If you know me you know that I basically live in athletic wear. Jeans are the most uncomfortable piece of clothing and should not be forced upon us as the norm. I own two pairs of jeans and they both cost me $40 from Abercrombie, that’s how I feel about jeans. But if we were to talk about the number of pairs of Lulus that I own…well let’s not go there.
Not only do I consider tights to be pants, I consider them a very essential part of my wardrobe. And I like to have sports bras and shirts that compliment them to, from, and at the gym/yoga/spin. Before now I was never really happy with any other brand besides Lululemon. I worked at SportChek for a while so I gathered my fair share of Nike, Adidas and Under Armour pieces but they never quite were what I was looking for. Lululemon just got it. But now as more and more people are wearing athletic wear in their daily lives other brands are popping up offering unique styles, cuts, and designs while still meeting necessary comfort and fit needs.
You can imagine how stoked I was to come across Hemm, a locally-based, online fitness-wear boutique. I first saw them on Instagram and didn’t actually realize that the brand was based in Calgary – so convenient! I went to a pop-up shop they had at YYC Cycle in Kensington to see what they were all about. And of course I bought something! (You can see the rest of this outfit on my Gym Bag 101 post) I was very tempted to buy the whole rack, but good thing I have a credit card limit.
Hemm is founded and owned by Sara Witzaney who I had the opportunity to sit down over a cup of coffee and chat about her brand:
Growing up in Regina, SK Sara never imagined a life in retail. She was working with children and was fascinated with kids with special needs in Calgary, but in 2007 she moved back to Regina to open up a clothing store. She sold it when she had her first son, and then moved back to Calgary where she bought a maternity boutique called Posh Mommy. She built it up over four years and towards the end of her time there she started discovering active wear – pregnant women are always looking for stretchy pants.
About a year ago Sara realized the fitness industry was changing and fashion in fitness. And the question was where do you buy active wear in Calgary? There was a gap in the market for independent active wear brands from all around the world.
Sara spent last summer finding brands that she loved; reaching out to them and putting together the best collection of active wear brands she could find. Hemm is a team of two: Sara and her husband are working their asses off to bring this passion to life. They have about 26 brands right now, but the list is growing: soon they are going to add names like Spiritual Gangster and Dharma Bums.
The Calgary fitness scene is exploding. “Everyone seems really collaborative and all the studios are great.” And Hemm is the perfect solution to Calgarians (and Canadians) solution to finding new active wear brands.
So where did Hemm come from? “The word bends and moves in a way that looks like poses. The name sounded good, we knew we could grow with it and spend the time and create it to be our brand.”
“My days are fueled by coffee. My littlest gets up around 5am so that’s when the day starts. We have family time in the morning before 9 and after the kids are off to day care and school then I start answering emails. I am spending lots of time collaborating with bloggers right now: organizing outfits to send to them. I fulfill any orders from the morning and then stop for a big lunch. After lunch I spend time product inputting, cross-selling, and making sure collections are up to date. I pick up my kids around 3pm and we take more family time until 8pm when they go to bed. Then my husband and I sit down in our office. We have a big white board set up where our strategy is planned, where our ideas flow. Until midnight we are redesigning, working on changing and improving little things on the website, anything we can do to make the customer experience better. It’s busy but it’s so rewarding.”
“We are excited about where we are headed. Right now we are working on an affiliate program, working to get teachers and ambassadors involved.”
The most rewarding part of starting a business is “getting those emails where people say “you are doing things that I really like.” To see what you’ve created develop and grow – it’s really cool.” On the flip side, the most challenging part is time. “Finding the time and the balance; to balance work and life. It’s challenging starting something from scratch, especially in eCommerce where we didn’t have that much experience. But it’s about making mistakes and moving on from them; tackling them and making it better.”
“Ultimately we wanted to enter the market for women’s active wear. If we just opened brick and mortar it would just be that, we wanted to learn about the eCommerce side. We are waiting for the right space, brick and mortar will be coming soon. I lived the retail storefront and it’s hard, but I am going to do it because I love to do it – I really love being right at the front.”
“We are always thinking about the future and how we can make it more convenient for women to shop online for active wear, helping women find the right size and fit. Making the online process completely seamless is really our goal and to always make it better. We are about empowering women, talking about fashion, lifestyle, living and working. It’s about curating good content on social media and imagery; and capturing that. It’s about being creative and coming up with content that captures our audience.”
What advice would you give to entrepreneurs?
“If you are going to start any kind of an internet, eCommerce site you have to have knowledge. You have to have someone on your team that is 100% committed and invested in your success. You have to have experience in technology in some way and try to do as much as you can yourself. Because when that person goes that you hired, you have to know 100% what that person was doing because you have to take it on. You have to have some expertise in what you want to do, and if you don’t you have to find someone who does. You are not relying on someone else.”
How does Sara stay motivated? “Constant change that is going on. Coming up with ways to make the business and brand better. It keeps you motivated.”
On Saturday, March 5th from 9am-2:30pm Calgary’s Studio Revolution is hosting a Hemm pop-up shop if you’re interested in checking Hemm out!