IN THE KNOW with Stephanie Vitali & Sarah Hart Of Wilhelmina Sales

April 13, 2022 | Scott Murray-Burrows

For over a decade Stephanie Vitali and Sarah Hart of Toronto based Wilhelmina Sales Agency have represented some of the world’s most coveted womenswear, menswear and lifestyle collections.  Working with many of the best retail partners across Canada, they have an amazing team and are just getting started! 

 We sat down with Stephanie and Sarah to discuss the last couple of years, industry trends, crushing motherhood and business at the same time and a return to tradeshows

Hey ladies, it’s been a while!  How are you both doing?
We are great! Coming out of the covid bubble a bit more every day and enjoying getting back to somewhat normal living, work and life!

Can you walk us through the last couple of years at Wilhelmina Sales?
We have been busy at the agency. We celebrated our 10th year of business last summer and that truly felt like we crossed some unofficial finish line. We also started a new division at the agency focusing on more of a complete ‘lifestyle’ offering while still representing some of the best brands around. We also added a few babies to the mix over the past few years.

Many people experienced a challenging shift to working from home during the pandemic, none more than working mothers.  As parents to young kids, what did this look like for each of you?
It was a WILD time to say the least. It was hard for everyone and we had this top of mind in everything we did. We just kept saying “You can only do what you can do” I feel like we said this over and over again to each other, to our clients and most importantly to ourselves. We tried to enjoy the forced downtime as much as possible and offer support to our clients in any way we could. I, Stephanie, actually had my second baby MARCH 27th/2020 so it was a time that we will not soon forget.

Prior to the pandemic I recall Stephanie attending a sales meeting in the US with her newborn.  Was cool to see! How was that experience and what do you think is the biggest challenge faced by mothers in the fashion industry and workplace in general?
As a team we have both had to make these decisions to make it work. My mom was able to travel with us and with her help it made the experience fairly manageable. My son was 3 months at the time so I would have to leave at breaks and lunch to go and nurse but everyone was very accommodating. It was a room full of guys, so they really didn’t say much. Sarah also brought her daughter to a Maaji sales meeting when she was 4 months old as well. Similarly, she brought her sister to watch her during the day and the team was super accommodating to her and the baby. It takes a village!!

It feels like every industry is rough on females and in turn mothers. I think there is always the thought that if you are a mother, you have a limited work capacity or that your priorities are no longer work related. We felt that the biggest challenge is not being considered for certain opportunities based on the fact that we had small children. It feels like we had to fight for every advance we made with the help a select few who saw our determination to succeed. After 10 years of owing the agency, it does now feel like we are trusted in the industry and are now being considered for lots of brands. It also doesn’t hurt that most of the brands we are interested in these days are female run.

You guys have a great assortment of brands!  From apparel and swim to lifestyle and grooming products.  How has each category faired over the last couple of years?

We have seen an ebb and flow in each category for sure during the pandemic. When everything closed down in the early months of the pandemic the pre-book model was super difficult to maintain. Businesses were scared and didn’t want to commit to goods 6 months out. We did see a decline in apparel pre-book sales and categories like swimwear, but we had quickly pivoted to these at once lifestyle brands in the apothecary and gifting channels and that really got us through the slower months. People were much more willing to take goods right away. Buy now, sell now was here but over the last few months we halve seen a surge back into seasonal categories like swimwear and are looking forward to a super strong year.

Now that tradeshows and in-person events are coming back on the calendar, what’s on the schedule for Wilhelmina and your brands? 
We are very excited to return to the trade show this year and super happy to be back at Know Show with L*Space. It has been quite a few years since we represented it for the West Coast but it is back home with us and we are looking forward to seeing all of the amazing retailers in person. In Toronto we find having a showroom is the best place to have people review lines. We have been on Wingold in Toronto for 6 years now and it is our work home. We love having people in or we have returned to the road and enjoy seeing people in their spaces.

Great chatting again, looking forward to seeing you both in person at the show this summer!

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