MAGIC Interview: Sales Rep Leah Wiley

This is the last interview I did at Magic and I’ve been looking forward to writing this piece all week. I greatly enjoyed every interview I did this week but this one is special. On my last day, an hour before I had to leave the show to go to the airport, I was regrouping and bemoaning the fact that the one interview I had set my heart on doing -with an independent sales rep- didn’t happen. So I’m sitting outside and this woman comes out, wildly gesticulating into her cell phone about how “that girl is not going to live to be 16″ -obviously to her mother- watching her daughter while she’s at the show, and we get to talking. Turns out, Leah (that’s her name) is a sales rep and she was thrilled to be interviewed. Now, is that serendipitous or what?

I love this lady (above). You do want this woman to sell your clothes. Her name is Leah Wiley and she’s in business representing lines with her husband Reg. They have a showroom in the Gerry Building in LA. She says it’s a new building, lofty looking and in keeping with the young lines she likes to represent. She was at the show working the booth for one of her lines (exclusive at this show, not her booth) called Arianne which is a line of daywear with pieces that cross over into lingerie. You might want to check out that company because this is the sort of line she sells although she says she’s also looking for denim and sportswear but not yoga type products. I liked the Arianne line by the way. It’s a Canadian company, small, only 37 people including stitchers and they make their own stuff. I really like Canadian goods, they’re so well made. I don’t know if you know that but Canadians make really nice stuff, good quality, good value.

Before I forget, Leah only wants lines that are produced in the US, Canada or Europe. She won’t look at anything else. She says that young lines can get through quota the first time but can get snagged after that and as you know, she doesn’t get paid until you deliver. She also mentions the problems with consistency. It’s all too common for samples to look good but overseas contractors are well known to switch out lower cost findings on production goods. The price points she’s looking for are $25-$155 so that’s a nice range.

Regarding contracts, I asked her how she works. She says she (of course) wants exclusive territory, specifically the West (CA, WA, OR, NM, AZ, CO, NV, WY) and she’ll take on your house accounts. Actually, she said there’s no such thing as a house account. She says she’s kind of old school and thinks designers should be “too special to talk to”, that’s her job. Designers should be consumed with creativity and producing a line. Her job is to sell it. I asked her about the old school thing and was stunned to learn that she actually went to FIDM. I don’t think I’ve ever met a rep who actually got a fashion merchandising degree.

With regard to contracts, she can either provide hers or use yours and you can dicker over the details. She usually gets 10%-12% with a high of 15% if it’s a line she has to shop around not having an existing store base for. With regard to how she selects lines, she says she picks lines (aside from domestic production and territory) based on whether she “likes it, loves it or needs it” and she’ll know inside of ten seconds.. She also says she doesn’t want to be the first rep you call. She wants to be 7th, 8th, or 9th because you won’t understand what she can offer you until you’ve shopped around. You need to see what craziness is out there before you understand the sanity she can bring you.

In accepting a new client, I asked her how she was so different from other reps and it turns out she is. She says in interviewing a rep, you need to ask how fast you’ll come out of the suitcase. She says her newest lines come out first. In her showroom, the newest lines get first glass, right in the window. This is the polar opposite of any other rep I’ve ever spoken to. They wait for lines to get a few seasons under their belts before they move them up front in the showroom.

I asked her if she does any consulting and luckily for you, she does. She can help you figure out what’s wrong in your approach, if it’s your hang tags, presentation, pricing, label, getting paper work together or if you need your line reviewed. We must have hit it off well (she loved the book) because she’s agreed to do consulting for book owners at a reduced rate of $75 an hour. And she told me to tell you that you better have it, no faking her out, because she’s going to have you “open it to chapter two and read off a few sentences”. For those who don’t have the book, her regular rate is $100 an hour with a one hour minimum (the typical consulting rate with a sales rep is $125-$175). She will also work on retainer so you can call her up and she’ll charge your account in 15 minute increments to deal with quick questions that don’t involve a lot of time. She can also provide referrals for designers who need them.

