Sisters Ashley and Allison Zisook sat down to answer some questions about the vintage market: a green movement in its own right, recycling fashions, patterns, and styles. Ashley and Allison were introduced to the world of fashion early on by their mother and grandmother, and have now turned a passion into a career path. Vintage shopping can be hit-or-miss, but Sofia Vintage is all about boutique-style shopping: Ashley is ready to help you, dress you, or even find a specific vintage item for you!
F: Since you moved back to Chicago to be near family and then started a business with your sister inspired by your mother and grandmother’s dress sense, family is obviously very important to you. Tell me about growing up in your household and what led to this career path–
Ashley: My mom used to take us to our Nana’s house, and all four of us – me, my sister, Nana, and my mom – would play with her jewelry, go though her drawers, try on her clothes…
I remember Nana once took us to 900 N. Michigan Ave. Our shopping sprees weren’t focused on the materialistic aspect of fashion, more just being together and bonding.
Allison: My mom always brought us down to Chicago to get our clothes,, so we were always exposed to the city at an early age.
Ashley: Also, retail is pretty much in our blood – my mom’s father is Morrie Mages; he owned Morrie Mages Sporting Goods, which was the first sporting goods department store.
Allison: He was a big name in the retail industry at the time.
F: When did you develop your own personal style(s)?
Ashley: I went through a lot of different styles. I think I was trying to find my own style, but didn’t really get it until I grew up a bit more. So I dabbled: one day I was a hippie and the next day I was a raver and the next day I was a goth.
Allison: I think I did that too… But I came out of it more quickly than you did.
Ashley: And then it developed into a very eclectic mix of the new and the old. I always wanted to dress differently, and I knew that if I found something at a vintage store, no one else would have it.
F: How do you separate the family aspect in resolving business (or fashion) disagreements with your sister?
Ashley: We both know that we have very different fashion styles. I might love her outfit but wouldn’t wear it, or vice versa. And right from the beginning, we set our guidelines: business is business and family is family. Say we didn’t agree on what to put on the mannequin: at the family dinner, that’s not even on our minds anymore. Besides being sisters, we’re also best friends.
Allison: We had a discussion the first week about how we were going to separate business from family.
F: You two reunited recently to create Sofia Vintage. What had each of you done before this venture, and how have your individual skills combined to make this a successful business?
Allison: I was a teacher in Chicago Public Schools, so I’m more organized and more responsible with paying the bills and that kind of thing.
Ashley: She’s more business. I worked for Rockit Ranch Productions in Chicago doing all the special events and marketing; then I moved to LA and was managing DJs; and then I went to the Fashion Institute of Design.
My marketing and special events skills have helped me in this industry. I was in charge of all the VIP relations when celebrities came to town, so I’m used to dealing with important people. We had Joe Perry and Steven Tyler from Aerosmith come into the store!
F: Is vintage as popular with men as it is with women?
Ashley: It’s harder to find men’s vintage clothing. Most of the stores that do have men’s vintage clothing feature racks of Hawaiian shirts. We thought the men’s market was untapped–
We grew up in Chicago, and all of our guy friends from high school would always come to Allison and I for fashion advice. My friend would say, “Here’s some money – go buy me my wardrobe for the spring.” We both experienced that, so we thought, “Why not have cool clothing for the guys?”
Two of my friends came yesterday after work, sat on the couch, and said, “Alright, just bring us racks.” Guys like it because we are very chill, showing them what would look good on them and guiding them. Aerosmith told us we had some of the best guys’ vintage they’ve ever seen!
F: Where do you go to collect the vintage pieces you sell in your store?
Ashley: Flea markets, auctions, and sometimes people bring us clothing. In the past 2-3 months, I’ve been to LA, New York, and Kentucky. I take random road trips through ho-dunk towns. It’s a mixture of what I stumble upon and what stumbles upon me.
F: What did they teach you in FIDM: Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising?
Ashley: I had a color and painting class, where I learned about the colors that go together, the textures that go together, the combinations, what looks good, what doesn’t look good… We had History of Fashion, as well as Mannequin and Set Design building. I really liked that class: we had to build models of a fashion show, small models of the runway and then models of the models! We designed our own tote-bags: I made mine out of a faux chinchilla.
F: Would you consider designing in the future?
Ashley: I think I’m better at styling. I like dressing people; I like that person-to-person connection. With designing, that human interchange – “Oh, this looks good on you!” – is lost.
F: You have a beautiful photo gallery online featuring outfits of vintage clothing you put together. How easy is it to make outfits mixing and matching vintage clothing from various decades?
Ashley: It’s really easy for me. I get a feel for the person I’m working with – what they want, what they reflect, who they are on the inside. I don’t dress everyone in head-to-toe vintage; it’s mostly mixing the new with the old, like a gorgeous vintage gown with crazy new shoes, or jeans with a vintage t-shirt and a blazer. So I do like mixing the new and the old, but I decide based on the person and where they’re wearing it to. In the pictures in the online photo gallery, almost everything was vintage.
F: Have you considered putting together vintage fashion shows?
F: Is vintage always in vogue, or is it a recent fad? In the 70s, for example, was vintage as popular as it is now?
Ashley: Vintage is timeless. Is an item in a runway show today vintage 30 years later? Probably not, because that item was probably inspired by an item from the 1930s or 1940s. Marc Jacobs had these cardigans [points to sequined, beaded cardigans with shoulder pads and designs] on top of every single item in his line for New York Fashion Week.
Allison: Also, we’ve met a lot of people who have been in the vintage industry for a while, and they said that a lot of the designers call them for pieces for inspiration, which I never knew before.
Ashley: We did a pop-up shop in Soho; a lot of designers are there. You could tell who was sent by the designers and who was looking to buy for themselves. The people sent by the designers knew exactly what they were looking for, and would quickly flick through a rack looking for interesting patterns.
The green movement is about recycling – vintage is just recycling fashion. And then there’s the celebrity aspect of it. “What are you wearing?” gets asked a lot on the red carpet.
“Vintage this, vintage that,” I think that’s made it really popular as well.