible to fully understand your target market/customer. Go big in online fashion. In online fashion, women are looking for things they can’t find in their local forever 21 or urban outfitters stores. The weirdest, most unique, most interesting clothing and accessories we find tend to be what sell. Think through how you are going to make yourself different then your closest competitor and then do it every day.
Kardashians. Donuts. White Wine.
Favorite fashion trend, past or present?
When Kelsey was 12 and I was 17 our Mom took us backpacking through Europe for 3 weeks. That trip changed our life. Our perception of the world and our understanding of our place in it completely shifted.
Good Morning America – we’d love to create a socially responsible online marketplace for Christmas for their viewers : )
Item you can’t leave home without?
Courtney: I’m obsessed with our Guatemalan Weekender Bag – I can fit everything in it (my computer, my notebook, my wallet, my water bottle, etc.).
Kelsey: I’m really loving my vintage combat boots. They are cute and functional!