Stephanie Montes has done more in 2020 than a lot of us may do in a lifetime — starting, launching, and marketing a company in the midst of a pandemic is no easy feat for anyone, but when Montes speaks about the rest of her life, it seems everything she's done this year is right on brand for the hustle that has been her daily life since childhood.
From fashion design school to being Beauty Director of The Zoe Report, Montes is no new name to the beauty and style game. She's interviewed some of the biggest icons and entrepreneurs of our time, and as time passed it only felt natural she would join the entrepreneurial game.
But at the core of Montes' desire to start a business was her need for Nue herself. The skin-toned breast tape she founded was out of the lift she wanted for herself and her medium-toned skin. Nothing existed for her during the times at which a bra couldn't be worn. She knew if she was having that issue, so were many other women,
Out of that awareness came "the boob job in a box," and less than a year later, she's manifested a community of like-minded women with inclusivity at the forefront of every conversation, just as it was when I sat down to speak with her.
What is the story you hope to tell with Nue?
We talk a lot about how growing up, I never felt like there were marketing campaigns catered towards me and my friends.
I never saw my skin tones and body types marketed towards my color skin.
Obviously things have changed, but when I started Nue, I wanted something affordable and something that looked cool on my vanity that I didn't get to have when I was younger. I wanted something virtually anyone could have.
I spoke to different skin-toned people to make sure they all feel seen.
I've been very transparent about the fact that when I started conceiving Nue, I found a lump in my breast. I was with my husband in Palm Springs and I found it within an hour or two of getting in to the hotel. All I could think about was getting a doctor's appointment the second we left.
I felt like my world was falling apart.
Luckily, it was benign. But, my mother in law is a breast cancer survivor. This is a breast product. A portion of our profits will always go towards breast cancer research.
What has been your biggest challenge and highlight as an entrepreneur?
There are a billion challenges, I don't even know where to start. It started with the whole Skimms thing. I had already been conceiving Nue for a good six months.
I brought it to market super quickly because I felt like it was a big need and I felt like I was on the cusp of something awesome. I felt like if I had this idea, someone else would.
I had been working on Nue for six months when Skimms went on Instagram talking about launching skin-tone breast tape.
A lot of my friends who knew about it called me and were like, listen, don't worry about what Kim Kardashian does. You have a completely different messaging. Continue on the road ahead.
I listen to podcasts a lot and I like to say, "There's Coca-Cola and Pepsi, Hulu and Netflix."
There are so many competing brands that not one person can really own the market.
Everything from production to packaging went wrong. All the boxes were pink and purple. Because I was moving so quickly and because of Kim's announcement, I had them switch very quickly. Luckily, they redid it and I didn't have to pay for it. Then, when my products were coming in, things got held up in customs.
For like a good month, I didn't know where it was or if I was getting it or if the tape existed.
Luckily it did, but the point is that everything that could have gone wrong went wrong. Luckily I stayed with it and stuck with it. That's a testament to the people I brought on who cheered me along.
I'm pretty much a one-woman show and then I have my family here helping me box and ship things.
I cried about a lot that I can laugh about now, but yeah I cried a whole lot. But, my background in editorial has been so helpful. I can call up all these cool founders and entrepreneurs I got to meet and talk to and now I call them up and tell them about how I'm freaking out about Kim Kardashian.
How much does coming from a marginalized community play into your business on a day to day basis?
It's actually interesting that you ask that because I was just having this conversation with my mom. I started working in my early teens at the mall and started saving money then and that was because my mom was always like, save all your money. Don't spend your money.
There are times even now when we'll be out and my mom will be like, "OK but do you really need that?"
The way she was raised, she had nine siblings. My grandmother became widowed so they all worked at a young age to make their own money and learn the value of money early one.
When we were being raised, we never ate out, always ate at home, wore hand-me-downs. I never had anything designer.
So, growing up it was always about saving your money. When it came to starting the business, I felt I could go into savings of my own which I appreciated because I didn't have to lose any of someone else's money.
That totally came from growing up in a marginalized community. Luckily, because I have been saving for so long, and going forward with Nue I'll be spending money on what we really need. If there is something we really need to spend our money on, we'll do it.
It's all about not spending beyond our means.
How do you feel social media and community building has changed the way you do business?
We are very young and we still have a lot of building to do.
I want to make a space where women can come to talk about boob sweat and saggy boobs and stretch marks, you know?
We want to create this space where people can come and talk to us like they're one of our girlfriends. This product is also one of those where you talk about it with your girlfriends.
You know you go to a wedding and you have a dress that you can't wear a bra with so you tell your girlfriend about how you used Nue.
I want to create this space on this site where you talk about regular at-home workouts and at-home breast exams where we can talk like we're friends about breast health and boob sweat — all that good stuff.
What advice would you give to the upcoming generation of entrepreneurs coming from marginalized communities?
Save your money. Don't try to keep up with the Joneses.
Don't splurge on things so you can show it off on Instagram. It's way cooler to have that money in the bank.
If I was a teenager in the Instagram era, I don't know where i"d be. I'm sure there's so much pressure. You're not going to bring those things to the next phase of your life. Don't get too caught up on the appearance of things.
Also, it would just be, whatever just do it. What's the worst that could happen? What business are we going to start for our business? Is our baby going to be two and going to have a bottle business?
I always say high schools should be teaching economics in a way that teaches you how to do your taxes and invest so that once you get into your adult world you're not thinking about how you have to now learn how to file your taxes.
Ask a friend, Google it, don't get caught in this rut of thinking I'm not smart enough or don't have enough money. There's just so much we can do with technology these days.
Don't allow yourself to be a product of your environment.
What can we expect from the future of Nue?
We just got a really big order from Revolve, so we're going to be in Revolve soon. We filled that and are waiting to see when that goes on the site.
We will be in Revolve any day now.
For 2021, I have a product in the works. It's a travel version of Nue. A problem that we used to have is that people were taking Nue on vacation with them because that's when you wear your fun backless things. People were packing it and couldn't use the roll so we're coming up with a travel-friendly thing where it does not require scissors.
Tell us a book you'd recommend.
I love "Into The Wild" by Jon Krakauer. It makes you evaluate things. We're so burned out. We're constantly chasing the next deadline and fantasize about just escaping in the woods.
That's why I love the movie "Under Tuscan Sun," too. I love the idea of escaping and starting over.
What charities do you support?
The Breast Cancer Research Foundation is obviously one that we work with personally with Nue.
During COVID, we gave back to Meals On Wheels to give back to the older generation to keep them fed.
We gave back to BLM when everything was crazy.
Personally, I love supporting St. Judes. I took a tour of their location in Tennessee a couple of years ago and I continue to donate to them, personally.
What is on your nightstand?
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