The vintage aficionado talks to V about her new collection, how to conquer thrift shops, and the conflict of loving vintage but hating fur.
The vintage aficionado talks to V about her new collection, how to conquer thrift shops, and the conflict of loving vintage but hating fur.
If you have an intense adoration for all things vintage, Sami Miro has your dream job. She curates and sells vintage pieces for her own clothing line, putting an edgy contemporary spin on every garment. And she does it all in an eco-friendly way. The California native’s vintage obsession began when she was only a pre-teen, and by high school, she was sifting through piling ranks of the most unorganized thrift stores to create a closet her peers would kill for. And yet, she never thought it could actually turn into a career for her—until now.
After migrating from the tech bubble of San Francisco and moving down south to Los Angeles, Miro used her acquired business smarts to start Sami Miro Vintage, which grows online by the minute. Her flair for reviving dusty, seemingly irreparable clothing into a look worthy of the runway attracted the likes of models Kendall Jenner and the Hadid sisters, who have been spotted in Miro staples, as well as artists like Selena Gomez and Hailee Steinfeld, who she has personally designed custom pieces for.
But like all millennials, Miro continues to have her doubts despite astounding success, and just keeps pushing herself forward because of it. Fresh off a collaboration with Nike, the stylist and curator sits down with V for a (highly) up close and personal chat about making it in the fashion business, conquering overwhelming thrift shops, and refusing to say “what if?” when it comes to following her dreams.
What was the first thing that got you into fashion?
I’ve really only been in fashion for two years. I grew up in San Francisco, in the city, and I went to university for marketing, then I went to grad school for global entrepreneurship. I was really doing the San Francisco thing of business, creating potentially something new, wanting to become an entrepreneur. When I was in grad school, I was interning for a new tech start-up for the last four months before graduation. My project for my internship was to write a marketing plan, help with the name creation, product, and all that. I ended up working for them when I graduated and was with them for four years when it turned into a global company. It was such a great experience, especially for what I’m doing now with my own company, learning all sides of the business from the beginning, all the little pieces through the process, because in a startup you have to wear many hats. The last two years of my job, I had to travel weekly to places, metropolitan cities in the country, travel internationally, so I didn’t have to be based in San Francisco. I was like, “OK, I should take advantage of this,” so I moved to LA. Vintage was always something that I really loved. I always dressed up like this in a super corporate, weird world of white men in baggy slacks. They always looked at me like I was weird, but because I was in the start-up world, I could wear whatever I wanted. But I really was so far removed from fashion because… I love San Francisco, but it is what it is [laughs]. There’s no style there.
Right. There are cities that I love that are just, like, nope, you have no taste.
Right, which is fine because we’re great at other things [laughs].
Not everybody has to be great at fashion.
True. So when I moved there and I met friends in a more creative world, they were like, “Your wardrobe is sick. You should do styling,” and I was like, “What? What does that even mean? People don’t know how to put together clothes? People do that for other people?” That’s how little I knew about fashion. So on the weekends when I was still at my corporate job, I would intern at magazines and be like the assistants’ assistants, the one grabbing the coffee, just to learn about fashion. I had no f*cking clue what anything was. After that, I realized that in doing that, and doing random shitty styling gigs here and there just to learn about it, there was this creative thing inside of me that was dormant. I then decided to just quit my job and figure myself out because I knew that I could always go back to marketing.
That’s a solid backup.
Exactly. If all else failed, I could go back to marketing and figure that out, but if I didn’t do it, I would regret it for the rest of my life. My family thought I was crazy because we come from, when you quit a job it means you already have a job lined up. I did random things here and there, like styling stuff and modeling things, then one day had an epiphany of what Sami Miro Vintage could be because I knew in that process that, potentially, the end goal was to start a line, but I didn’t know at the time how to, because I wanted to stay true to myself and be authentic, I didn’t know how to take vintage and create something new out of it.
It’s a skill.
Yeah. So I had an epiphany one day. I didn’t know anything about manufacturing or how to start a line or sketch. I have no education in fashion and that industry, so I’ve just taught myself how to do everything. It was really a passion project to showcase my creative side from behind the camera, because at that time I was doing more in front of the camera things and I didn’t feel like I was utilizing everything that I could with my business background. I felt really vain, like, so I needed to go back to work and use my brain and remove my physical from it. So I started it as that and it kind of just picked up really quickly with a bunch of awesome girls.
A lot of people don’t know you’ve had your hands in so many things.
