Monica Upton doesn't have two lives, but she does have two distinct life modes. In one, she’s mum to her 5-month-old son Kingston and lives with her husband on a farm in Noosa. In the other she’s the founder and CEO of melbourne-based VESTIRSI, a luxury Italian leather handbag brand (and creator of our favourite Simone Bag). So, what’s that like? In a nutshell, “My life revolves around one thing: work when the baby sleeps”, but the longer story is a reminder of why working mums do what we do, and how it makes us the people we are. We asked Monica about her dual passions, what makes it all doable and what doing both has taught her about herself.
Firstly, how does VESTIRSI operate?
"I’m responsible for everything from the day-to-day running of the business, plus the product development, marketing and strategic growth. My husband also has a retail business, so he works with me on operations and big picture strategy, and my sister-in-law is an accountant who works across all our retail businesses. I have an amazing warehouse team in Melbourne that manages fulfillment. They’re at the coal face every day keeping the machine running and are the backbone of what we do!"
What are your goals for the brand?
“For every woman in Australia to understand Italian luxury leather handbags don’t need to be unattainable, they don’t need to cost $3000, and that she can shop with VESTIRSI and get a luxury leather bag, direct from Italy, for a fraction of the usual RRP of designer luxury leather bags. In 10 years, we want every woman in Australia to have a VESTIRSI bag in her wardrobe. By that stage, we also hope to have opened our charity supporting women’s mental health. At the moment we donate directly to Australian women’s mental health charities, but one day we hope to have our own. I have lost family members through mental health issues, so the cause is incredibly close to my heart.”
What inspired you to start VESTIRSI?
“I was working in PR at MECCA and would host press events with Australian beauty editors and the founders of MECCA brands to introduce their new launches to the Australian media. I needed a bag that would ‘look the part’ in these meetings and at these events (think black, chic, minimal), that was sturdy enough to hold my laptop (ideally quality Italian leather) and was under $300 — PR assistants don’t have a huge amount of disposable income. I searched all of Chapel St, Chadstone and the city (the main Melbourne shopping destinations at the time) and couldn’t find one anywhere. My grandparents are Italian, so I knew the best leather in the world is from Italy. So, my husband and I jumped on a plane and went to Italy to find the leather and materials and make this bag that I couldn’t seem to find anywhere in Australia. I bought the prototypes back to Melbourne for my friends and family…and VESTIRSI was born."
When did you know you wanted to own a business?
“I think I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit. I’ve always liked the idea of being a leader, and while you can do that working in someone else’s business, I’ve found I enjoy it much more when it’s my own business and I can create the brand, decide what we stand for and who we serve. I like to set the strategy and make the calls. Although, that does mean the buck stops with you, no else. So you do have a huge responsibility and have to make really difficult decisions almost every day.”
What’s been the best bit so far?
“Seeing something you’ve designed and launched into the market help mums and busy women feel more confident is amazing. Having a tired mum tell me “Thank you, for the first time since I’ve had my baby I feel put together and able to leave the house”, is a fantastic feeling. Also, donating 10 percent of our net profits to women’s mental health charities and seeing the direct and indirect impact we can make on women’s lives is pretty special.”
When did you know you wanted to be a mum?
“I think I’ve always known. My mum has done a lot of amazing things in her life, but she always told me having children was by far the best thing she ever did.”
What’s been the best bit so far?
“The day he was born – the day my life changed forever. Or, when he smiled at me for the first time. Melt.”
Now that you are a working mum balancing a business and a baby, what’s life like?
“I am very lucky I have a good sleeper. My life at the moment revolves around one thing: Work when the baby sleeps.”
What do your best days look like?
“Long naps (him not me). Happy baby. Happy mum. VESTIRSI growing and more women discovering us and falling in love with our bags, and our mission.”
What do the hardest days look like?
“Short naps. Tired baby. Tired mum (and caffeine capacity met and not allowed any more coffee for the day). Full inboxes. Italian factories in lock down. Australian cities in lockdown.”
What makes things easier to manage?
“Weekends, my husband being around and grandparents, god bless them.”
What have you learnt about yourself while being a mum and business owner?
“Your time is not your own anymore. You, and your time, now belong to that loveable little chubby bubba. Some days, that is the most amazing realisation. How lucky we are to be mums and have this little baby so reliant on us, and so in love with us?! How grateful I am. But some days, when urgent things need to get done, and your baby is screaming and you haven’t had a minute to yourself all day, that can be hard."
What do you hope your son says about when he’s grown up and asked, “what’s your mum like”?
“Passionate, hardworking, loving.”
What have been your MVP business tools?
“Shopify, which makes it easy for anyone to build and launch a website. WhatsApp, to communicate with my team in Italy. Instagram, to share images of our products with our community and have conversations with them about what they’re loving and what they want to see next, and Klavyio to send our community email updates about new launches."
What have been your MVP mum tools?
“My Simone bag. Someone referred to it as a Mary Poppins bag once. You know that scene where Julie Andrews is pulling endless items out of her bag in the film? It’s a bit like that. It fits everything I need for Kingy: nappy wallet, six bibs (spewy baby), a few onesies, teething toys, plus my laptop, charger, mouse, water, wallet, phone and makeup bag. So I can go from farm, to city, to airport, to warehouse, to shoots, to meetings, all with one fit-it-all bag. Our Jrn. Life playmat, we’re on it every day – rolling, playing, singing - so that’s also a must have. Oh and the Snoo. Worth every penny.”
Need help the right baby bag for you? Read our guide here.