UPDATE: This story was originally published on March 21.
Topper Luciani and his cousin, Paul Longo, are best friends and top dogs at NiftyThrifty.com, yet both claim they haven't worked a day in their lives. Since we're already addicted to their impeccably curated e-commerce (a site we consider to be the present and future best of online thrifting), we decided to take a tour of their Williamsburg warehouse to get to the bottom of just how things get done — you know, seeing as though no one's ever really on the clock.
Of course, we fell in love with the duo (and the duds!) even more. The atmosphere is laid-back, sure, but just because these boys are whistling while they work (both metaphorically and literally — Stevie Wonder seems to be a favorite), it doesn't mean the expansive selection of expertly sifted goods is any less organized. In fact, it's the head honchos' genuine exuberance that keeps the site going, and growing, with such remarkable speed and ease. From Topper's morning routine (it includes a solo pep talk and a frantic mad dash to his car — a Chrysler Celebrity he bought on eBay for $250 — to avoid those pesky meter maids) to the company's weekly lunch meeting (that often devolves into a guitar circle and lasts through the night), the "workday" at this 12-person start-up is as cool as the tie-dye T-shirts, cut-off shorts, and varsity jackets that are flying off its shelves. Nifty, indeed.
Click through for an exclusive tour of the NiftyThrifty headquarters and to shop some of our favorite pieces.
Photographed by Alice Gao
How did you get into this business?
Topper Luciani: "I was selling used neckties on eBay. I saw a tremendous supply in the vintage market but realized that a curated assortment of used clothing wasn’t being presented online in the branded way that I would have liked. So, I created a business plan and shopped the concept to investors and then got Mark [Kingdon, NiftyThrifty's co-founder and CEO] involved — he was living out in California at the time — and he gave me a seed investment. We created a test site that went well and we just started to grow and grow from there. I moved both the business and myself into the city and that’s when Paul started helping us. And that’s when all this amazing stuff started to unfold."
What goes into selecting a piece? Do you care about whether it looks similar to an item from a luxury brand? Or is your sole requirement that it’s something you simply like?
Paul Longo: "The ultimate goal of Nifty is to share anything vintage, whether it’s a name-brand label or it’s an awesome T-shirt that someone literally printed in their basement in Scranton, Pennsylvania in 1980. Either way, it’s cool, it’s fun, it’s inspiring, and there’s a customer for it. With NiftyThrifty we’re really trying to reach everybody. So, yes, because we’re immersed in the fashion biz our heads go there, but we’re really trying to portray it as it is."
TL: "This will inspire a future designer. So, yes, we do try to follow trends, but even more so, we’re trying to dictate them (which is super arrogant, but we think that’s who we are." (High fives Paul)
PL: "Like a mo’fucka."
Topper Luciani, founder/president
What does a typical day in your life look like?
TL: "When I wake up I make a little gratitude list and think about how the day is going to be amazing. I really spend a good 20 minutes getting myself totally pumped. I have a whiteboard in my bedroom and I just start writing a list of what I’m grateful for, what I’m looking forward to — all this crazy shit that gets me so excited. And then I’m ready to hit the shower and start doing cartwheels to work. And I park my car — it’s an ‘83 Chevy Celebrity, I got it for $250, it’s ridiculous — on the Lower East Side, meaning that I have to move it each morning at 8 a.m. I always park in one of those spots to get me out the door because I don’t want a ticket. And, knock on wood, I haven’t gotten a ticket...yet. I then drive over to Brooklyn, go to Marlow and Sons, see the cool kids. We share a little laugh, talk some smack. And then I get to the office, read the Wall Street Journal for about half an hour, get my business mind flowin’, and then analyze what’s going on on the site. Then around 11 a.m. I go see Paul, we share a few laughs, maybe I do a meditation..."
So.. when do you actually start working?