Yeah. Even though it’s such a random story, I would not have wanted it any other way because having a business acumen allows me to, when I have a job, actually communicate with someone as an adult. I’m experienced, not like some dumb person who’s super young and new. I don’t know how these kids do it at such a young age, not confident, don’t know who they are. That would be so difficult and terrifying.
It’s intimidating. Tell me your tips—how do you conquer a vintage store or thrift shop?
Well, I get a thrill out of that. I love to walk into a place that’s not curated at all where I have to dig and be all sweaty and gross and find a gem, because once you do find a gem in a place like that, it’s gonna be the most rare, coolest thing. Do you want me to tell you from the perspective of someone who’s overwhelmed in a vintage store?
Yeah. I love it, but I also can get overwhelmed by it.
Go there with something in mind, like a category or something specific. Like, you’re looking for vintage t-shirts. Go to the vintage t-shirts, and then you’re in a small area. It’s not so overwhelming. Then if you feel comfortable venturing out after that, but I think going there with something in mind helps you get a certain amount of comfort in the environment.
I think that’s something for me to get over because I love music shops and record stores.
Oh, see, that is overwhelming.
Seriously. It’s something that I love to do, and it’s something I could spend hours doing. I could spend hours in a mall or any store, but for some reason, when it comes to vintage and the way it’s organized, I get a little overwhelmed.
You know what? That is so true, because you go to a department store and there are things everywhere. Maybe because it’s clean, it’s nice, there’s AC.
That’s true. You just feel fancier.
If you’re going to a vintage store, it’s gross. You need to make sure you have Zyrtec when you go [laughs].
What places in LA are best to go to?
In LA, I’m going to crazy vintage warehouses where there’s piles of disorganized clothes. I wear gloves and a face mask when I’m in there, definitely remember the Zyrtec before I go [laughs]. But before I started going to all of the secret warehouses, for thrifting, I always find really great stuff at Wasteland. There’s Wastelands all over LA. My favorite Wasteland in the world is in San Francisco. Then for vintage, there’s a place called Slow, really, really good. They have awesome stuff there. Painted Bird is really good. It’s cute because it’s really small, but they have really cute stuff.
What inspires you when you design?
There’s a lot of different things that inspire me. I’m usually inspired by some fabric or a color or a vibe. I don’t do trends at all. I don’t know if this is a good thing or a bad thing, but all my girlfriends in high school would buy the big fashion magazines and be like, “What’s this trend?”. I grew up with only men. I was raised by my dad and I had an older brother, so I didn’t know about any of those girly things. I try and maintain that, remove myself from that side of things so I go based on my instincts. There’s two sides of my business. There’s a one-on-one side, where I travel the world and curate awesome pieces from everywhere and reconstruct them. I have hundreds of one-of-ones at all times. And then I have a cut-and-sew side, where I buy vintage rolls of fabric, so everything is eco-friendly. And made in LA too.
Sustainability is so important.
It really, really is. I grew up doing all those things and being conscious about that, so regardless of if the world was ending, I would still be going on that path [laughs]. I’m inspired by a random texture. I love a random old man at a bus stop. You know how they’re so dapper and they just look amazing, like they’ve been dressing like that forever? Something like that will inspire me.
I think what you said about not following trends is a good thing. It’s one thing to be aware, but not letting them judge what you do.
Exactly. And I think that the most important thing in fashion is remaining true to yourself. There’s a lot of people who dress a certain way because that’s trendy and that’s cool. Their favorite celebrity is wearing a certain style so they buy it, but a lot of times they look really uncomfortable in the outfit or it just won’t look right on them. I’m a big advocate of wearing something that feels comfortable and is authentic to you, whether it’s cool or not. Because if you look good in something that’s not currently cool, that’s the best thing that you can do for yourself.
Completely. How do you balance the fact that many vintage pieces were made unethically or with fur?
That’s actually a really tricky subject. I’m still trying to understand my standpoint, but you could kind of go both ways. It’s old and it’s already made and you’re not promoting anything that was just skinned, but at the same time, you’re showing that fur is potentially OK because people might not always know that it’s vintage. It’s a tricky subject and I’m not sure exactly how I feel about it. Obviously, I’m not OK with how it’s just god awful. Those videos are terrifying. Oh my gosh, it’s the worst thing in the world.
Do you see the fashion industry going in a no-fur direction?
