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Alum brothers are cut from the same entrepreneurial cloth

Matt '10 and Lexi '12 Nastos

Matt '10 and Lexi '12 Nastos. Photo: provided.

Among the crowd of clothing designers in New York City's Garment District, Matt '10 and Lexi '12 Nastos stand out as the hard-charging e-commerce experts leading Maison MRKT. Since co-founding the digital agency in early 2014 with a third partner, the brothers, graduates of Cornell's Department of Fiber Science & Apparel Design (FSAD), have been hustling to help fashion labels attract new customers on the Web.

Located at 39th Street and 7th Avenue, Maison MRKT creates online marketing plans for fashion brands to reach potential customers through social media, search engines, email and other channels. By "lowering the cost of customer acquisition," Matt says, Maison MRKT alleviates a headache felt by brands baffled by the rapid pace of online business.

"E-commerce does not exist in a vacuum," Matt says. "A prospective customer may learn about your business on a social network, sign up for your newsletter, return via email and then do an organic search and finally make a purchase on their fifth or sixth visit. You cannot address one component without the other."

Lexi Nastos

Lexi Nastos models a look from the Pendleton Scholarship Team in the 2009 Cornell Design League Runway Show. Photo: University Photography file photo.

Maison MRKT's other selling point, the founders say, is its round-the-clock attention to client needs. Working from laptops and smartphones, the Nastos brothers and the firm's three other employees are rarely unplugged and constantly communicate with clients by text, email, chat and face-to-face meetings. In a short time, Maison MRKT has built a reputation for responsiveness and flexibility, assisting Fivestory NY, Carson Street Clothiers, Orley, Misha Nonoo, Michael Bastian and other rising labels with their digital presence. One satisfied designer praised them as "50-year-old consultants in 20-year-old bodies" in a recent New York Times article.

"Part of the reason we've been able to build a growing client base is that we are incredibly hands-on," Matt says. "That's been the single most valuable lesson learned since we started: Keep your clients happy and their referrals and networks will create new opportunities. Fashion is a very small industry. If we're producing good work, it's going to reverberate outward."

Before the brothers became the brains behind one of the city's hottest fashion e-commerce boutiques, they were working late nights in the fashion design management program in Cornell's College of Human Ecology. Encouraged by his father, Tom, president of trade show company ENK International and chair of the Cornell Institute for Fashion and Fiber Innovation advisory board, Matt recalls skipping his high school homecoming to attend a runway show by Cornell student designers. He was hooked, and Lexi followed him to campus two years later. "FSAD fit perfectly with my interests," Lexi says, "and Cornell's prestige and network lasts a lifetime."

As budding entrepreneurs, both sought a wide range of courses to support their interests in fashion, business and technology. Each took an introductory AutoCAD course with FSAD senior lecturer Anita Racine and learned about next-generation fibers in FSAD associate professor Juan Hinestroza's textile innovation course. Matt developed a taste for entrepreneurship in a Johnson Graduate School of Management course focused on startups. In his senior year, Lexi helped to oversee the Cornell Pendleton Scholarship Team, leading students in creating and marketing a menswear collection with fabrics donated by Pendleton Woolen Mills.

Maison MRKT client presentation at NY Fashion Week

A scene from the Orley FW 2015 Presentation at NY Fashion Week, a Maison MRKT client. Photo: provided.

"Though Matt and I were both on the fashion design management track, we were able to learn the basics of the design process and see how the product development cycle works," Lexi says. "The FSAD program is fantastic for developing a whole understanding of the fashion industry."

This fall, their younger sister, Christina '19, will follow in their footsteps at Cornell. Described by Matt as "the smartest of all of us," she may major in fiber science thanks to her abilities in science and math.

Lexi describes Maison MRKT as "bridging the gap between fashion and technology" -- an idea currently in vogue in New York City. Fueled by the Council of Fashion Designers of America's Fashion Incubator program and the New York Fashion Tech Lab, two Manhattan-based initiatives to weave together fashion and innovation, the company is well suited to the city's emerging startup culture.

With deep roots in the industry -- their parents first met as students at Fashion Institute of Technology -- perhaps it was inevitable that the Nastos brothers would launch a company pitched at clothing brands and retailers. What's also in their favor, Lexi says, is that they're both cut from the same entrepreneurial cloth.

"There are two choices in your career: Either build your own dream or help someone else build theirs," Lexi says. "Building and scaling our business is what drives us forward and keeps us focused seven days a week."

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