I really enjoyed chatting with Leah and I’d encourage you to consider hiring her for consulting or maybe she’ll rep your line too. If you’re interested in hiring Leah, her contact information can be found here in the forum.

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  1. Trish says:

    I have had no time this past week, so as much as I was wanting to get onto the f-i and read, read, read, I had to teach, teach, teach. Now it is heaven to be here.

    I am really thinking of joining you in Miami in May. It seems like such a logical trip.

    I have been building kits. I love making sewing kits that have value added for my little dolly customers. I am currently focusing on the 10″ doll Bleuette. She was produced in France from 1905 until 1960 and her clothing range is thus broad and much fun.

    I did a Spirit of Hawaii, Aloha kit… in fact, I wish I could read and build the lei kits at the same time.

    I stayed at work until 4:38 AM this morning working on the dress kits. They look great.. they are for a doll sewing and “other creating” club meeting tomorrow, the Rio Grande Bleues.

    In fact, Kathleen, wee (pun intended) meet at the Double Eagle tomorrow, Saturday, at 11:00 AM for about two or so hours.

    Hey, if you want to come by the Double Eagle tomorrow and “browse” the club meeting, please do that. I think you will like my doll pattern engineering. It makes sewing in doll scale a different world. I have been having fun for years creating sewing ease by pattern development. I will share more about the sew first, cut second concept some time in the future.

    I love Mesilla… it used to be the largest city between “some big city, East” and San Diego… how times change and some things stay the same.

    I miss you and wish I could lay eyes on your for a bit. If you have any interest in coming to the Double Eagle…just ask for the doll ladies and they will show you to our bastion of joy.

    For those of you not fortunate enough to live on the Rio Grande, Mesilla is wonderful little city and it has a fabulous town square. Trust me, being there is heavenly. No time to go into details (company coming and I have to shower) but you may be able to find something on the web about it. It is very near to Kathleen… just a few miles. Mesilla, NM.

    Kathleen, I am looking for your email but I cannot seem to find it… my computer kindly does not help, LOL

  2. Darby says:

    Leah sounds wonderful, and thanks to both of you for arranging a discount on her consulting for book owners! The sales process seems to be one of the most daunting challenges ahead for me, so having someone newbie-friendly like Leah available for feedback, etc. is great.

  3. Megan says:

    What an amazing job! I’m so much better at talking about other people’s work than I am about my own.

    Does this sales rep also represent ‘other’ products (jewelry?) or just clothing? She sounds like a gem – and honest! I love that!!! =D

  4. Dorez says:

    Thanks so much for this interview with Leah. My daughter, Anna Nicole, is a designer in Los Angeles. Her company is called Jahqoi. She specializes in plus size clothing. And it seems like sales reps handling that market are extremely difficult to find. We’ve had one meeting and we’re talking with a 2nd rep. In the meantime, we’ve managed to get into a couple of stores on our own. Leah sounds like a wonderful person who treats designers with respect and understands what it’s like to be the new kid on the block. So, I’m gonna have my daughter get in touch with her. Maybe she’ll be able to refer her to someone.
    Thanks for your wonderful site. You provide a wealth of information here.
    – Dorez

  5. Efthalia says:

    Hi Kathleen: Nice interview. I don’t know how to get through those six or seven others before speaking with Leah. I heard there’s a group in San Diego of Clothing reps who have a dinner meeting once per month. I just found out about it, and plan to attend their next meeting. When I’m done speaking with those others, though, I definitely want to speak with Leah. She sounds like a living doll, and since my product is an accessory that leans towards lingerie, we might totally click!

    Just as an aside, I joined the FBI – Fashion Business Inc. last year and I’m driving up to LA to take my first all day workshop. I’m really looking forward to it. Thank you. Efthal

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