I definitely do. I think it’s so awesome. Coach, for example, they do so much faux fur. I feel like, until recently, it’s been difficult to create faux fur in a luxurious kind of way. A lot of brands are doing that and I think it’s so sick and beautiful to not promote that and show that you can still look fly in something that doesn’t kill a beautiful animal.
Sometimes, faux fur is done so well that you can’t tell it’s not real.
Oh, I know.
I could wear a faux fur right now and feel fine, even though I’d be sweating [laughs].
[Laughs] Not the day for that.
But at the same time, I get cold easily. I’m the kind of person who lays on the beach in a hoodie in 60 degrees.
I literally did that in Hawaii once. For some reason I was cold, but nobody else was. I’m from OC, so it’s something I still adjust to, especially in hard winters.
It gets chilly out there sometimes.
But it’s not like 20 degrees, winter coat. I love New York otherwise, but I’m still getting used to that.
Yeah, that’s basically the only reason I don’t live here [laughs]. I feel like I’m much more of a New Yorker than an LA-er for a whole slew of reasons. One, being from San Francisco, I love that city vibe and the environment and the energy. And the transportation. Like, I love taking the subway when I’m here.
Do you feel like the shopping is better in LA?
I feel like shopping is always better in the city that you’re not in [laughs]. You know what? San Francisco’s some of the best vintage shopping. I find the tightest pieces when I’m there.
I feel like you can justify shopping a lot more when you’re traveling. It’s feels more like a treat, even if you’re going somewhere totally random.
And now that it’s my job I’m like, “Oh, yeah, I’ll use my business card” [laughs].
They’ll take care of it.
Well, it’s me taking care of it [laughs].
Would you ever open up your own vintage store? Has that ever crossed your mind?
No. My goal has never been to do brick-and-mortar. I think the only reason that it’s good for now is for marketing purposes. I’m very into doing pop-ups, but I just don’t see it as something that I want to do at all outside of pop-ups. I’m not against being in retailers. I think that that’s great for more exposure to different kinds of markets and a different customer, but I love online shopping. The only time that I ever shop at brick-and-mortar is for vintage. That’s not in the cards.
Do you have a bigger vision for merging your knowledge in tech and marketing with fashion?
Totally, and that’s always changing as the world has been changing at an exponential rate. My strategy now could be different next year, but I think that one thing I love about starting my line is that, going through my corporate background and then quitting to do more vain, in front of the camera things and then where I am now, I love the fact that I’m able to use my business acumen. I’m essentially a one woman show for my line. I absolutely love it because I’m doing all the business things that I love to do and it pushes that side of my brain, but then also allows me to combine that with my creative side, as well, so it’s very fulfilling.
That self-sufficiency should be applauded.
Exactly. And for me, especially, not knowing anything about the fashion world, having to do it all on my own, every single aspect on my own — the marketing, the PR, the production, the manufacturing, the design, the social media and then managing all the teams under — having to do all of that has taught me so much. If I came on with a partner who already had that experience in, let’s say, the production, I wouldn’t have learned how that process works. It’s just made me so much more on top of it and knowledgeable about quantities and fabric and how much to pay and all of those finances and everything. It’s been great having to do it all alone, but now it’s to the point where I have an employee and a couple interns, but it’s pretty overwhelming, too, and I do need to bring someone on who has more specialty in those departments because there’s only so much that even an experienced self-taught girl can bring to each aspect.
There’s only so much that anybody can do.
Right. You can only know so much about everything.
If you had to choose between modeling, styling and designing, what would you choose?
Well, first of all, I don’t like to say modeling because I just feel like modeling should be a sacred thing for those crazy runway model specimens and I am obviously not that [laughs]. I don’t know what other word there is. I just say in-front-of-the-camera stuff [laughs]. I guess if I had to choose just one I would to be a businesswoman, for sure, minus the “I guess.” I would one hundred percent choose that. What I like about my position now is that it’s important that I build Sami Miro as a brand, as well as Sami Miro Vintage, because when I started SMV, I was like, “OK, I’m not gonna do the in-front-of-the-camera stuff anymore,” but I realized I was missing out on a lot of opportunities because as I build my own, it only helps SMV. They go hand in hand, so I really enjoy being able to do both. And also, when I’m on jobs, I’m sometimes working as a consultant or in front of the camera, it’s great to be around other people in different positions. I learn a lot that way as well.
What’s your goal with your collection?
Obviously people know that vintage, if they think about it, is eco-friendly, but I really want to put a stamp on the fact it's what SMV stands for. That is the theme of it, really showcasing that being green and eco-friendly is who we are.