Norwin grad becomes boutique owner, Miss Pennsylvania contestant
Victoria Piekut received a phone call from her father, Jeffrey, in August 2016 with unexpected news — she was a business owner.
The 22-year-old Norwin High School graduate had toyed with the idea, knowing both her parents had retail backgrounds, but never thought it would come to fruition.
Working a modeling job at the Atlanta Apparel Mart when she and her mother Christine received the news, Piekut had to start working double duty.
“I was modeling and then on my breaks I would run down to the apparel floors and my mom would hold clothes up and go, ‘This one or this one?’” she said.
Officially launched online in October 2016, Wight Elephant Boutique has grown to a storefront in downtown Irwin, with another location planned for downtown Greensburg. The business is an official wardrobe provider for the Miss America organization.
At age 13, Piekut started receiving mailers from the National American Miss organization. After begging her mom to let her compete, three years later, Piekut took the stage, not knowing that decision would lead her to find her “passion for fashion,” and to owning a business.
In her first pageant, Piekut placed third in the talent competition and first runner up overall.
After that, she was hooked.
The following year, Piekut returned to the pageant and competed in the teenage division. She placed first runner up in the country and moved on to compete for an international title, which she won.
“In 2015, I represented the world,” she said. “During that year, I was making appearances all over the world and I was able to find those other (clothing) pieces, and other girls weren’t. And so they were constantly asking if they could buy the clothes off my back.”
Wanting to open a unique store, Wight Elephant buys clothes from designers at the Atlanta Apparel Mart and typically does not restock items when they sell out, replacing them with different pieces instead.
Starting with an online store, Piekut received rave reviews from people in the pageant world and from area residents, she said.
“Within the first hour of us being open (online), Miss World America contacted us asking if we’d be willing to sponsor her for the Miss World pageant,” Piekut said.
From there, her connections through pageantry helped her succeed, she said, now with the current Miss America promoting Wight Elephant clothes when she wears them to registration events and meet-and-greets.
But realizing people like the option to feel the quality of clothes and try them on to see what looks good, Piekut started attending pop-ups around Irwin, Pittsburgh and Greensburg.
“Every time we were in person with customers and other people, everybody would always rave over everything that we had,” she said. “So we knew that in person is just completely different.”
Last spring, she opened her Irwin storefront.
“We really could have taken this boutique anywhere we wanted to, but what I love about Irwin is it’s a community,” she said. “It’s a little downtown community area that everybody’s so passionate about. I would say you see towns like this on the Hallmark channel. You would think towns like this don’t really exist anymore.”
Today, Piekut runs the store with the help of six employees. Her sister-in-law, Hannah Roitz Piekut, helps write item descriptions posted to the website built by Piekut’s brother, Zach. Piekut runs the boutique’s social media, manages the sales floor, models for photos and edits them. Her boyfriend, Jacob Bobak, is the photographer.
EDS and POTS
The road so far hasn’t been easy for Piekut, however.
Diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, or EDS, and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, or POTS, Piekut was forced to drop out of Duquesne University, where she studied opera.
EDS, a disease that weakens connective tissues in the body, and POTS, a condition that pools blood at the feet when people sit or stand too long, have been a part of Piekut’s identity since birth. But the conditions didn’t start to impact her day-to-day life until middle school.
By the time she reached high school, there were days where she would miss early morning classes due to symptoms.
“It just got to the point where I was in the hospital like every week,” she said. “So I had to medically withdraw (from Duquesne) after a month.”
Through lifestyle changes, Piekut now has her conditions under control and uses pageantry as a platform to raise awareness.
And while she’s no longer pursuing a career in opera, Piekut is still able to perform, using it as her talent during pageants. Most recently, she competed for Miss Pennsylvania USA and placed second runner up.
“I would love the opportunity to go to Miss USA and kind of shed light, because when you go you get to talk about your hometown and get featured and I would love to bring that recognition to downtown Irwin in general,” she said.
But for now, Piekut is focusing on her store and opening one in Greensburg.
“I would love to get out there more, grow our audience, kind of bring this fashion to as many people as I can,” she said.
Megan Tomasic is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 724-850-1203, [email protected] or via Twitter .