TL: "Oh, well, I don’t think I’ve ever worked a day in my life. I swear to God. I make a real conscious effort to not feel like I’m working, ever. So, if something needs to get done, I line up my energy before I do it. And then once I’m there, emotionally, mentally, and feeling it, and my energy is lined up, it just goes by and I feel good about it. That’s just my motto for everything. That’s why, thank God, we’ve been able to get such an incredible team to accomplish so many incredible things. Everything falls into place in my life because I follow those principles. And those were all the result of tons of self-help books and reprogramming."
Levi's shirt and pants, nike shoes.
When did this switch turn on for you?
TL: "My spiritual awakening? It was when I moved back to Connecticut after all sorts of bad decisions. I moved into my grandma’s house and basically decided that I could either pick up a crazy drug habit or bury myself in self-help books. Because I still felt incredibly ambitious, I decided to not do the drug thing and read every single thing on how other people had become successful in life. Everyone from Andrew Carnegie to Michael Jordan to Helen Keller, all these people. Two of my heroes are Thomas Edison and Ben Franklin. I like to channel them in my mind and think about how they would approach a situation or make a decision. That happened around 2009 and I’ve just been flowing ever since."
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten from a self-help book?
TL: "I wrote a song about it actually. It’s called 'Be Gentle With Yourself'. And the song I wrote, it goes, 'I really hope you’re gentle with yourself / Gentle with yourself / Gentle with yourself.' That’s basically it."
PL: "That song is actually going to be on a self-help label we’re going to give away. We’re going to market it and everything, put it on iTunes and give it away for free. We’re going to call it Abundance Records and we’re going to make songs with all these mantras we have like 'follow your flow', 'be gentle with yourself', 'the better it gets, the better it gets', 'you don’t have to figure it out right now', and 'no such thing as missing the boat'..."
TL: (Singing) “You don’t need to figure it out right now / You don’t need to figure it out / You don’t need to figure it out right now / You don’t need to figure it out...”
Lauren Semmer, public relations
Lauren stands next to one of NiftyThrifty's massive walls of merch — this time it's cubbies full of shoes.
Won Hundred jeans, vintage Pucci shirt, Surface To Air shoes, Mayle belt.
You guys have a meditation room in your office. Are there any other quirky activities or traditions that your team does as a group?
TL: "We try to create an environment where everyone is as happy as possible. We put a huge emphasis on things like, if you’re tired...take a nap. Do your work from the most energetic place possible. Nothing should feel like a grind. Nothing should feel like you’re paddling upstream. To me, everything should feel good for everyone. Because nothing good can come from a bad journey. And nothing bad can come from a good journey."
PL: "We do a team meeting every Friday. We do lunch on Friday afternoon all together. And I keep a guitar in my office. Sometimes I’ll be in there playing in the afternoon and the next thing you know we’ll have four or five people singing Chuck Berry songs for an hour and realize that it’s 9 o’clock at night."
Finding buyers whose aesthetic matches your own is such an important part of what you do. Tell us a little bit about the process of finding them!
"It’s a really long story but one of the unbelievable experts that we met through our travels – through one of our eBay operations called Vintage Ninjas – was a girl with such an unbelievable style and understanding of other styles that we thought was deeper than anyone else’s we knew. It was always my dream, and Paul definitely agreed because we talked about it often throughout this process, to one day be able to get Emma, our buying director, onboard because she is so talented. She’s just one member of the team that I feel so absolutely blessed to work with. So, the answer is serendipity, baby...the universe gifted her to us."
"Something that we always joke about is that there are trendsetters, stylecasters, and then there’s Emma. Once it came time to talk about a buying department there was no question. And Hanny, who is our other buyer whom Emma found, has accompanied her and has a great eye and style of her own. With Emma at the helm of our team..."
"We’re at the cutting edge of everything that’s going on and everything that will go on."
"At least we feel that way."
Buying director, Emma Allen, holds up a bright sweater for spring!
What are some of your favorite local places to eat, hang out, see friends? Where can we find you and what would you probably be doing?
"Topper really hosts a lot of different stuff all over the place, but you can catch Topper and me for lunch at Morgane
, usually with a guest curator. We like to go there for lunch or dinner. And we also love The Rabbit Hole
. We get down at The Rabbit Hole."
