The Playtime & Kid’s Hub Family is made up of international brands and buyers. We like focusing on brands in the Magazine, but we want to start putting buyers in the spotlight too! And where better to start than someone who has been coming to Playtime Paris since it started in 2007! Julia Molnar is a lot of things - Mother of six, boutique owner since 1983, board member of an incredible organization, and all around inspiring woman. We were honored to get a chance to hear her story and gain insight into the mind of a buyer!
Join us as we chat with Julia about her business, her experiences, and her advice!
Playtime: Please describe yourself and your job in a few words for us.
Julia: I am a girl who has always had a love and appreciation for French style and everything it represents - clothing, food, wine, and art - since I was in my early 20’s, before I had my own children. I always liked the “size” of children’s clothing, that it was like a reduced version of something I would wear.
I was 23 when I opened my shop Isola Bella in Vancouver. I went to Paris to do all my buying because, for me, the French collections are my favorites. I had no idea what I was doing, I just bought what I liked and what I found to be original. It would shock people to see these things in my shop in Vancouver. I think you have to take risks when you buy. My idea was to carry collections that no one else had, that no one else had even heard about.
I love working with people. I am more of an extrovert and so I love getting to know people and their children. Now, I am dressing these children’s children, as I go into my 38th year of business!
People often thought I opened my shop because I have so many children, but the truth of the matter is that I opened it because I love children’s fashion. I got to dress my children in it, so it was a pleasure to see my kid’s clothes on others! Someone on an airplane once commented to me how well behaved my children were, and I replied “No, they’re well-dressed, not well behaved!”
Playtime: What do your customers look for at Isola Bella? What makes your store unique?
Julia: My buying. I buy items that have never been seen before in Vancouver. I also stay exclusive in my selection, as I believe in loyalty, trust, and longevity in a business relationship.
I love boyswear too - it’s the combo of my boys collection that works so well, as I can appeal to a wide range of tastes.
Playtime: What makes brands stand out to you? What makes you want them in your store?
Julia: What makes a brand stand out is definitely originality. As buyers, we’ve seen it all before. It could be the way that their stand looks, whether that means it’s more organic, more colorful, or more minimalistic than others. It could simply be the beautiful smile on someone standing there. Sometimes, before the pandemic of course, they would have a bowl of treats because they know we buyers get so hungry exploring the show!
Usually, as a rule, I never buy a collection from someone I don’t like, even if I like their collection. It’s just not fun anymore. Really it comes down to their personality and how their collection bounces off of them. I usually look at a collection at a glance, because we don’t have enough time to look at every collection thoughtfully. So at a glance, I can see whether or not it’s for people who live in Vancouver. I have to look for collections that are in harmony with my city where it rains a lot and where I have to be careful that fabrics like wool aren't too scratchy. But really what makes me want it in my shop is the fact that if it’s stopped me in my tracks and makes me say “Oh my God,” then my client hopefully will have the same reaction.
If a brand sells to someone else in Vancouver, I usually drop it. I like loyalty and respect, so the brands that I’ve stood by stand by me, and won’t sell to anyone else. There are so many expenses involved in running a retail shop, so it’s important to make smart buying decisions.
Playtime: What initially drew you to Playtime Paris? What brands did you discover there that we could find in your store today?
Julia: I love Playtime Paris! I went to the first one and I have been to every one since, with the exception of Covid.
At Playtime, I find smaller brands (which are my thing) that I would not find anywhere else, and most of which don’t have showrooms in Paris. I am inspired when I walk through the aisles, thinking of if I can add another collection to my list. The way it’s presented makes it simple to walk around, and I like the building it is held in too!
1+ in the Family, Amiki, Maan, Pom d’api, Caramel, Louise Misha, and AO76 are a few brands I’ve discovered at Playtime and carry in my boutique.
Playtime: What is one piece of advice you would offer to young buyers just starting their career? And to someone visiting Playtime Paris for the first time?
Julia: For new buyers, I would say choose collections that you like, not because other shops have them. Be original and find your own niche. Your shop has to be an extension of your tastes, not someone else's. Don’t spread yourself too thin, be specific about what your tastes are. A shop with too much in it may become confusing to a client. The ability to sell what you bought is important, to be knowledgeable about your products. Know your clients too, and listen to what they ask for and why they love a piece, or recognize what doesn’t sell.
I don’t particularly go for designer brands, but rather unknown ones, which my clients end up liking because they're sold at Isola Bella. It’s really more about client relations and the trust they place in me and my staff. Since I only have 4% of the market, I always need to keep developing this relationship and reinventing myself. They come to me because they’re going to find something that they won’t find anywhere else.
For new visitors to Playtime Paris, it's best to do a complete walk around first. Collect cards from the stands you like - first impressions are usually right. Then, go back and see if you still like it a second time. See how each collection can work next to another in your shop - are they different enough or too much the same. Look at it first without knowing the price. Love it first, then see about prices later.
Playtime: We noticed you’re a board member of the organization GiveLove. Can you please tell us a bit more about it?
Julia: I have a very strong connection with GiveLove. This is an organization started by a very close friend of mine, actress Patricia Arquette. I started to help her out by doing a bit of fundraising, and then I continued and went to Haiti, Nicaragua, Kenya, and Uganda to install and teach communities about eco-sanitation, building wells, and safety.
GiveLove supplies composting toilets for communities in poor, rural places. It is a skills training organization to teach and promote ecological sanitation, and works hands-on with schools, communities, and Non-Governmental Organizations to offer high-need and water scarce areas with affordable sanitation solutions. For the past 18 months, Patricia, Alisa, and I have been working on starting a GiveLove Canada, where we will work on fundraising here in Vancouver and concentrate on an existing project that we have in Kampala. I was asked to sit on the board about three years ago, and I am honored to work along with such great innovators.
We hope you enjoyed Julia's story as much as we did! We hope it provided you with some insight, whether a buyer or a brand, on what to focus on at the trade shows and how to catch the eye of buyers. Stop in at Isola Bella if you're ever in Vancouver, donate to GiveLove, and keep an eye out for her at Playtime Paris!
Thank you so much to Julia Molnar for taking the time to work with us! We cannot wait to see her in person at Playtime Paris and see what new brands she notes down for next time!