Meet The Personal Shoppers Hunting Fashion’s Most Wanted Pieces
Inside the opulent hustles of fashion sourcing experts.
When Jennifer Nisan started her Instagram account @frontrowlive, dedicated to sourcing luxury goods, in 2018, she had no clear vision for her newfound project. A lifelong lover of fashion and a former intern at Elle Magazine and Marie Claire, Nisan found herself worlds apart from the industry she once loved, finishing up a master’s degree in social work and raising four kids. “I had no idea what I was going to do [professionally],” the 29-year-old tells Refinery29. “I just wanted to show the things that I liked and show people my taste.”
But what started as a personal project quickly became a fully-fledged business, with Nisan entering the world of fashion sourcing, a field dedicated to hunting hard-to-find fashion items for clients. And that’s largely thanks to social media. On TikTok, the hashtag #personalshopper has over 500 million views, while on Instagram, the same hashtag has over 7 million posts. “Social media has made it so convenient,” says Nisan of how her customers have found her.
In 2018, Nisan posted a photo on @frontrowlive of a Gucci “Globetrotter” handbag, a $2,000 double-G monogrammed beauty case that doubles as a handbag from the brand’s fall 2018 collection. This got the attention of a close friend, who called her the next day to ask where she’d found it. “She was like, ‘I want one. I've been looking for one for like six months,’” Nisan remembers. “I just started digging through every single Gucci store I could think of, and, after 15 calls, one said there was one in the back,” she says. Word quickly got around: First, another friend asked for the same Gucci bag, and soon after, she was sourcing 10 items per week.
“My main goal is to connect clients to the store,” says Nisan. “I just charge people for my time. And this allows the client to build their own relationship with brands, too.” (Nisan's fee varies depending on the product.)
Gab Waller also saw her sourcing business take off thanks to Instagram. Six months into launching her services in her native Australia, Waller saw a request from an acquaintance who was looking for a rare Phoebe Philo-era Celine coat per the request of supermodel Rosie Huntington-Whiteley on Instagram stories. As luck would have it, Waller already knew where to locate it: A week before, she had spoken with a boutique in Denmark that had the piece. “That really gave my business a global perspective,” Waller tells Refinery29.
Four years later, Waller sources items for celebrities like Hailey Bieber, Khloe Kardashian, and Hilary Duff. Most recently, she was behind a pair of Balenciaga sunglasses that Real Housewives of Beverly Hills cast member Dorit Kemsley wore to BravoCon in New York City, as well as a pair of crystal-encrusted Saint Laurent boots worn by Bieber. Although she now works with some of the biggest fashion trendsetters in pop culture, Waller says that her services are open to anyone that can pay her $200 flat fee. “It was important to me to kind of be accessible to all,” she says. “Every client is meant to feel like a VIP.”
New York-based stylist and personal shopper Mary Higham has a similar approach. While she holds no celeb clients in her roster, she’s focused on private clients based outside of fashion capitals. “What I discovered was so different about New York City, versus most other cities in the country, is just the access to affordable luxury, especially of a secondhand market,” she says. Back in 2018, when she first started, Higham was based in Washington, D.C., where she’d gather requests from local friends that she’d fulfill on trips to New York City: “And then people started referring other people to me saying, ‘Oh, my gosh, you have to talk to this girl. She'll find you the greatest thing.” Four years later, Higham has amassed clients all over the United States, growing from an initial roster of 15 to a network of over 300.
Higham regularly finds herself at consignment shops and sample stores in New York City, where she now lives full-time, sending pictures of her finds to clients she thinks would be into the pieces. “I have a client, for example, in Virginia, that has very exacting tastes. The shoes can’t be flat but they also can’t be higher than a one-inch heel, and she also wants shoes that nobody else has, so they have to be a little quirky or whacky,” Higham says. “These are women that like certain brands and they like a certain level of luxury, and they want assistance in sourcing that.”
Most recently, Waller sourced Louis Vuitton vintage jewelry boxes from all over the world, while Higham went to a Balenciaga sample sale, where a client spent upward of $3,000 on a dress and a handbag. Meanwhile, Nisan spent days looking for a pair of crocodile boots that retailed for $15,000, as well as attending some of the biggest shows during New York and Paris Fashion Weeks.
Shopping for others and attending runway shows while making money may sound too good to be true. But, according to these fashion sourcing experts, their day-to-day is often filled with more spreadsheets and shipping labels than window shopping. Waller, for example, receives upwards of 100 requests per day, which she says all go into an internal database she refers to as “the beast,” that’s tackled by her and her 10-person team. Nisan also works with an internal spreadsheet that keeps track of all the orders she’s ever fulfilled. Then, there’s also the carrying — which, according to Higham, can involve “six bags of headbands out of the Lele Sadoughi sample sale” — boxing, and shipping items to clients. “It's not always glamorous,” she says.
Still, fulfilling their client’s wishes while pursuing the thrill of the hunt is what keeps them going. “Being able to source things for people makes them so excited,” says Higham. “They’re so happy about their treasures.”