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Alexandra Willkie Pasanen Founder, Willkie's
As a mother to a toddler, and with a second baby on the way, what has surprised you most about motherhood and this chapter of family life?
Can I say “everything”? At the time of my first pregnancy, I didn’t have many close friends with children. In fact, I hadn’t really spent much time with babies or toddlers since I was a kid myself. This may be specific to my daughter Rosie, but what’s surprised me the most about this current stage (she’s 20-months and will be 21 or 22 months when our next daughter arrives), is how crazy busy she is. She’s just constantly on the move. I mean, how naïve is that!?
You became a suburbanite during Covid, how has life changed as a result? What have been the silver linings of life outside the city?
We were incredibly lucky to close on our home mere weeks before Covid-19 hit and the real rush to the suburbs got underway. Looking back, I’m thankful that our decision to settle just outside NYC predates the pandemic. No matter how much I might miss the city some days, I ultimately can remind myself I made this decision before the world turned upside down.
Luckily, and I swear I’m not just trying to pitch Bronxville here (OK, maybe I am), this town has been perfect for us. It’s 28 minutes by train to the city - and even less by car, especially to the Upper East Side where some of my family lives. It has afforded us some much needed extra space, while still allowing us to take advantage of what NYC has to offer. And at the end of the day, I think I’m a ‘house’ person.
You have taken the leap into entrepreneurship with the launch of Willkie's, an e-commerce (and soon-to-be brick and mortar) boutique for mothers and children. What prompted you to take the plunge?
I’ve always had dreams of owning my own store and of doing something truly creative, which can be challenging within the confines of an existing business.
While I’ve undoubtedly learned quite a bit throughout my career in art and fashion, I learned the most about my own personal aesthetic while raising my first child and decorating my first house. So, ultimately, I guess it was my transition to suburban motherhood that led me to take the business owner plunge - and wow, I feel really fortunate I can say that! Building a new business as a new mom is by no means easy, but I’m lucky to be inspired by my own life and my growing family, and even more grateful to be able to do these things in tandem.What has been the most fun part of getting your business up and running?
The most fun part thus far has been all the exciting launches - of course, my own website’s launch, but also the collections we’ve dropped from our amazing brand partners. I’m so passionate about the brands I work with; I love curating their assortment for the Willkie’s customer, launching it on site, and seeing the customer shop my edit. It’s been so rewarding to see things resonating, both with my amazing friends and family (who are loyal customers), and with all the new customers I’ve met in my first few months of business! The next fun piece will be opening the store itself in Spring 2022 - and getting to actually interact with and learn from customers in person. I can’t wait.
What has been the most challenging component?
Keeping up the momentum! Building a brand means standing behind it 100% all day, every day, and while I’m working from home, I have the distractions of family life around me. I’m constantly looking to find new ways to expand my customer base and tell the Willkie’s story, and that means staying focused. When the brick and mortar opens, I’ll be grateful for a second place to work from, though of course I’ll miss having my daughter(s) popping in and out of my office.
In a world that is so e-commerce focused, why did you decide to launch brick and mortar alongside e-commerce?
I really believe in the importance of brick and mortar. I have always loved going into shops; nothing feels as rewarding to me as seeing something IRL and making the choice to buy it. I think the urge to shop in person, to touch and feel and really contemplate a purchase, is going to come back with a vengeance post-Covid. And I think it’s especially important when it comes to kids items - we are flooded with images of women's fashion through editorial and social media outlets. There’s less of that in the kids' space, which I think leaves more room for in-person discovery.
And then of course there’s my own move to Bronxville. One of the things I miss most here are the amazing in-person shopping experiences Manhattan and Brooklyn offer. When my storefront opens next year, I want it to provide a NYC-level shopping experience for the many young women and families that have recently left the city and are seeking that elevated aesthetic in the suburbs. How do you choose the vendors with whom you work? There are so many good ones, it must be difficult?
I purposefully seek out brands that are also focused on leaving our children with a fair and beautiful world - which means that sustainability practices are of utmost importance to them. That’s #1. After that, it’s a mix of: a) brands I want to introduce to my customer, b) brands I already know my customer will love, and c) brands that aren’t easy to purchase here in the US. From there, I try to ensure I have a good mix across baby, boy, girl, mama, and home - so that there’s a little something for everyone.
How important is that curation process in the Willkie's customer experience? What are you looking to offer your customers that no one else does?
One of things I didn’t love about shopping for Rosie was how “baby” the experience could feel. I designed the site to feel (I hope!) mature and thoughtful - different from what I knew to be out there. So much changes when you become a mother, and I didn’t think the experience of shopping needed to change as well. Browsing the website should feel like (virtually) meandering through your favorite store, albeit now with a child in tow. I can appreciate that I will never have absolutely everything one needs for their family, but I try to offer an assortment of lovely, well-made items that will add a little beauty to your day-to-day.
What are your hopes for your family with the arrival of your second child?
Ahh, I cannot wait to meet her! I am one of three sisters, and I am so thrilled that Rosie will soon have her own sister so close in age. My experience growing up in a family of sisters was honestly amazing, and I really wanted to be able to pass that experience on to my daughter. I’m sure we’ll have some growing pains, but my hope is that my girls will someday be each other's greatest allies.Shop Alexandra's Look:Plaid Tiered Dress