Vocation: Shopowner (shop here: OmniaVintage.com)
Location: Brooklyn, NY
1. What do you currently do now and how did you end up here? Any pit stops along the way and did those pit stops help you get to the career and woman you are now?
I own and operate Omnia, a curated vintage store - selling both online and at the Brooklyn Flea Market on the weekends. I think I ended up here by having a serious obsession with thrifting! I’ve always been connected to fashion and retail in my work life, starting with assisting at a vintage shop in NJ during high school, then studying Fashion Design at FIT while working at Wet Seal - a Forever 21 type store. I worked at the one in the Manhattan Mall on 34th st. around the holiday season - that was crazy. Then I waitressed and worked in restaurants doing basic bookkeeping for a couple years, where I realized that I did not like to sit at a desk in an office, at all.
My most influential job was at Housing Works Thrift Shops, where I spent most of my 20s. Housing Works is a New York City based non-profit helping the homeless and HIV/AIDS population and known for their high volume shops filled to the brim with donated goods. What an experience!! It exposed me to a huge amount of product, an amazingly talented community and a pace of retail that I don’t think exists elsewhere. I worked there as a Sales Associate, Store Manager and finally Director of Stores, giving me a unique perspective on the ins and outs of secondhand retail. I was working a lot, and started to feel pretty burnt out. Feeling a need for change, but also always having an inclination towards doing my own thing, I decided to venture off on my own and start Omnia - I didn’t have much of a plan (eeks…) but did draw on a lot of my past experiences to help me along the way.
2. What are your current gaps, barriers, facilitators, or motivators? Any of those in particular that helped you along the way?
Doing it all! That is a cliche term, but it’s exactly the barrier right now. I’m not a type A powerhouse that can handle a million different jobs each day of the week (photography, writing, sourcing, marketing, selling, shipping, remembering to order supplies….) and I enjoy working with a team, so scaling is my goal, and working with others motivates me to get there.
3. What is your ideal state / dream state of being as a woman in your career and a woman in this world? How will you get there?
I would love for the business to be a hive of creativity, with a great team, thriving shops (both online and brick & mortar) and fabulous product that makes people happy when they wear it or see it. To get there, I will do my best visualizing, keep learning and making positive connections.
4. What common misconceptions do you find about your field, your life, about women in general?
There is a lot of haggling and general stigma around secondhand clothing. No matter how rare or stunning or impeccable a garment is, I will come across people that think it’s not worth money (yet they still really want it). I had a lot of experience dealing with this at Housing Works, so I know how to let it ride, but when it is my shop and I woke up early, drove for hours, dug through piles, cleaned, mended, priced and presented the piece alongside hundreds of other great quality items, it can be so disheartening to be offered $20 on a piece I priced $60, which should probably be $100. That is my biggest pet peeve, but luckily most customers, especially the regulars, are amazing and understand a more about what goes into having a curated shop. It’s not just things that people left on their stoop and I decide to bring to the market!
5. Any advice or tips & tricks you want to give to a younger you? Whether it be how to apt hunt on craigslist to getting your shoes cobbled to getting a work mentor etc
• EXPLORE. Go to exhibits, parks, events, get out and do things. And definitely travel a bit (or a lot)
• Get in the habit of waking up early and eating breakfast. (still working on that :/ )
BONUS QUESTION: What should lead your life: passion or pragmatism? (general thoughts, could be a convergence, could be one or the other!)
Both! I think they coexist and should take turns being in the driver’s seat, with passion lighting the fire and pragmatism making it all work and keeping you grounded. But it’s a balancing act for sure.
**Ed. Note: Here I asked Naomi to dive deeper into what it's like to get started in selling vintage, having your own business, and the nuances that goes into the process or procurement and prep for selling!**
VINTAGE QUESTION SET:
Q1. When did you first get into vintage? What was the first piece that really excited you and jump-started your love for vintage all these years?
My earliest memory of that **spark** was when I was 6 or 7 and my mom brought home an antique dresser which had a drawer full of handkerchiefs, scarves and pressed gloves. It was in the driveway and I remember staying out there for hours organizing and looking at the silk and cotton scarves. But what really really got me into vintage was finding my Aunt’s old clothing in my Grandpa’s house in Upstate NY when I was in fifth grade. She grew up in the 70s and happened to be THE SAME SIZE as me. My favorite thing was a pair of high-waisted Levis dark denim bell bottoms that I definitely got made fun of for wearing in school. Since then it has been a whirlwind of amazing finds. I had a big thing for coats, and still have most of them from 15+ years ago.
Q2. How did thrifting and vintage go from a personal preference to a hobby to a full time gig?
I was really lucky because soon after I fell in love with thrifting, I started working after school at the vintage shop just a 15 minute walk across the bridge from my suburban town. Going on buying trips with the owner got me totally hooked! I still go to some of those warehouses now. Then some years later, working at Housing Works was an incredible thrifter’s paradise. It seemed only natural to turn what I love into a business.
Q3. Can you describe what your work flow is like? Procurement process to cleaning, shooting, posting and shipping off?
