Michael "Mr. Throwback" Spitz Interview: Spitz Discusses His Love For Vintage Clothing, His Store, Celebrity Clientele, Game Worn NBA Jersey Collection, Future Projects & New Location
Got a chance to chop it up with Michael Spitz, the owner of the iconic "Mr. Throwback" shop in New York's East Village. In this interview, Spitz, who is widely recognized as the king of vintage wear, talks about everything from his vintage roots, being the go to throwback stylist for Fabolous and collaborating with legendary brands like Chalk Line and Starter. Check it out!
Jeffrey Kee: Talk about your upbringing and how your love for vintage clothing first began.
Michael Spitz: I grew up in Long Island, New York in an area called Bellmore. I was a huge Knicks fan, but I loved Michael Jordan, which most other Knicks fans hate hearing. Michael is the greatest, so just like every other 10 year old, that’s who I wanted to be. As a kid, I collected Starting Lineup, Champion NBA jerseys and sports posters. I used to cut out old SLAM Magazine’s and would collage them onto the wall. Eastbay was very popular in the 90’s and I would cut out pictures of shoes that I liked and would slab those onto the wall as well. I used to go to the mall and buy basketball cards. So much of my childhood revolved around basketball. My first dream was to be an NBA referee. I had a hoop in front of my house, and would lace up my Jordan’s and play outside for hours. That’s kind of how this whole Mr. Throwback thing started. It all began with my love for basketball and collecting NBA gear, and it has evolved into what it is today.
Kee: What was your first NBA jersey?
Spitz: My first jersey was a Michael Jordan replica Champion jersey. I actually still have it and I refuse to give it up because when I was a kid my mom wrote my name on the back tag when I went to sleep away camp, so it has a lot of sentimental value to it. It’s probably only worth $80 bucks, but the fact that it was my first jersey makes it priceless.
Kee: When did your love for NBA jerseys start becoming an obsession?
Spitz: It actually didn’t start until I got home from college in 2005. I found a bunch of my old jerseys and realized they still fit. I always loved the way they looked and immediately I was like, “Where can I find more of these?” After that I began hunting for them and digging through thrift stores, estate sales and flea markets looking for more. That’s when the obsession started.
Kee: How’d you get into reselling vintage gear? At what point did you decide to open the Mr. Throwback store?
Spitz: In 2011, I was shopping at the Brooklyn Flea Market and I stumbled across these guys who were selling jerseys. We started talking and told them I had like 100 jerseys and would love to hang out and set up shop with them. I ended up selling jerseys with them only once because when I asked if I could come back and do it again, they said they didn’t really need me and that I was competition, so I said screw it and went and did my own thing.
Then in January 2012, I went and found Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market in Manhattan and started selling vintage gear there with my dad in the freezing cold. At the time, since it was during the winter, I was selling those big Starter coats with the giant logos on the back. We also had jerseys and snapbacks. Pretty much all the stuff I have at the store now; just a smaller amount. But each week my popularity at the flea market kept getting bigger and bigger. People began coming up to me and asking if I wanted to buy their old vintage gear. I said yes, and all of a sudden people started bringing me huge boxes of old clothes that I’d resell for a profit. That’s when I realized that I could make a business out of this and then in November 2012, I opened up my shop.
Kee: Did you go by “Mr. Throwback” at the time?
Spitz: I did, but the spelling was different. I went by “Mister Throwback” because at the time someone else had the online domain name “Mr. Throwback”, so I just decided to spell mine out.
Kee: The store has a huge following now, but what was business like when you first opened up the shop in 2012?
Spitz: The store looked a lot different back then. When I first opened, I didn’t have much money, so I brought in around 15 consigners. People would bring in stuff; I would resell it and give them a percentage of the profit. I was selling Hawaiian shirts, women’s clothes and Army jackets; basically anything I could get my hands on and could resell. I didn’t have any investors. My parents didn’t give me any money. I literally had $6,000 to my name. I paid $5,700 upfront and was left with around $300 to work with.
Kee: How were you able to grow your business after that?
Spitz: The consignment was helping my business, but it wasn’t making me much money. So after a year, I ended up getting rid of 90% of the consignment. I kept a few people, but I told them that because I was the one doing all the work in terms of selling merchandise and paying rent, I needed a bigger cut of the money. Then about a year and a half ago, I got rid of the consignment part completely and now it’s just me selling my product in the store, which is much better because I’m taking home all of the money and don’t have to divide it with other people anymore.
Kee: Would you credit Instagram for really blowing up the Mr. Throwback brand?
Spitz: Definitely, 100%. I thank God for Instagram. I started my account in the summer of 2012, and at the time, there weren’t any other stores catering to vintage sports gear in the New York area, which is why I was able to gain such a large following. Now a days, a lot of kids are big into thrifting. They’ll find something cool and will message me asking if I want to buy it. That’s made things a lot easier for me because they’re essentially finding merchandise for me and all I have to do is determine if it’s worth buying or not.
Kee: There are a lot of other well known vintage resellers who have also built their brand through Instagram. Who are some of your friends in the industry?
