From quitting her job after being told she dressed “too avant garde” to selling her car to move to NYC, Tiffany English is one hell of a cool store owner. I was lucky enough to get in contact with Tiffany, the creator of eBay store Rock Paper Vintage. Starting in March 2008, Rock Paper Vintage has been going strong, carrying a variety of eclectic vintage pieces that are a little bit Rock ‘n’ Roll, a little bit feminine chic. While the clothes speak for themselves, I wanted to get to know the woman behind the scenes. From fun thrift shopping trips, to running her store, to “living in NYC” inspiration, Tiffany English could make any fashionista want to follow in her footsteps!
Name: Tiffany English
Current location: New York City
Amy: Where are you originally from?
Tiffany: I am originally from Reno, Nevada but moved to New York City 7 years ago.
A: What is the style of your store?
T: I would say RPV has a fairly eclectic style because I tend to focus on individual pieces that you can work into a basic wardrobe. Those individual pieces definitely have personalities of their own and can range from rock ‘n’ roll to delicate feminine dresses. I suppose it’s probably a very rock goddess style!
A: What were you doing before you started Rock Paper Vintage? What were some of your early hobbies, studies and interests?
T: I’ve always loved fashion and sewing, but my favorite thing to do was to go thrifting. I still get butterflies in my stomach every time I walk into a thrift store: it’s such a thrill to walk into a store not knowing what you’ll find. I also loved making clothes out of vintage fabrics and reworking vintage clothes to make them more modern.
I went to college in Nevada and got a degree in Spanish with hopes of becoming a translator. It’s makes me laugh when I think about that- how different my career is than what I had planned as a teenager.
After college, I worked in a very corporate environment and was told I dress “too avant garde” for the office. In order to keep my job, I was told I would have to completely change my wardrobe… so I quit. A few weeks later, I sold my car and moved to New York City, just like in the movies! I’d always loved clothing and fashion, but living in NYC inspired me in a way I’d never experienced. Even being on the subway can sometimes be as good as a runway show, all hustle and bustle, with seriously amazing clothes.
A: How did Rock Paper Vintage come about?
T: I was working in the fashion industry but the 9-5 grind was starting to eat away at me. I felt stuck in a rut and wasn’t being fulfilled creatively so I knew something had to change. I’d always secretly dreamed of running my own store, and selling vintage online seemed like the perfect step.
A: Why did you decide to open a vintage store?
T: Vintage isn’t just about clothing, it’s a lifestyle. There’s something about wearing one-of-a kind pieces that makes you feel AMAZING and unique and I want to be able to share that passion with people who may not be able to easily access vintage fashion or who need a simple and easy way to purchase vintage treasures without having to sift through racks and racks of clothing at thrift stores. I have always been environmentally conscious, so the fact that it is eco-friendly allows me to do not only what I love, but to promote a way for consumers to look individual and stylish without harming the environment.
A: Before you started Rock Paper Vintage, how did you prepare?
T: It was very scattered and sort of guerilla style selling in the beginning- like throwing clothes on friends and making them model whenever they would come over to visit! I invested a small amount of money that I had saved to buy my first round of inventory as well as selling pieces from my personal vintage collection. Because I didn’t know a great deal about selling vintage online, I read forums and watched tutorials about HTML and selling on eBay. I think back to my first photos and blush a little. I’ve come a long way, but am still learning everyday, trying to make each round of pictures better than the last. It’s been such an amazing journey and I know I have many more adventures awaiting me.
A: What goes on behind the scenes? Who are the people who work behind the scenes?
T: Besides the models and photographers that I hire, behind the scenes, it’s mostly just me, a lot of good music, strong coffee, and rad vintage clothing. Also, there’s Heidi Greenwood who I met her initially for a photo shoot collaboration. She quickly became one of my best friends and is my go-to for anything from creative directing to P.R., to photo editing. She’s the best!
Getting the clothes up in the store is quite a process but it’s all really fun. I have EPIC shopping adventures all over the city, and sometimes think I should wear a helmet and mouth guard out shopping: with so many fashionable people in the city, shopping can get a little competitive. I would never rip something out of someone’s hands or steal from their cart, but that’s definitely happened to me before. There is NEVER a dull moment shopping; it’s probably my favorite thing about owning the store. After I buy the clothes, I clean and repair, style and shoot, then sell and ship them.
The product shoots are a blast because the models and I have now become close friends. At the last shoot, we had to reapply the model’s makeup because we were laughing so hard we were crying and she had black eye liner running down her face! Love you, Lara!
Another really great thing that happens is our lookbook shoots- shot everywhere from Coney Island to the Highline. I’m so lucky to be in NYC, surrounded by talented models, make up artists, and photographers, and I LOVE to collaborate with them. The last RPV look book was actually featured on Nylon. If I forget my password, my security question is ’What’s your favorite magazine’ and my answer is always NYLON, so that was an exciting moment for me. Wait, oops, I’m giving too much info- don’t hack into my accounts! Haha!
