Fashion on Wheels: Vintage Boutique Pops Up on LBI

By SANDRA WEYANT | May 29, 2019
Photo by: Jack Reynolds

Long Beach Island — Two friends. One Airstream. One dream. That’s how Lolita Vintage, a mobile pop-up fashion boutique, came to life.

Business partners Alyssa Mancini and Janet Gilfillan became instant friends after spending several summers working together in a high-end luxe boutique in Beach Haven. Gilfillan, who lives in Beach Haven West, managed the store and was in need of a summer associate at the time. Mancini’s mother came in to shop and raved about her daughter Alyssa and her passion for fashion.

“Alyssa’s mom pulled out Alyssa’s senior picture, and I just remember thinking how beautiful and striking she was, and I hired her. She came in the next day and we just immediately clicked,” Gilfillan said.

Mancini attended LIM College (formerly the Laboratory Institute of Merchandising) in New York City, where she majored in marketing. She had always dreamed of becoming a buyer for Bloomingdale’s, but instead pursued a career in the restaurant realm soon after she graduated. She now resides in Toms River.

“I have always loved the fashion industry, and I never wanted to leave it,” Mancini said. “When Janet and I worked together, we went to trade shows all the time, and we were really good at styling people and running the store. After college we stayed in touch, and whenever there was a listing available on Long Beach Island, we always talked about opening our store. We wanted to work for ourselves.”

Gilfillan went to the University of Delaware and became a kindergarten teacher for 16 years. She first discovered her love of fashion in high school while watching her favorite movie, “Clueless.”

“I wanted to be Alicia Silverstone. I got a job at Wet Seal in the Cherry Hill Mall, and I bought every single outfit because she wore clothes from Wet Seal,” Gilfillan said. “My friend Michelle quickly got promoted to manager at Wet Seal, and we really thrived at that store. That’s where it all started for me. That’s when I really got into the trends, but it was always a side passion because I was a teacher first.”

Gilfillan’s mother is a seamstress, which also inspired Janet to pursue her dream. Back in high school, Gilfillan sketched her prom dresses, and her mom sewed them from scratch. She always had an eye for one-of-a-kind style, a talent she describes as “in her blood.”

Enter Airstream. Mancini and her husband recently purchased an Airstream for travel purposes, or so they thought. The mobile home is now an integral part of the Lolita Vintage shopping experience.

“We didn’t fully convert it into our store, but we figured out a way to include it in our setup, so it’s part of our aesthetic. It really works. It’s more of a prop, if anything, but people love it,” Mancini said.

“It’s a real crowd-pleaser,” Gilfillan said.

Mancini and Gilfillan have been brainstorming for their store for 11 years, and they knew exactly how they wanted to convey their brand.

Mancini came up with the name Lolita to represent “a confident, risk-taking, chic woman.”

“Overall, the brand Lolita is a woman we are trying to emulate, and we’re trying to fill her closet,” Mancini said.

“She’s not afraid to think outside of the box, and she doesn’t want the standard department store outfit,” Gilfillan said. “She wants to stand out.”

Where do the women find these hidden clothing gems from the ’70s?

Well, it’s certainly not easy and takes a lot of patience, skill and fashion knowledge. The curated collection of apparel is handpicked from various stores from Philadelphia to Brooklyn and beyond. Their special collection includes hand-sewn organza T-shirts, up-cycled tees, cool denim and biker shorts, all of which are exclusive to Lolita.

“We hunt and pick through, and we have been doing it for a long time and still only have a few racks because it’s difficult to find that one-of-a-kind piece. We make it look simple for customers to come along, though, and somehow find exactly what they’ve been looking for,” Gilfillan said.

“It’s truly a game. You can go to the Goodwill store down the street from your house, and if you know what you’re doing, if you have an eye for fashion, labels or well-made clothing brands, you can find something anywhere. We also try to make it a cohesive collection. We pick things in our theme,” Mancini said.

Friends and family members often give the pair clothing that they no longer wear to add to the inventory. Gilfillan’s mother will tailor the pieces to fit better or modify them to modernize them to fit the overall vision.

Recently, Sam DiPietro, owner of Sink ’R Swim Men’s Shop in Beach Haven, offered to host the first-ever Lolita Vintage pop-up shop in the store’s back courtyard.

“The courtyard is charming and well lit, and it was the perfect space for us. We are extremely grateful to Sam,” Mancini said. “We had such a good turnout, and it was better than we ever expected.”

Guests even arrived early to get first dibs on the unique merchandise. During the event, local business owners, such as photographer Ann Coen, asked to host future pop-ups.

“We have so many people who support us. Ann does so many things for the community and for me, personally, and when she reached out to ask us to do this in the gallery, we want to honor our friends and family and people close to us first,” Gilfillan said.

Mancini explained that their initial pop-up shop truly set the bar high for their future events, but mostly it was super validating that she and Gilfillan “are doing exactly what we are supposed to be doing.”

The fashion gurus expressed an interest to travel and become a part of several new communities – Asbury Park and Jersey City, to name a few – to make people excited and aware about Lolita Vintage.

“We really want to take advantage of the fact that we are mobile and not just be LBI-based. You know, realize our capabilities and how far we can spread the word. We will, obviously, do lots of LBI events because it is our home,” Mancini said. “What is also important to us is that we eventually want a huge following. We want people all over to know who we are.”

Where is Lolita Vintage heading next? Keep up with the ladies at itsastyleblog.com and @shoplolitavintage on Instagram to find out.

— Sandra Weyant

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