Know what you don’t know. Be open-minded and know you don’t have all the answers, Starting a lifestyle brand is a learning process, and the finished product may bear little resemblance to the initial idea. That’s ok! You’ll learn new things every day as long as you stay open.
As a part of our series called “5 Things You Need to Know To Create A Very Successful Lifestyle Brand”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nina Restieri, founder and president of momAgenda. Previously, she has spent time as an advertising executive, as the president of a family business, and as a stay-at-home mom.
She started momAgenda when her four kids were seven, five, three, and one, to create organizing products to help make moms’ lives (and her own life) easier. momAgenda has grown to include a diversified range of products that help organize the lives of mothers and others, including day planners, home organizers, pads, journals, and accessories. The collection is sold at leading national retailers and regional boutiques throughout the U.S. Over the past fifteen years, Nina Restieri and momAgenda have been featured in numerous outlets including NBC’s Today show, The Early Show, MSNBC, Real Simple, Better Homes and Gardens, The New York Times, and The Huffington Post.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
I grew up in Connecticut. My parents split up when I was very young so my mom, despite having dropped out of college to get married, had to go back to work. Eventually, she started a company and succeeded beyond anything she’d imagined. Watching her career trajectory shaped my thinking about being a working mom. My mom was a mom-entrepreneur back in the 1980’s before that term even existed! I grew up knowing I wanted to have both a family and a professional life. I dreamed about owning a company just like my mom did.
Can you tell us the story of what led you to this particular career path?
I started my career after college in advertising, where I learned the basics of branding, creative, and account management. After five years or so, I took the helm at my mom’s company. I ran that for a few years, but at the time I had very young babies and wanted more time with them. So I sold that business and spent six years as a stay-at-home mom. The entire time I was home with the kids, I dreamed of what type of business I would start when I was eventually ready to go back to work. When I had the idea for momAgenda, I knew that was “the one.”
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I was first starting my business, I was a mom of four young kids. I was overwhelmed, with too much to do and not enough time to do it. One night, I went to my book club. I rang the doorbell, the hostess kindly invited me in and poured me a glass of wine. We sat for about 30 minutes before I finally asked, “where’s everyone else?” The hostess cracked up. “Book club is TOMORROW.” I felt so silly! I knew then I needed a better system for organizing my schedule, and that I wasn’t the only mom who needed something like that.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert had a huge impact on me, because it’s the story of a woman on a journey toward her own authenticity. I think in our society women are encouraged to follow rules rather than be authentic. One of the central reasons I wrote my own book was to express to women how important it is to be yourself and let go of society’s dictates that keep us from living our best and most joyful lives.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite quote is from Joan Lunden. “Exude happiness and you will feel it back a thousand times.” It’s something I’ve taught my kids, in addition to applying to my own life — you get back what you put out there, so try to choose positive energy whenever possible.
Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. For the benefit of our readers, let’s define our terms. How do you define a Lifestyle Brand? How is a Lifestyle Brand different from a normal, typical brand?
For me, a lifestyle brand means it’s about more than just selling a product. It’s about the bigger picture of the customers’ lives, who they want to be and how they want to live. It’s also about creating community and a sense of belonging.
What are the benefits of creating a lifestyle brand?
The benefits are that you can really tailor it to your own life and how you want to live. It encompasses your aesthetic and your products, and it also encompasses your core values. It’s quite literally the opposite of selling a widget in corporate America — a lifestyle brand can be a direct expression of who you are. There’s a freedom of expression you get from creating your own brand that you never experience working for someone else’s company.
In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job building a believable and beloved Lifestyle Brand? What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?
I’m very impressed with Gwenyth Paltrow’s lifestyle brand, GOOP. She’s been able to create a very high-end, aspirational brand with a cohesive look and feel throughout. Even though many of the products in her online store are on the higher end of the price spectrum, they’re always sold out! That shows me people are willing to pay more when the branding really speaks to the customer.
Can you share your ideas about how to create a lifestyle brand that people really love and are ‘crazy about’?
I think they key is to really know and understand your customers so you can provide them with everything they want. Think of Anthropologie — they don’t just carry clothes, they also carry items for the home, stationery, and bath products, among other things. That helps them to really meet the needs of their customers who want that special aesthetic throughout their homes and their lives.
What are the common mistakes you have seen people make when they start a lifestyle brand? What can be done to avoid those errors?
I think one common mistake is to follow other people’s advice. It’s so important to follow your gut when creating a lifestyle brand. You know what to do already. I think it’s great to ask people what they think and listen to their answers — but when it’s time to make decisions, always do what feels right to you.
Let’s imagine that someone reading this interview has an idea for a lifestyle brand that they would like to develop. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?
My advice is to think about who your target customer is, then find those people and talk to as many of them as you can. Find out who they really are, what they struggle with, what they’re afraid of, what they really want. Knowing your customers inside and out makes it easy to develop a brand that can connect with those people.
What are your “5 Things You Need to Know to Create a Very Successful Lifestyle Brand” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Know your branding. Think of your brand as a person — what three to five words would you use to describe this person? What are their favorite colors? What does this person care about? For example, when I started momAgenda, my three words were: simple, elegant, and beautiful. Every product and every communication has to pass through that threshold in order to be a part of the brand.
- Know your standards. Think about other brands that are in the same category as yours. Are they high-end, middle-of-the-road, or more mass market? Make sure to only partner with companies that are on the same level or higher. For example, at one point a handbag designer wanted us to carry her products on our website. I took a look at the products and thought they were a bit “cheap” looking. A week later, I saw those product for sale — at a car wash! Clearly the brand wasn’t a fit.
- Know your customers. There’s a reason Lululemon Athletica broke out and succeeded in a field crowded with Nike, Adidas, Under Armour, and other fitness brands. They got to know their customers and appealed to their core values by embracing a holistic, wellness-based strategy.
- Know people who can help you. You can’t be an expert in every area. I’m a firm believer in finding people who are great at what they do, and outsourcing to them. When I first started my brand, I loved the creative aspects of it — but struggled with the day-to-day operations. Eventually I hired a Chief Operating Officer so I wouldn’t have to do those things anymore, and it was one of my best decisions. Know when it’s time to let go of control and let people help you.
- Know what you don’t know. Be open-minded and know you don’t have all the answers, Starting a lifestyle brand is a learning process, and the finished product may bear little resemblance to the initial idea. That’s ok! You’ll learn new things every day as long as you stay open.
You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I’d love to inspire women, especially moms, to start taking care of themselves and stop putting themselves last on the list. The mom-life crisis has become an epidemic in this country. We as moms deserve better — we deserve the same love and care we give our kids and partners. I care about this so much that I wrote about it! It’s called Overcoming the Mom-Life Crisis, and it’s based on my own experience.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I would love to share a meal with Oprah Winfrey. In addition to her incredible talents in business and entertainment, I really admire how she’s able to authentically connect with millions of people she’s never met.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this!