How This Fitness Guru Built a Thriving Clothing Company From Her Two-Bedroom Apartment

From running her business in a two-bedroom apartment to living in her clothing warehouse set up in a single-family home, Maggie Montiel is determined to see her young company succeed.  
Montiel Activewear, which operates exclusively online, is known for its simple yet elegant designs, use of high quality, U.S.-made materials, and affordable pricing. It was born in 2013 when the then 29-year-old Montiel had a vision to create an active lifestyle brand that women could wear from sunrise to sunset.
In less than two years, her dream has grown into a thriving company thanks to her ambitious drive and creative marketing strategy on social media. The brand is growing in popularity among workout fanatics and fitness lovers and even counts Victoria’s Secret supermodels Alessandra Ambrosio and Izabel Goulart among its wearers.
Montiel Activewear has expanded rapidly since its inception, but success for the company did not come without a good amount of perspiration and dedication. The entrepreneur behind the vision made a business of her passion by running a one-woman show during the early stages of her company. On her experience starting out, Montiel tells Nextshark:
“I wasn’t sleeping, and I was on call around the clock. It was the most stressful time of my life and the happiest. I was answering questions, processing orders, and managing production. […] I needed to have that struggle, to sweat it out. That’s how any company starts. You have to put your everything into it.”
She follows in the footsteps of her father, Jerry Montiel, who has been in the apparel industry for 45 years. She says:
“People used to ask, ‘What do you want to do when you’re older?’ I knew I wanted to own a clothing line. My dad helped me get started a little bit. He had the respect and credentials, but even without that there wasn’t anything stopping me. It was the one thing where I was like, OK, this is my passion.”
A workout clothing line was the natural choice for the Indiana University alumna, who lives quite the active lifestyle herself:
“It’s who I am; I’m a fitness freak. I’ve been an athlete my whole life so I’m always in fitness clothes, but I like to dress up, look cute all day and be comfortable. I want to be able to go to Pilates, go to lunch, put on boots and go out for a drink. I want to wear it all day.”
The designer finds inspiration for her collection from high-end fashion. Some of her design ideas are inspired by the backs of gowns, which give her pieces an effortless and understated end look. As for whether she has ever been intimidated by her competitors, like activewear giants Lululemon and Lorna Jane, Montiel shakes her head no. On the contrary, she says,
“I have mad respect for Lululemon. I think they make great stuff. I admire them and I’d like to be Lulu. I’d like to be that annoying stamp people see everywhere. I think they’re great.”
The small business is a beast when it comes to utilizing social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram to market its products online. Montiel explains that her marketing strategy is targeted at two main groups: Facebook for the more conservative gals in their 30s and Instagram for the younger demographic.
With already more than 17,000 Instagram fans and nearly 43,000 Facebook likes, the company prides itself on its strong, organic following. Montiel says of her company’s social media:
“My following on Instagram is real; those are real yogis. I’m not buying followers, because those people are ghosts. I’m so proud that it’s real and it’s organic.
Early on I started with 200 people on Instagram, and every hour and everyday I went to #yoga to comment and engage with people. Then they see my stuff, go to my account, see my website and it would convert into somebody following me back and making an order. By the following week I had 500 followers, then a 1,000 — it was working. I don’t do that anymore. I do engage; I don’t let a minute go by when I’m not responding to someone on Instagram, Facebook, email.”
The brand does not pay for endorsements from individuals with large social media followings, as Montiel recognizes the power of social media and its impact on marketing when it happens naturally:
“I think it runs its course. I don’t like to pay people to wear my stuff. I’ve had organic ones happen, and it’s amazing. I had this one girl who had 750K followers — she wore it, then all of a sudden there were 400 people in my store, and the next day I had 40 orders just from that. This was at the beginning and I saw how powerful it is, but it doesn’t always work like that every time because they’ve already seen it. I’ve never paid her, she just wore it.”
She also gifts her activewear to key influencers who wear it by their own choosing:
“Izabel Goulart, I sent her stuff and she wore it. I do know Alessandra Ambrosio so I handed it to her, she picked out what she wanted — I’m kind of shameless. I’ll get it in the hands of anyone I can get it too. If Kourtney Kardashian was on my plane back from Vegas, I’m handing one to her too. I have no fear — what’s the worst they can say? No?
“[…] But it also takes the product too. They’re the ones who have the option to wear it; they get gifts all the time. The fact that they’re wearing it, that to me is woo-hoo!”
Lea Michele
As a way to thank existing customers and also win new ones, the company’s Instagram account also hosts a weekly giveaway every Friday to encourage people to “wear it, share it, and win it.” Users are encouraged to post a photo of themselves wearing the clothing with the #Montielactivewear.
The young entrepreneur says the most rewarding thing for her is when she spots someone wearing her company’s clothes:
“I was driving in Marchmont and saw a girl wearing it. I almost got into an accident trying to take a picture. Another time I was running in Runyon and talking to my boyfriend about Montiel, and all of a sudden a girl running by me is wearing it. I run up to her and go, ‘Ahh ahh’.”
When asked about the future of Montiel, she reveals:
“The future of Montiel is to scale it. I don’t want it to be a small boutique brand. I want to hit the masses so that women everywhere are able to wear Montiel all day, everyday no matter what they’re doing. That’s my goal. I want to be a lifestyle brand and eventually open stores.”
“I would like to do it in five to six years and move on. I’m an entrepreneur at heart. I hustle, I love the start — making it happen, bringing it to life, then putting it into the hands of people who can do it better than me. I’ll feel like I hit my goals once I’m delegating all these things to other people and creating a badass team, and I already have one — we’re small, but we have a great team.”
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