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Women in Business: Q&A with Monica Botkier, Founder of Botkier

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Monica Botkier's keen eye for accessories has resonated with the designer since her upbringing in New York City. A true New Yorker at heart, Monica's collections are influenced by the constantly evolving landscape that is her hometown.

In 2003, while Monica was building her name as a fashion photographer globally, she decided to launch her namesake label from her SoHo showroom. The first collection introduced the classic Trigger bag, which became a cult classic for the brand. In 2007, Monica was recognized for her contributions to the accessories industry by being inducted as a member of the Council of Fashion Designers of America.

Monica believes that it is essential to align her design talent with charitable organizations. In 2009, Monica teamed up with Michelle Trachtenberg, Joy Bryant and Minnie Driver to design pieces to benefit Oxfam International. Monica's passion for the collaboration continued in 2010 when Botkier collaborated with Lake Bell for Oxfam. Monica is also very proud of her collaboration with the legendary artist John Baldassari to support the art organization Independent Curators International.

In 2011, Monica was chosen through the CFDA and Luxottica to create the Botkier's first pair of sunglasses for the Vogue Eyewear brand. Monica continues works closely with the CFDA to spread the 'You Can't Fake Fashion' message and in 2012 created a limited edition bag for the CFDA and EBAY, which debuted at New York Fashion Week.

Botkier has created a niche in the accessory handbag market that previously had a void and consumers were awaiting an approachable designer handbag brand. Botkier was the first independent designer accessories brand and Monica continues to run the Botkier business with the same innovation and passion from the brand's inception. Each handbag embodies luxury through custom detailing and quality leather while maintaining functionality.

Botkier has been featured in the pages of ELLE, Harper's Bazaar, InStyle, Marie Claire and VOGUE. Botkier celebrity fans include Angelina Jolie, Beyonce Knowles, Halle Berry, Jessica Alba and Rihanna.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
Growing up in Brooklyn, as a first generation American (my parents are from Poland and Russia respectively). I was given a lot of freedom and responsibility as a kid. I was always told to pursue my dreams and follow my talents. I saw how my father was able to make a career for himself and I was inspired by the possibilities. Fashion was something I gravitated to naturally and going to art schools from middle school through college I also honed my eye. Finally, becoming a fashion photographer in my early 20's is what led me to start my own business in fashion a few years later.

Why did you want a career in fashion?
I was always interested in the image of fashion, the iconic photographs created through the decades. That is where my interest first began. Sure I sketched clothing and dreamed up new outfits as a child but the idea of creating a functional, architectural luxury in the form of a handbag was something I literally fell into. After making a bag for myself, the models and editors on my shoots began to place orders with me and within 6 months I was in business!

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
This is the question on every woman's mind today. The idea of having it all is perhaps misguided in that you can strive for everything you want and achieve it but finding harmony between your work and life balance depends heavily on what you are willing to sacrifice. No one can be a superwoman nor should they be expected to. Somedays you skip that work event so you are doing homework and putting your kids to bed and vice versa. Then of course there is me time which in my case the area that gets neglected the most. Given a choice, I will always put family first, work a close second, and myself last. That said, I make it up to myself with a good massage or yoga class when I can squeeze it in!

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Botkier?
Highlights are the many celeb collaborations for Oxfam we did with Lake Bell, Minnie Driver, Joy Bryant, Michelle Trachtenberg. I would also have to say being inducted into and continuing to be an active member of the CFDA and the rapid growth and success of Botkier. Challenges would also be seen in the growth, keeping up, expanding infrastructure, global changes in manufacturing and of course a difficult economy and an ever-changing consumer!

What advice can you offer women seeking to start their own business, particularly in the fashion industry?
My advice would be to harness your passion into a concrete business plan with a solid strategy so you know where you want to go every step of the way.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I can't speak for the workplace in general since my company has always leaned towards celebrating women as leaders and creatives. Our environment is not so corporate that the ladder blocks your stepping forward. Speaking in generalities I think the idea of balance is what women are most challenged by these days. Most mothers I know who work feel there are simply not enough hours in the day. The young women are all looking towards that balance as they plan their lives and their careers. Everyone wants to know how to do it. The secret for me is to create a schedule but be okay when life veers you in other directions. The ultimate goal is happiness within.

What are your thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In book and movement?
I think it's exactly what people need today. It's how I got started - by taking a risk and pushing hard to succeed. The fearlessness to go for it will get you there eventually. Most things don't come easily and that's the precise point at which you want to give up, only that's usually the turning point.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Teaching people from what I've learned is a great reward. Learning from those I admire is equally inspiring. My oldest daughter made some plans for her own handbag line at 8 years old and I couldn't be prouder, having my children see their mother as a business owner and designer is a great influence and expands their horizons immeasurably. Many of the people that have passed through my doors over the last 10 years have looked to me but we've also grown together as the business and the world at large continues to change.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Hillary Clinton, Diane Von Furstenberg, Sheryl Sandberg.

What are your hopes for the future of Botkier?
To continue to grow the brand - we have so much coming down the pipe this year. Stay tuned!