"It’s outside of Williamsburg. Represent! And then there’s a place across the street...an Italian joint where on Sunday nights they have a lobster fra diavolo that will knock your socks off."Denim on denim on denim, this office has every jean piece you could dream of!
Hanny Ahern, vintage buyer
Hanny climbs up a ladder to reach an overhead rack of varsity jackets — the warehouse is stocked from floor to ceiling!
Vince pants, Jeffrey Campbell shoes, Free People sweatshirt.
Emma Allen, buying director
Emma not only has a keen eye for on-the-mark vintage, but she also knows how to organize an entire warehouse of merch! We're obsessed.
Vintage Justin boots, J Brand jeans
vintage jersey, vintage Jaeger sweater, vintage faux ostrich vest.
Paul Longo, brand director/VIP public relations
Paul, tell us how you met Topper and how you got involved with NiftyThrifty.
PL: "I met Topper when I was about 15- to 25-minutes old. We’re cousins. We have a long, long, long-standing history together, both business and personal. From getting our asses kicked for lighting fires in my sister’s dollhouse as teenagers to today. Topper and I were in the menswear business for a while and we always had a mutual love for vintage clothes. As the founder, Topper really took the reigns with putting the business plan together and getting the investments. And when he met Mark it all started to take off. I’m more of a brand development kind of people person, so once it was time to really turn on the juice and hit the gas that was when Topper was like, 'Get in here full time. Let’s kick some ass.' So, here I am."
Don't mean to call you out, but you’re isolated at your desk a little bit. How did that happen?
PL: "So, I tend to be loud on the phone and I tend to have a revolving door of insane human beings – artists and musicians and guys and girls of all different walks of life – visiting on a regular basis. And for anyone that has to have their head down to get work done, I’m not the most productive guy to be around. So, it was kind of an exile on Main Street situation where I got shipped off to the showroom. But it kind of worked out because it’s nice to be able to have the space and visitors over there. Topper and I, we like to be in the same room, but when we need space we need space. I think it worked out."
Stetson hat, vintage Bloomingdale's shirt, Levi's pants, Lucchese python cowboy boots.
This man jewelry is next-level.
Jennifer Nolan, photographer
Making NiftyThrifty's wares look good isn't a hard task but Jennifer Nolan snaps them to perfection.
Jack shorts, Tsubo boots, vintage shirt
Gaia Danieli, retoucher/photographer
As far as the photo team goes, no retouching needed!
Uniqlo pants and T-shirt, Birkenstock shoes, Promod cardigan.
What’s one challenge you didn’t expect to come your way while starting this whole business and how did you overcome it?
TL: "I must sound really nutty but I try not to look at anything as a challenge and really just try to focus on the solution. Honestly, nothing is coming to mind because I look at it almost like a Rubik’s Cube where the answer is there, you just have to figure it out. But, you don’t need to figure it out right now! You just have to do it and make it a game. And, have fun with it. I suppose if there was a challenge it’s looking at it from a fresh, game, fun perspective."
PL: "We really live on the idea that there’s no such thing as a problem — only a lack of a solution. So it’s like 'Oh, that’s wrong?' 'No, it’s not wrong. It’s just not right yet.'"
TL: "No such thing as darkness only..."
Together: "Absence of light."
PL: "Yeah, that’s exactly it."
Julie Chen, social media manager
Julie, tweet @ us!
Vintage NiftyThrifty dress, Zara boots
What are some of the hottest items or trends on your site right now? What do you forecast being big for spring?
PL: "In the grand scheme of things: camo, Americana, animal prints... you know that kind of bright, tie-dye-esque, overdyed stuff that’s always been around. The ‘90s is having a moment with a lot of vintage gear. Adidas and Nike stuff from the ‘90s is huge. Coming up I think that trends are always in cycles so it’s hard to say. Our buying team is really trying to be on the cutting edge of the cutting edge. But something I’m really excited about for spring is that we started bringing in guest curators and they are really bringing their own flair and own sense of personalized style to the site. That really is going to help to dictate the direction that we go in as far as what’s hot and what’s not."