A: What did you expect from the vintage store? Did you meet your expectations?
T: I didn’t really have any expectations when I opened the store, I was just excited about all of the possibilities. I could have never anticipated all of the fabulous things that would happen as a result of opening RPV- the incredible people I meet collaborating, the sweet customers, the magazine articles about the store, fashions blogs saying it’s their fave, or seeing an RPV photo on the front page of Chictopia! I put my heart into what I do and it’s great to hear that other people are loving it as well.
A: What’s your process in picking vintage pieces?
T: I keep in mind the types of clothing designers are creating and what people are actually wearing. I look for style, quality, and most of all, a garment’s possibility. An awkward length skirt or XL shirt- perhaps they’re better as dresses. Sometimes something as easy as shortening a dress slightly or styling it differently can turn it from retro to uber modern.
Most people don’t want to look like a designer store mannequin and that’s where vintage is key. They can, ironically, breathe new life into your wardrobe.
I find I am complimented more on vintage garments I am wearing as opposed to store bought items. There are just far more choices and possibilities in vintage, and you don’t need to be dictated by what the major stores are selling or feel miserable that you can’t afford the $500 dress at the boutique store. There is also an element of mystery with vintage in that you are most likely the only person who knows where, when and how much.
A: What’s it like being an online store? How would you compare it to retailers that are not online?
T: There are obviously a lot of advantages for both online and offline boutiques. I think the best of both worlds would make for an incredible business, a retail store with an online component. Personally I prefer running an online store because it is the most cost effective and far reaching of the two options, however the disadvantages are missing out on the opportunity to talk with your customer face to face and giving them feedback on their shopping choices. That being said, I am sure that most people who run online businesses will agree, it’s a huge benefit to be able to sit behind a computer and not worry that a customer might notice you are having a bad hair day, or that you aren’t in the best mood. Online presence is exactly that, and you can mold and edit that presence to your companies benefit.
What drew me into the online world, was the freedom to be able to work wherever, whenever and with whomever I want. It’s actually extremely inspiring knowing that I am my own motivator, and the only person I need to answer to is my customers.
A: How do you think Rock Paper Vintage stands out amongst other online stores?
T: Being in a city filled with trendsetters and fashion risk takers is a major factor. Seeing what people are wearing at the coffee shops, music venues, clubs, etc. helps me view fashion through a different lens and affects what I purchase. I would say that RPV has a little edge, think 70s Yoko Ono meets 80s Debbie Harry. Also, any long time customer knows I’m obsessed with sequins, so RPV sparkles a little more than other stores, literally.
A: What are some of your personal favorite pieces?
T: There are a few pieces that come to mind. The first I named ‘The Icecapades Dress.’ I had it for about one year before I could bare selling it (it’s one of the dresses we shot on the Highline-). It’s a white silk mini dress with silver sequins everywhere and a sexy open back. I never actually wore it, but I just loved looking at it everyday. When it finally sold, I was so devastated to say good bye, but happy to send it out to someone who would really enjoy it. I get really attached to the clothes sometimes.
Another is ‘The Chandelier Dress’ which will be for sale soon. It’s a black mini shift dress with a nude colored plunging mesh neckline with gorgeous crystal bead detail. It is a show stopper and I’m obsessed with it!
Another fave is a Japanese art print floral kimono in soft, pastel colors. I was meeting friends in Brooklyn for lunch, but arrived early, so I ran into a thrift store near by… and that’s when I found it. My heard dropped when I saw it- it was love at first sight!
Just recently I found some ridiculously incredible velvet floral burnout wide leg pants by Dior! I fainted, they’re insane, but too small for me. If they fit, I would never let them go.
A: What would be your advice for people who want to move to NYC for a career in fashion?
T: When I moved to NYC I didn’t know a single person and didn’t even own a computer, if you can believe it. Today, with social media, making connections is so much easier! If you want to have people to meet up with and grab coffee with when you move, start trying to network on facebook and twitter as soon as possible. These people can show your the ropes, give you advice, or set you up with internships. NYC is a big city, but don’t be intimidated. Work hard, have faith, keep at it, and everything will fall in to place eventually. Also, surround yourself with positive people whom you admire- they’ll inspire you to live your dreams.
A: If your store had a playlist, what songs would be playing?
T: Well obviously a lot of rock goddess influence here as well as some new favorites from stylish cities. If I made a mixtape I think it would play something like this:
Alcoholic Faith Mission – Closer To Dallas
Blondie – Dreaming
Cults – Go Outside
Heart – Crazy On You
Beach House – Silver Soul
Janis Joplin – Summertime
Braids – Lemonade
Mazzy Star – Fade Into You
Wallace Collection- Daydream
White Hinterland – Icarus
Fleet Foxes- Tiger Mountain Peasant Song
Tennis – Marathon
Kings of Convenience- I don’t know what I can save you from
Chairlift – Bruises
Glasser – Home
Lykke Li – Dance Dance Dance
Marianne Faithful – It’s All Over Now Baby Blue
Thank you so much Tiffany for the interview!