How Fashion Insiders Get Their Grails

How Fashion Insiders Get Their Grails


Marianna Hewitt, co-founder of skincare brand Summer Fridays, describes herself as good at shopping. Her talents can still come up short when she wants an item that hundreds of well-dressed women also have on their wish lists, however. This was the case with Alaïa’s fishnet mesh ballet flat: a shoe so popular it ranked seventh on fashion search index Lyst’s hottest items of the last quarter and became nearly impossible to find.

“I had been eyeing them for a while and when I went to purchase [them], they were sold out everywhere,” Hewitt said. She knew what more and more online luxury shoppers have realized: an out of stock notice isn’t a barrier to purchase if you’re in touch with the right people.

In June, Hewitt reached out to luxury sourcing expert Gab Waller with a request to conjure a pair of the sold-out flats seemingly out of thin air. A short time later, the Alaïa flats were hers and happily posted to her Instagram. The exact same story applies to Sofia Richie-Grainge, who procured the same pair through the same luxury fashion sourcer.

Waller has built a thriving Instagram-based business tracking down hard-to-find items for more than 5,000 clients globally. She is a rising star amid a bigger shopping movement that’s all about the destination (the designer grail) instead of the journey (the thrill of the hunt). With a global network of boutiques, warehouses, and sample sales at their disposal, plus an eager audience on social media, fashion sourcing experts are connecting shoppers with their most-desired pieces and making the term “sold out” irrelevant in the process.

According to Waller, fashion sourcing is the inverse of traditional personal shopping. Personal shoppers select and suggest items you don’t know you want, based on your general taste and sensibilities. Luxury sourcing is for shoppers who know what they’re looking for—from trending items like Bottega Veneta’s drop earrings to a Phoebe Philo-era Celine tote bag—but need a well-connected expert to find it for them.

Waller started her sourcing business in 2018, in Australia. Five years later, she is based in Los Angeles and has seen skyrocketing growth at her company.COURTESY OF GAB WALLER

The shopping method has risen in the past few years through individual sourcing experts headquartered on Instagram, such as Waller, Michelle Lovelace, and Jennifer Nisan—each with between 40,000 and 140,000 followers. On the platform, shoppers can DM the experts with requests for an item and their preferred size. In some cases, requests come with as few details as “Hérmes H leather sandal” or “the puffy leather jacket Hailey Bieber wore.” Some sourcing experts also gather hard-to-find inventory themselves and sell it directly through their platforms, anticipating that demand will be high.

The cost to have your item tracked down for you varies by what you’re looking for, who’s handling the search, and where in the world it’s shipped from. In Waller’s case, clients pay the retail cost of the item, plus shipping and a sourcing fee capped at $350 per item. Fees are gradated based on whether the retail cost is over or under $5,000 at retail, to make the service available to a broader range of clients.

Waller is used to surprising shoppers who initially reach out with the bare minimum of background information on the pieces they saw and want. “It does happen a lot where people just say to me, ‘Don’t really bother, Gab, you’re not going to find that. It doesn’t exist,’” she said. “And I’m like, I know it exists somewhere.”

Since starting her company in 2018, Waller has gained nearly seventy thousand followers on Instagram. She said that her business has more than doubled in the past year, and her operation has expanded from just herself to a team of twelve that is available 24 hours per day. 90 percent of her work goes down in the Instagram DMs, including direct interactions with celebrity clients.

While demand spiked during the early Covid years with requests for Pangaia sweatsuits, lately shoppers have been focused on novelty designer handbags, summer sandals, and a range of ready-to-wear. In other words, clothing that’s going to be seen. Lori Harvey’s Loewe dress for a star-studded white party in the Hamptons was sourced by Waller; so were Khloe Kardashian’s 1990s Gianfranco Ferre sunglasses and Hailey Bieber’s aforementioned Loewe jacket. A number of the looks that have made Sofia Richie-Grainge an insurgent style icon came from Waller’s sleuthing, including an Old Celine off-the-shoulder dress from the house’s 2017 fall runway collection. #sourcedbygb, the hashtag for Waller’s service included on her TikTok videos and testimonials from satisfied clients, has been viewed 4.1 million times.

“Anything I’ve reached out to her for, she’s been able to find for me,” Hewitt said of working with Waller. The founder also leans on Waller for tips on what will sell out next: “Gab is also a great source for trends, so I’ll ask her what people are into, what top requests are, or what she thinks will be the next It-item.”

While individuals with powerhouse social media accounts have put fashion sourcing on shoppers radars’, dedicated sourcing apps and agencies could further streamline the process. Sourcewhere launched last year in the United Kingdom, as a marketplace connecting shoppers with anything they want to find—be it a luxury bag or a suddenly buzzy New Balance sneaker.

Sourcewhere’s founder and CEO Erica Wright said the service intends to democratize the most white glove shopping experiences. “Personal shopping has always existed in some form, but it’s always been associated with exclusivity and is relatively unvaried—for a long time it has been a closed off network, one where you have to be deemed a VIP to have access to sourcing as a service. On the app, there’s the excitement factor of finding the item and securing it quickly in a digital environment, but still having the connection of speaking with someone directly one-on-one as you would in a store. That’s what makes sourcing so personal and engaging.”

Sure, someone desperately seeking Carrie Bradshaw’s exact Fendi baguette could spend hours scrolling online themselves or setting Google alerts for a restock. On centralized platforms and on individual sourcers’ accounts, shoppers can tap into inventory from far-flung boutiques and untouched warehouses through their phones. Crucially, they can even find items from seasons long past. Even with the proliferation of online resale platforms, those pieces can be even harder to find if you don’t know where to look.

Dominik Halas, master authenticator at The RealReal, said that the shift to sourcing “signals a more invested and thoughtful kind of customer.” These are shoppers who have done their homework. “Exclusivity and luxury have evolved to no longer be just about price and availability—think traditional waitlists for Hermès Birkins or exclusive watches—but now includes hard-to-find pieces from seasons past. [It’s] luxury through research, not wealth.” (See: the 2017 Celine dress Richie-Grainge had sourced.)

For of-the-moment items, Wright said that speed is as equally crucial as the prestige of the piece itself. She cites a pertinent example from Sourcewhere’s first year: “When The Row’s Margaux bag had initially sold out, one of our network partners in Italy responded to the request in 21 minutes, saving the customer hours of calling stores and trying to track it down themselves.”

Does shopping still have an emotional payoff if it’s seamless? If there isn’t tug-of-war at a sample sale, or a months-long research dive, does the piece still feel worthwhile? The “Client Love” tab on Waller’s Instagram, where clients gleefully hold up their Vuitton bags and Alaïa ballet flats, seem to say yes.

“There’s been messages that I can think of where there was a lot of emotion involved with the gratitude and the thankfulness of that item being found,” Waller reflected. Brides who have leaned on Waller for their wedding shoes or dresses have been the most memorably thrilled, she said.

Convenience is a commodity with ever-growing demand. As the definition of “luxury” becomes more porous, and the frenzy behind seemingly sold-out items swells, Waller said fashion sourcing will become the “future” of shopping for everything—not just designer wares. She has already seen this shift in action: “We even receive requests for Ugg boots.”

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