Learn how to start a successful online clothing store with Aktiv Style’s Leslie and Nate Axvig.
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This interview will be extremely helpful to those of you who would like to know how to start a successful online clothing store. Leslie and Nate Axvig, owners of Aktiv Style, share their experiences and advice.
Can you give us a brief intro, Leslie and Nate?
Aktiv is owned by Leslie and Nate Axvig who started the online business in October 2018 from their home in Denver, Colorado.
Aktiv’s focus is bringing the very best of Scandinavian clothing to the United States. Nate and Leslie were exposed to several Nordic brands while they lived in Oslo during 2016-2017 with their two children.
Both Nate and Leslie are lawyers and were pursuing additional legal training in Communication and Technology Law while in Norway. That training would come in handy as they started their new business.
Leslie likes to knit, ski, read and hang out. The Scandic principal of Hygge fits her perfectly.
Nate is an avid sports fan and looks for pickup basketball games wherever he goes.
Both are true believers in the Peloton!
In your Our Story page, you mentioned that you had gone back to the US from a trip in Norway only to discover that much of the clothing you’d fallen in love with wasn’t available. Could you tell us more about this realisation and how you came up with Aktiv Style?
While living in Norway we spent a lot of time in coffee houses, which is a favorite regional pastime. As we would sip our strong Norwegian coffee we observed a strong connection with Colorado.
Norwegians loved to wear their technical outdoor clothing while out and about, just like they do in the Rocky Mountain Region.
We were introduced to several new companies this way. We were continually amazed at the quality and style of these “new to us” brands. As we spent more and more time observing and shopping we began to joke about starting a company when we returned to the United States that could bring these amazing products to the public.
These discussions took place as we were learning about the law of e-commerce so more synergy started to occur. After we moved home to Colorado we finished our dissertations and in the Spring of 2018, started to seriously consider opening a business. We started to reach out to some of our favorite companies and received positive responses.
Many of the organizations were contemplating movement into the huge American market but were not quite there. Over the summer of 2018 we started to prepare in earnest for an online opening.
We designed our website with a Nordic aesthetic and placed our first orders with an eye towards an October start.
Feel free to talk about your business here. Who exactly is it for? What can people expect when they buy a product from you?
Our audience consists of many components. Many visit our site looking for clothing and companies that show a dedication to sustainable production coupled with a minimalist aesthetic and an elevated technical quality.
The two largest groups we sell to are Yogis (thanks to Moonchild) and outdoor enthusiasts.
Our customers can expect a unique shopping experience when they visit aktivstyle.com. We try to be more attentive than the bigger box stores and since we wear all of the clothing we sell, we can speak to their qualities in a way that people don’t see every day.
We also try to give the customer some personal touches in the process from customized wrapping to handwritten thank yous with each order.
What was the journey like for you? What made you keep going?
So far it has been a positive journey.
Part of that is how different running an online business is from our previous careers which were a litigation focused law practice. Litigation is high pressure and grueling.
While it can be a great way to make a living there are so many contingencies involved in the final outcomes that you sometimes feel like a passenger. With an online business you are the captain and with the help of social media, you have unlimited opportunities to market your products.
One of the cases we worked on 14 years ago is still not completely finished. With ecommerce, you see results much more quickly.
There have been some bumps, definitely. It is difficult to sell products that many have never heard of, but the part that keeps us going is the positive feedback we get about the clothing. Those that have bought it (for the most part) have loved it.
What are the first and/or most important (five to ten) steps you took to get started?
In no particular order:
- Hired a great web designer//developer to capture the Nordic feeling on the website while also investing in quality SEO (Search Engine Optimization).
- Continued investment in SEO so that if potential customers are looking for Scandinavian clothing online we usually appear very high in the search results.
- Using a graphic designer to develop our branding.
- Basing our inventory purchases on results. Some of the companies that we love simply haven’t connected with the buying public. That means that subsequent purchases were tweaked or greatly curtailed. On the flip side, when something does sell well, we try to expand that products’ exposure.
- Connecting with Scandinavian heritage groups. Many Americans identify with their Nordic heritage and are interested in shopping products from those countries.
Knowing what you do now, is there anything that you would’ve done differently?
Ordering is tricky, as no one possesses a crystal ball. We were very excited to place our first orders and due to that we over-ordered. We learned that lesson quickly and our subsequent orders have been more focused, as we have a history now of what works/sells and what does not.
What was the highlight of your journey?
Our trip to the Hostfest in Minot, North Dakota in the fall of 2019.
Being an online business (outside of our small pop-ups) we don’t get to interact with people as they look at our products. We had a booth at the festival and spent four days selling to the attendees. Not only did we sell a lot, we learned what people like and dislike about our stuff. We were very excited to go back this fall but it was cancelled due to COVID-19.
And what was the low point? What are some of the challenges and how did you manage these?
Hard to say, but the week after the various lockdowns went into effect to combat the spread of the Coronavirus, we didn’t sell anything.
Our traffic was still good but it seemed as if the buying public just wasn’t sure what was next. It steadily improved as we, as a society, learned to navigate the quarantine, but that first week was quite glum.
Did you ever consider giving up or going back to the 9-5? Why (not)?
Nate hasn’t as he is the main driver behind the site. Leslie has returned to the practice of law after directing a lot of our early design aesthetic, and continuing to help with product selection, but she actually uses the education we received in Norway in her day to day work.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to transition from full-time employment to starting their own retail company? What can they expect? What qualities / skills / certifications do they need to have?
Do your homework at the beginning. Access to the world of e-commerce is easy but success isn’t so you have to be prepared for a rollercoaster.
Like most things in life, good and bad come together. We have had some amazing sales and also significant disappointments. The qualities that best serve you are ingenuity, creativity but also a level-head. Things are not going to go the way to expect, but you can’t get down about it.
Do you have upcoming events / activities / promotions?
We have a Father’s Day Collection, comprised of our favourites.
Aside from running Aktiv Style, what else keeps you busy?
We have a 14 and 9 year old that keep us hopping. In addition, we have a blog on Aktivstyle.com and both of us have contributed to the Norwegian American Newspaper.
Can you give us a picture of what a typical day looks like for you? How do you relax after a hard day’s work?
Since our partners are in Europe, we usually wake up to a full email inbox. That sets the morning up for communication back and forth. We usually process any orders that may have come in during the afternoon and make a run to UPS and the Post Office around 5 pm.
The rest of the day consists of web upkeep, adding new products to the website and answering questions from customers. Since a website is always on we can receive questions/orders at any time.
Relaxation definitely takes the form of hard workouts on the Peloton and hikes around the Front Range. In addition, both of us love to cook so we focus on meals throughout the day!
As a family we really love movie nights so we try to have them as often as possible.