This belt looks good on the wild mannequin but we bet it would be rad over a maxi dress or high-waisted jeans.
Iztel Ferrer, fashion assistant
Iztel is just one of NiftyThrifty's fashionable employees who also happens to shop the company's merch.
Pac Sun Dress, NiftyThrifty vintage sweater, Ray-Ban glasses.
What’s your favorite moment or decade in fashion history?
TL: "Wow, thank you for that question. I don’t wear clothes in this era but the late ‘80s-early-‘90s-skate-surf-California scene was really something that burned a very romantic hole in my soul and my heart. I love that era. My whole car is covered with all the stickers from my childhood. T&C Surf Designs, Santa Cruz, Ocean Pacific... Body Glove of the early ‘90s and late ‘80s was probably my favorite design brand. My taste is probably the reason why we give all the power of style to our style editor and buying director because, you know, I’m not really addicted to fashion. I just have always loved women to love fashion."
PL: "I’m kind of the opposite. I wouldn’t say I’m addicted but I love clothes and I love eccentric dress and I draw a lot of inspiration from a lot of different places. I’ve been wearing my mom’s clothes since I was about 13. I used to cut dresses and make shirts, I used to take leopard print and figure out a way to cut it into a shirt that I would tie around my head. I was always kind of into that very weird style of throwing stuff together. And I think that’s why the vintage game is where it’s at."
NiftyThrifty puts the finishing touches on each package.
Mark Kingdon, co-founder/CEO
Mark has swag all the way down to his bright red (cashmere!) socks!
NiftyThrifty vintage jacket, Tailor Stitch Bespoke shirt, rag & bone pants, Oliver Spencer boots, Oliver Peoples glasses.
Which modern designers do you guys admire? Whose style do you respect right now?
PL: "Modern... that’s the thing... we’re in the vintage biz because we kind of fall back from what’s happening now. And not to say there’s not a lot of people out there doing it right because they all are. I’m the biggest fan and have the utmost respect for Alexander McQueen as much as the next guy or girl. I think rag & bone is the best out right now for men and women. I really respect what they’re doing. My style icon, aside from my dad and my mom, is Stevie Ray Vaughn. People will look at him and think he’s a clown which, to a certain extent he is, but he is really amazing. His boot game is always on point and his hat game is always on point. For me as a vintage wearer and kind of an eccentric dresser, he’s the man with the plan."
At NiftyThrifty HQ, even the decor is well-curated and, of course, vintage. This collection hangs above CEO Mark Kingdon's desk.
Kate Donovan, style and editorial director
Kate shares an office with both Topper and Mark! We'd love to be a fly on that wall.
NiftyThrifty vintage dress, J.Crew sweater, Chloe shoes, flea market jewelry
What are the best and worst parts of working with your friend?
PL: "Everyone here is amazing and we’re fortunate to have such an amazing team. Everyone from our CEO to our creative director to our buying team. Everyone gets along and we respect each other’s space. As far as working with Topper, he and I have our long history so we’ve learned when to push, when to pull, when to fall back."
TL: "We have an unspoken language, for sure."
PL: "We tango very well at this point."
Style and editorial director Kate Donovan adorns her desk with nick nacks.
Where do you see NiftyThrifty in the next year? Three years? Five years? What are your goals?
TL: "We feel as if we’re at the cutting edge of a very rapidly expanding market and the web is a new frontier for the vintage world. We’re going to be the resource for curated pre-owned items across the board. Since we are the pioneers of this industry there is really no limit to where we can take this. We’re focusing first on women’s fashion but ultimately we’re going to be into women’s fashion, then children’s, then houseware, then furniture. To say the sky is the limit would be an understatement. I think within the next one year we’re going to see tremendous growth but in the next 40 to 50 years we’re going to basically be a curated, pre-owned Amazon.com."