Sami Miró knows the secret to making sustainable fashion work: Make. It. Look. Good

Sami Miró, founder of Sami Miro Vintage
(Nailah Howze/For The Times)
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This is part of Image Issue 4, “Image Makers,” a paean to L.A.’s luminaries of style. In this issue, we pay tribute to the people and brands pushing fashion culture in the city forward.

“My clothes don’t reek of sustainability,” Sami Miró says. She’s sitting in her sun-drenched Arts District studio, thinking about the before times — before she became an emblem of environmentally sustainable, aesthetic-forward fashion. In the last five years, her brand, Sami Miro Vintage, has grown to be one of the buzziest small sustainable brands in the game, challenging how we think sustainable fashion can look and what type of person wears it.

The brand releases small collections that from start to finish prioritize a small carbon footprint. The kind of fabrics it uses? Vintage, deadstock, eco-friendly and from organic plants developed for Sami Miro Vintage. The washing and dyeing process? Minimal water, nontoxic. Its supply chain? All within a 15-mile radius. The sewing company it works with? Family-owned and paid fair wages. It’s not easy or cheap — the eco-friendly fabric alone costs several times as much as non-eco-friendly fabric, Sami says — and becomes even more complicated as the business grows. “But to me,” she says, “there’s really no other way. I don’t care if I could find the exact same fabric that’s a fourth of the price; I would still choose this.”

Sami doesn’t just reenvision raw material as something new; she alters how staples are understood. When Kylie Jenner‘s offspring Stormi Webster was spotted in a pair of perfectly distressed white jeans, worn scrunched with dad Travis Scott’s Air Jordan collab, it wasn’t as if people hadn’t seen a distressed pair of jeans before. It was that this 3-year-old — despite, sure, being a known fashion icon — had the pair of vintage white jeans the rest of us had dedicated our entire lives to finding. The rest of the designer’s clothes have the same effect: essential items that serve as the foundation of your wardrobe, only more interesting than you’d imagined they could be.

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Sami Miró in One of One Blazer, Sami Miro Vintage Asymmetrical White Tee, Porterhouse Jeans in Vintage Blue, Burberry shoes
Sami Miró wears One of One Blazer, Not for sale; Sami Miro Vintage Asymmetrical Tee in White, $200; Porterhouse Jeans in Vintage Blue, $375; Burberry shoes
(Nailah Howze/For The Times)

Sami Miro Vintage spins neutral-colored staples into effortlessly cool must-haves, cut and sewn into asymmetrical shapes, accentuated by raw hems and embellished with oversize safety pins — from sweatsuits and reworked denim to V-cut tanks and cropped tees. Her second full collection, H2O SS21, was released this summer. The minimal, slinky styles in ivory and black mesh are meant to be worn as both swimwear and streetwear.

Sami grew up in San Francisco, thrifting every weekend to keep up with the rich kids at her private school that she was able to attend thanks to a scholarship. Back then she didn’t think of her passion for flipping vintage finds as a calling, let alone a career. “I didn’t know fashion could be a job,” she says. “As crazy as that sounds.”

She earned her master’s degree in global entrepreneurship and management and, afterward, worked at a consumer electronics start-up. It was a rewarding job — she was the second employee and watched it grow into a global company with hundreds of employees — but she never felt fully at home in the tech space. She was a mixed-race Black woman, then in her early 20s, who cared about style. Not exactly a khakis and Patagonia type. But there was something else — a creative nagging. When she moved to L.A., she was encouraged by friends in the fashion industry to try styling; she had a way of altering and wearing her own clothes. Eventually, Sami wondered whether she should be doing something different from tech. She decided to quit her corporate career and find out.

Sami Miró wears vintage, heirloom and The Last Line earrings; vintage, heirloom, custom and Tiffany's rings.
(Nailah Howze/For The Times)
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Sami Miró in One of One Blazer, Not for sale; Porterhouse Jeans in Vintage Blue, $375
(Nailah Howze/For The Times)

For a while, Sami modeled and spent time learning how to style. But that wasn’t checking all the boxes either. “It very quickly got to a point where I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I went through so much schooling and I care about using my brain,’” she says, sitting cross-legged on the couch with her dog, Sunnie, glued to her side. “Dead inside is way too dramatic, but I felt the most important part of me — which is up here — wasn’t getting utilized.”

When she started Sami Miro Vintage in 2016, it was a way to bridge all these parts of her: her sustainably minded S.F. upbringing, her lifelong obsession with thrifting, her artistic streak — and most important to her, her business acumen. “It came together really, really quickly,” Sami says. “Within 10 days.”

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Now, the brand’s elevated basics — which Sami calls “creative staples” — are beloved by Instagram cool kids and fashion It Girls alike, including Bella Hadid, Billie Eilish, Kylie Jenner and Cardi B. Like, actually beloved: Miró says she’s never paid anyone to wear her clothes. But her more than 280,000 followers on Instagram and an aspirational grid showing off her sharp personal style suggest that her best form of brand advertisement has always been herself — her marketing smarts in action.

Sami Miro for the Image section, issue 04.
(Nailah Howze/For The Times)

Still, she wonders if her followers appreciate her for who she really is: a shrewd businesswoman who broke into the fashion industry as a complete outsider and has carved a place for herself in the sustainable realm. Her brand recently won a CFDA Fashion Trust award and grant, which Sami plans to invest back into her business. And Sami Miro Vintage is growing at such a rapid rate that she expanded her team from one employee — other than herself — to seven.

“I haven’t found a way to really showcase my brain on Instagram,” Sami says. “But I also don’t mind the separation of that persona versus my real life, because we are two very different people. I appreciate that surprise. I appreciate having something to keep to myself.”