I usually shop one day a week, photograph one day a week, post (write descriptions, take measurements) one day a week and ship everyday. In addition to that, the weekend market requires about half a day of prep and two days of selling. I have an inventory system for all of the product, so it is all tracked, and I try to mend/clean items that need it right away - although the project pile builds up quickly. The weeks ebb and flow though, so some weeks I will only shoot and some I will only shop. I used to do more lookbooks, but it’s been hard to fit those in lately, I’ll definitely get back into doing more creative soon.
Q4. Have you tried to do brick and mortar in terms of a retail store? Pop-ups? What’s your take on market life and online selling v. brick and mortar shop from your experiences and maybe future endeavors?
I love selling in person, setting up a shop and chatting with customers, but a brick and mortar shop in NYC would be a bit much for now. Besides, I think there are so many!! Even just at the market I’m selling along side like 10 other vintage clothing vendors, all of which have really cool stuff. This industry is small and crowded, so right now I’m really interested in the e-commerce experience and connecting with customers around the US and the world. In my experience, having a permanent location is fantastic for building a solid base of regulars vs. selling at a market or in a studio by appointment. That regularity exists online as well, but it’s a different vibe being in the cyber world vs face to face. I try to bridge that gap with really good customer service, that is more personal than remote. Also, I want to add chat to the shop soon.
Q5. Ultimately, what would be your ideal state for yourself being a vintage vendor? What would you love to get your hands on?
I love the hunt. Finding items that aren’t just “old” but have a certain quality to them, maybe the fabric is really beautiful or the tailoring is impeccable or the buttons are just crazy. I would probably be very happy sifting through an endless collage of castaway garments, but I’ve also been doing this for a really long time, and while it is charming and magical to have each piece be totally unique, sometimes (a lot of times) having just one of every item and then selling it bugs me out - I wish I had more, in more sizes and varieties, because it was that good. Not that I want to keep everything, but I think that the elements that went into it being such a great find, should go beyond a single sale. So sometimes I envision designing a line inspired by my vintage finds, or/and developing the shop into a more modern boutique - redirecting the hunt for vintage to a hunt for unique, wearable, lovely pieces that still bear a certain je ne sais quoi. That said, I’ll never stop thrifting :) I’m a skirt fanatic and have developed a pretty great collection of suede in every color and 60s/70s block print wraps. I’d also love to get my hands on more 40s rayon sundresses- their fit is so flattering and they feel amazing on.
Q6. Any advice on shopping for thrift or vintage? Sale cycles, trend cycles, how to take care of it, how to make sure you’re getting goods, knowing your measurements for fits? Any tidbits on like…random stuff like which eras flatter certain body types, which fabrics to go for that go the distance in terms of staying in good shape or quality?
For shopping thrift:
• Look everywhere. I find a lot of great stuff in the kids section, or just hanging in random places in the stores.
• Be nice to the shopworkers!!! Working in retail is hard, and thrift stores are especially nutty because everything is unique and most are non-profits, so definitely be courteous to staff and don’t throw stuff everywhere. When something doesn’t have a price, they might even price it for you ;)
• It’s usually hard to try on items in a thrift shop so it always helps to be able to eyeball your size or at least wear a tight base layer (leggings, tank) so you can easily slip things on. Supposedly if a flat waistband (halved) fits around your neck, it will fit your waist, but I never tried that.
• Learn your repairs, what you can/can’t do, and what you’re willing to pay for. Adding a button or stitching a tear on a seam can be really easy but getting stains out or patching fabric might be way more work than you bargained for. A zipper replacement is usually only $10-$15, so for a great dress it might be worth it. I stay away from stains unless an item is drop dead gorgeous.
For shopping vintage:
• Go for what you like! It should make you feel *some kind of way*. If it fits, is in good condition and makes you glow, get it.
• Remember that buying vintage is recycling and supporting small business. win-win!
• Natural fibers are always best (cotton, silk, linen) but rayon can be really lovely. It’s semi-synthetic and drapes like silk. But don’t rule out the polyester jumpsuit, as long as it fits great and has an awesome color/print.
• Beware cut out tags. Lots of “vintage” clothing I see is H&M, UO, ZARA, etc, with tags cutout. It’s definitely cute, but not vintage… just know what you’re buying
• Research labels! It’s really fun to see more of a certain designer’s items, or date a union label. Etsy, Ebay, Vintage Fashion Guild are all good places to get a little more info.
• If shopping online, ask a lot of questions. It’s a good chance to get to know who you’re buying from and also get extra clarification on measurements, fit, condition, etc.
Q7. Any advice on entrepreneurship? About going after your passions? When do you know to abandon ship on a previous endeavor & really go for what you want (I think deciding to open an online shop & even flea markets in itself takes a lot of time, planning, coordination, business savvy, etc so any advice you have about either opening a store, marketing yourself, trial & error, business advice, or even just life advice would be great!)
I love cliches because they’re so true - listen to your gut. If you’re unhappy, burnt out, restless, it’s time to change things up. Just do it. The world is your oyster! But be ready for a lot of challenges. One is never ready, but don’t get too freaked out if things don’t take off right away, or you end up in a tough spot. Things take time. And patience, and hard work, and the ability to change, and to be objective, but still invested. Another thing I hear all the time that totally rings true for me - entrepreneurship is more of a journey than a destination. Banking on yourself and building something requires a lot of understanding/changing/refining your values and vision. That said, it’s very much a process, kind of like The Bachelor. Ha!