Growing Up & Entrepreneurship with Sara Witzaney from HEMM
In the second edition of our Interest section, we’re sitting down with Sara Witzaney, the force behind HEMM, one of Canada’s first eCommerce boutiques. HEMM offers a curated collection of fashionable, functional yoga and activewear based out of its storefront and warehouse in Brittannia Village. For our interview, we visited Sara in the store, and it took all our willpower not to buy half of everything on display. We were inspired by her drive and saw her come to life as she discussed her marketing ideas and what’s next for HEMM.
Aspiring entrepreneurs and women throughout all phases of life can learn a lot from Sara. She has passed through many phases herself over the past ten years since owning her first store, selling it, and moving on to the next endeavour. She started the entrepreneurial rollercoaster ride as a young woman in her twenties, and she stayed on the fast track after getting married and becoming a mom of two. As a confident and experienced entrepreneur, Sara has learned the right and wrong ways of doing business, and she has fully embraced her #girlboss life.
Where HEMM Stemmed From
Motherhood and entrepreneurship can be difficult to juggle, and it can be even more difficult to look great while doing it. Sara was tired of the dogged search at different retailers for her most coveted activewear labels, and so her a-ha! business idea was born: she would provide a one-stop-shop experience for every woman’s fitness and fashion needs. HEMM.ca came into the world in only four months, and nothing can stop her now!
We talked to Sara about the different stores she has owned and operated (Stella & Sway, Posh Mommy, and HEMM), the lessons she’s learned from each, and why she chooses to be her own boss. Prepare to be inspired!
Q & A
Three Stores, Ten Years, Countless Lessons Learned.
DWK: We know you’ve had a few stores under your belt before HEMM. Could you highlight one lesson you’ve learned from owning the different shops? Any major life or business lesson you learned from each?
SW: I still think it’s crazy when I say it, but yes…I have owned three shops in the last ten years. Each one very different, rewarding, and daunting, all at the same time. I never once thought of owning my own business before. One of my friends said, “Why don’t you move home and open a store in Regina?” I was like, “OK,” so I did.
Stella & Sway—Let’s be honest! I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t even know how to find reps, order clothes, nor did I know about ship dates and seasons! I learned so much those two short years. It’s funny. I still run a supertight ship like I did those many years ago. I have operated all my shops pretty much the same way ever since. I made so many mistakes too. Best mistakes ever, though, as I haven’t made them again!
Posh Mommy—Well, this one was quite the ride! The major life lesson here was passing off responsibilities [to my staff] that were weighing me down. [They] were incredibly willing to take them on. Those days were so busy. My oldest was practically raised in this shop. I worked every day and was so emotionally involved with my whole heart in that store. It was so personal. I loved every second of it because I knew my hard work and grit were paying off financially, but I needed to take a step back and live, breathe, and relax more.
HEMM—I’m superchill with this business. It was easy to launch and grew quickly. My husband, Ben, who owns his own tech company, really took HEMM to the next level. He is the guy behind our website, mail outs, SEO, SEM, and so much more. I love working with him and having him play such a vital role in the creation and development of HEMM. The life lesson here is having someone on your team who plays such a big role to be financially invested in your company. You are then always guaranteed 100 percent execution all the time.
DWK: In the decorating biz, we grow pretty attached to our clients and their homes. After an installation, we find it hard to leave; we just want to sit and stare at this beautiful place we’ve styled to the nines. Do you feel the same way about your businesses, or do you get excited for the next big move?
SW: I have so many ideas all the time. Some stick with me—like HEMM—and others, after digging deeper into the concept, just don’t click with my life or flow. I’m always on the go and have been through many different phases in the past ten years since owning my first shop. I’ve been that single twenty-something gal, married life, a new mom twice over, and now moving into my late thirties. I’d love to build a company with my bestie Skye Lawrence. She and I are so similar. We have a few ideas that we plan over breakfasts a couple times a week.
DWK: What’s next for HEMM, or what’s next for you?
SW: There is so much planned for HEMM. I am looking at a Toronto location in the near future, as well as growing our online shop internationally. We are only skimming the surface when it comes to targeting our market. Word of mouth is great, and we love it when we receive emails saying their friends sent them our way! We are a small team of only four who run the shop and the behind the scenes. I like it that way. Each one is dedicated and shows up 100 percent. How did I get so lucky?! Thanks, team!
Being Your Own Boss
DWK: What is your favourite part of running your own business?
SW: Most definitely the flexibility! I thrive on living a balanced life. I love taking my kids to school and picking them up every day. My school-mom friends are simply the best, and we crush the playground each and every day. I wouldn’t have it any other way, and I certainly will not miss the after-school fun for anything! I also love being in the store and getting my business face on. It motivates me to work hard on the days when I am at home with my kids working on the back end of the site.
DWK: What made you want to run your own business / be your own boss instead of pursuing the regular nine-to-five work life?
SW: I was lucky to work nine-to-five jobs that I loved before I opened Stella & Sway. I love making my own schedule and running the show. I would have a hard time going back to a nine to five unless it was everything and more I hoped for! I do consult in the retail industry, but that is only by word of mouth. I taught myself all that I know, and I love sharing my highs and lows to others who are starting out like I did.
DWK: What’s the craziest thing that’s happened to you since starting HEMM? Maybe you could fill us in on your close encounter with new royalty? [Hint: Princess Markle.]
SW: Oh! This is so true! I was so, so close to Princess Markle. Ha ha! What a story! I tried so hard to make that work before Markle met Harry. Long story short—I managed to receive a reply from The Tig team [Megan’s now-defunct blog] saying that Megan likes what HEMM is up to. They kindly sent me over their media kit, which was of course way out of my league. Wish something could have worked…but all is good!
Listening to Sara definitely engaged all our entrepreneurial muscles. And how amazing was the Megan Markle connection? We still can’t get over that one. But sometimes the path less travelled can get a little lonely, and sometimes you lose sight of why you started. Hearing these unique stories and connecting with amazing people doing exciting things in the city, like Sara, reminded us here at DWK why we do what we do. It’s definitely an exhilarating journey, and we love building this community of motivated women and men.
We hope that you’ve enjoyed our Interest piece of the DWK Notebook puzzle. Are you thinking of pursuing the path less travelled, or are you already a few miles down it? We’d love to hear about what keeps you motivated or what you’re looking to pursue—tell us in the Comments section below!
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