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Nolita is an area constantly in flux, but as smaller boutiques have made way for more established chains, indie favorite Thomas Sires has remained anchored at 243 Elizabeth Street. The shop, which turns four this year, stocks classic shift dresses and nubby coats alongside Guatemalan pom pom keychains and Japanese soaps sourced from owner Fiona Thomas's constant travels. "It's part of keeping it fun in here," she says. "Clothing is expensive to make. I don't want people to think, 'Oh I can't go in there, it's too expensive.'"
The San Francisco native has worked just about every fashion job imaginable—from interning for Peter Som to working in Loeffler Randall's marketing division (where she met former co-owner Allison Sires). But it was the gold standard of teen mags, Sassy, that initially sparked her interest in the industry. "I still see those people and I'm like, 'Oh my god that's so-and-so from Sassy,' she says. Read on for her takes on fall style, appropriate Vermont attire, and bagels versus croissants.
Tell me about your background! What did you do before Thomas Sires?
I've been working in and around fashion since I graduated college, I worked at Banana Republic in their corporate office when I was 22, and I managed and did buying at a small store in San Francisco, which is where I'm from. Then I worked for Loeffler Randall, which is where I met my former Thomas Sires business partner.
Did you study fashion?
I'm a Parsons associate degree dropout—I think I did half the program. But I was interning for Peter Som at the time and we became good friends. I got to see all the sides of his business, and I think that sort of guided me.
It's funny—at the store, I probably feel less in fashion than I've ever felt. Fashion is certainly a large aspect of the store, but I also like to bring in travel and home goods and children's products.
Were you into fashion when you were younger?
I was obsessed with Sassy, I think I still have all my Sassies somewhere in storage. I was so young when Sassy came out and I still see those people in the industry. I'm like, "Oh my god that's so-and-so from Sassy."
How did you make the leap from working at Loeffler Randall to opening your own store? Was it something you had been thinking about for a long time?
It's no surprise to anyone who's known me since childhood that I have a store. But I always tell people that the experience you get through working for other people is what's going to help you decide what you really want to do. Through the years, this was something I always came back to.
When you opened did you have your in-house line ready or did that come later?
We opened with it, which was totally insane.
So you took on two huge projects at once!
The store will have been open for four years in December, and in that time I think we've done eight collections. Only four have been at wholesale, and only two have been in a major showroom. And you know, it's sort of working.
Before we were wholesaling, the options for fabrics were so much greater because we weren't limited by pricing. We'd just make 20 of a certain design for the store, and that would be that. There's a lot of freedom in working that way. If you can do that and grow that—that's great. It's about finding that balance.
What was the inspiration behind your fall Thomas Sires collection?
In the shop there's this funny interplay between light, fun, colorful things and then we have our clothing line, which is a little more classic. We try to design things people will have forever.
I love a really nubby coat, they've been strong since we started. The designs evolve—a certain dress shape will do well, and we'll play around with remaking in in different fabrics. Fall to me is—especially because I'm always cold—warm and textural and layered. My boyfriend's family laughs at me because they're from Vermont and I'm from San Francisco. I was up in Vermont this weekend with my fur vest on. I mean it was cold but it wasn't that cold.
Do you remember your opening day? Were you nervous?
We had a party the night before, and invited so many people. I suppose it's how people would feel at a wedding. I was like, "Oh my god, I went to preschool with you!"
You have a great home goods section! Where do you source everything?
Anywhere and everywhere. It's definitely more fun to go somewhere and pick things up. I was just in Guatemala and I bought a lot of things from different vendors and had some things made. I packed a ton of pom pom keychains in my suitcase. Someone just came in and bought 40 of them. It's part of keeping it fun in here. Someone can come in and buy something like that for a gift.
Clothing is expensive to make. I don't want people to think, "Oh I can't go in there, it's too expensive."
Who is the Thomas Sires woman?
People in New York walk everywhere, they're very curious—they always want something new, something different. Young women will stop in, and women in their '80s will come in from the Upper East Side because they heard about it in the New York Times.
What do you look for when you're hiring?
Hiring for a small business is a challenge, because you're really with someone. Ideally you want to cultivate a relationship where your employee can grow with the business.
What's important to me is that your worldview is bigger than working in retail. I like my employees to be interested in lots of things.
Time for the lightning round!
8am or 8pm?
Beer or wine?
Bagels or croissants?
Are you allowed to like both? Both.
Whiskey or tequila?
Beach or mountains?
Cats or dogs?
Favorite vacation destination?
Someplace I've never been
Favorite local lunch spot?
Favorite local happy hour spot?
Rap or country?
Scandal or Homeland?
Mad Men or Game of Thrones?
Coffe or tea, and how to you take it?
Introvert or extrovert?
· Thomas Sires [Official Site]
· Better Know a Store Owner [Racked NY]