We had the good fortune of connecting with Michelle Perez and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Michelle, what role has risk played in your life or career?
I heard Glennon Doyle say something the other day on a podcast that went something like, “Suffering is in the space between the knowing and the doing.” That really resonates because I like to take calculated risks, but its not any less stressful when change comes.
I’ve always found myself pushing the boundaries of what feels comfortable, and while it doesn’t give me any less anxiety about what awful thing could occur, the excitement and novelty of what could be really motivates me to push past the fear. (It could be naïveté too!) I try think through a problem from every direction, and plan for all possible outcomes, so it doesn’t feel as overwhelming, but moving quickly through that process is what I find most difficult. It’s a muscle that needs to be worked, and it gets easier over time.
One of the biggest “risks” I’ve ever taken was to leave my 9-5, but I kept saying “If this fails, what’s the worst that could happen? I go back to looking for work? I move into a cheaper apartment? That’s not so bad.” If I can live with what “failure” in a given scenario looks like, then I just keep going.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
I think of Le & Lo as an extension of myself. The shop was named after my dog, Leo, and my niece, Lorelai, and there’s a lot of love that goes into sharing the pieces that I do. The collection is an eclectic mix of feminine silhouettes and utilitarian workwear. I gravitate towards more functional, comfortable pieces that can be worn time and time again, often repairing, mending and re-working to make that possible.
When I was starting out, I thought I needed to pick a specific era or niche, but now I just go with what feels right and share pieces I believe in, which is sort of its own niche. Buying vintage is a great alternative to fast-fashion, so I often choose items that reference styles that resonate right now; and if I wouldn’t tell a friend to wear it, I don’t sell it.
When I first started reselling, there was definitely a learning curve; the hardest part isn’t the selling for me, it’s all the work that goes on behind the scenes as a small business owner. No one teaches you how to be a good book keeper, logistics manager, marketer, or manager but you need to wear all the hats, at first. Figuring out how to work for myself was a process. Some things you can hire for, but you have to go through trial and error to figure it out which is somewhere in the top 3 lessons I’ve learned in doing this: trial and error. I think a lot of people see the vintage Instagram shops that pop up and find inspiration in that, which is cool, but it’s also a lot of work, which often goes unseen.
It’s really important to find your own voice and what feels good for you. On the topic of lessons, I would highly recommend anyone interested in starting a small business, vintage or of any kind, to connect with other people doing the same thing. Some of my best friends came from the growing community of like-minded individuals who just love old clothes. It’s not a competition, because everyone is doing their own thing, which feels good. We’re like co-workers!
I’ve always loved fashion and style, but there’s so much to know about textiles, garment construction, and history when it comes to vintage. Its a never ending process of learning and exploring that I’m excited I get to do every day.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Whenever people visit, they always want a cheesesteak, which I’ve had plenty of, but my favorite is Dalessandro’s. When visiting a new place I like to just walk around and figure it out, but if you need some spots to see in Philly, here are a few of my favorites:
Thunderbird Salvage, which is an old church filled with antiques and vintage treasure
Marthas (just across the street from Thunderbird) for a drink
Memphis Taproom was one of my first “go-to” places when I moved here: order the spaghetti sub, without the spaghetti, with provolone. You’re welcome!
Around South Philly: The Dutch for breakfast, because who doesn’t love a Dutch Baby?!
– Yowie, Philly Vintage Bazaar, Moon and Arrow are all cool shops to checkout within walking distance of each other on Fabric Row
– the Bok Building has a lot of artists and small businesses inside, including my friend, Sarah (@shopminimalchaos) and Mo (@momometals) with Irwins on the rooftop for food and drinks!
In Center City: Reading Terminal Market, A La Mousse for dessert, Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodles, and ShangHai 1 has some of my favorite soup dumplings in Philly.
In Fairmount: Seeing the Rocky steps is always fun for visitors and the Philadelphia Museum of Art is easily a day trip by itself with a walk through the park!
If you’re coming during market season, flea markets and thrifting are a must! Liberty Flea, the Philly Flea, Now & Then Marketplace and The Feminist Flea are all 10/10
Within an hour’s drive, you can get to Adamstown or Lambertville with lots of great vintage and the Golden Nugget (flea market) which is open year round.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I have to shoutout Philly; the small business and maker community here is so strong and supportive, Le & Lo wouldn’t be what it is without the locals who always show love. And to my partner, Angel, who always helps to workshop my ideas and pushes me to be my best, even when my vintage finds take over the apartment.
For the photo of me masked at Feminist Flea: Zara Neifield Photography, Philadelphia