Spitz: Honestly, it’s sometimes difficult to maintain genuine, close knit friendships with people in the vintage world because everyone is in competition with each other. Even still, I’ve made a lot of close friendships. I’m like best friends with RJ from Rad Vintage. He’s one of the people who helped me get started. He would whole sale to me. We were always trading and he’d always give me advice. When I first started, Rad Vintage and F as in Frank were considered to be the big daddy’s of the vintage game and were the two companies I really wanted to emulate. It really meant a lot for RJ to help guide me along the way.
I’m also extremely close with Casey Pitocchelli from Rare Vintage. He and I met at Sneaker Con and have a great relationship. I’m really cool with Slobby Robby from Generation Cool. Curtis Linden from Major Look is another great friend of mine. He came into my store one day and was wearing this really cool hat. I asked him where he got it from and he told me that he was a designer and made it himself. After that he became my graphic designer and we’ve collaborated together on Chalk Line and Ewing Athletics. He’s been with me since day one and we’re very close as well.
Kee: You said that you're always trading and buying vintage gear. How often do people come into the store trying to sell you fakes?
Spitz: People definitely bring in fake jerseys, but it’s not on purpose. A lot of kids can tell the difference between a fake Yeezy and a real Yeezy, but can’t differentiate between a fake Michael Jordan jersey and a real one. Part of my job is to authenticate everything that comes into the store, so I’m able to weed out the real ones from the fakes.
Kee: Talk about your celebrity clientele a little bit. Who are some big names that have come into the store?
Spitz: A lot of rappers have come into the store. Fabolous is number one. He’s always texting me about new NBA jerseys. Then there’s the A$AP Mob, Post Malone, Smoked Dza, DJ Clue, Diggy Simmons, Big Krit, Conceited and DNA. Kid Cudi came into the store a while ago, which was awesome! He introduced himself as “Scott.” I actually couldn’t even talk to him because I was so star struck that he was in my store. Justin Bartha who played "Doug" in The Hangover came in. Scarlett Johansson has been in the store a couple of times. Bruno Mars came in with his stylist and bought clothes to wear on Saturday Night Live. The kid from Big Daddy stopped by, which was cool. I’ve had a bunch of NBA players too like Thomas Robinson, Jarrett Jack, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Anthony Bonner, Markieff and Marcus Morris. Meeting celebrities is definitely a cool part about my job and it’s definitely cool to post on Instagram, but it’s not everyday or anything like that. I take more pride in the returning customers; the ones who support the store and have come back multiple times. Those are the type of people that I love interacting with, even more than the celebrities.
Kee: You said Bruno Mars came in and bought stuff for Saturday Night Live and I always see Conceited wearing your Mr. Throwback hats on Instagram. How does it feel seeing celebrities wear your gear on a national stage?
Spitz: It’s one of the coolest feelings in the world. It’s awesome to make a product that people appreciate. When I see a celebrity or just people in general wearing my hats or my t-shirts, it lets me know that I’m doing something right.
Kee: What are some of the behind the scenes things you have to deal with in order to successfully run the store?
Spitz: Acquiring inventory and managing employees are the two biggest things. Inventory is tough to keep up with because everything we have in the store is one of a kind. We’re always trying to cater to the needs of our customers. Sometimes people will come in looking for Mitchell and Ness jerseys, and don’t understand that our entire product is original from the 80’s and 90’s. Managing employee’s is always hard because if someone gets sick, I have to scramble to find a replacement or drop what I’m doing to cover the store because I’m the owner.
I actually just signed a lease to move into a bigger store, so in November I’ll be moving literally across the street where I’ll have a lot more space. Whenever you’re running a business, organization is extremely important, so having that extra room in the new store will be huge for me in terms of staying organized. Right now, I do the accounting, the buying, the trading and ship things out to the post office. I literally do 100 different jobs that are necessary in order for the store to function. When we move into the new store, I’ll be able to delegate more, which will make things much easier for me.
Kee: Does moving locations feel weird for you considering your current store is so iconic and is where your brand was built?
Spitz: It’s going to be very difficult because my current store is like home to me. I would love to keep both, but rent is so high in New York City that having both stores would be too expensive. Plus, I would have to employ both stores which would be very stressful to manage. Maybe I’d be able to if my store was based in Idaho, but with New York rent your options are limited.
Kee: When people visit your store, what do you want them to say about it when they leave?
Spitz: The cool part about my job is that I get to help people find their holy grail. It’s very important to me that the customer leaves with what they came looking for. My goal is to also give customers the greatest customer service they’ve ever had. That’s the biggest thing to me. My store is small and my rent is expensive, so because of that my products are going to be a little pricier than usual, but as soon as you walk into my store I will treat you like God and will do my best to help you in any way that I can. I think people appreciate that and are more willing to do business with me because of it.
Kee: You've got a pretty serious game worn NBA jersey collection. How'd you get into collecting those and how many do you own?
Spitz: Here’s the thing. I’m a collector at heart. Before I opened the store I was collecting Champion replica jerseys. Then when authentic game worn jerseys started rolling into the store I started collecting those. It’s actually become a problem. I've spent way too much money on them. My collection has gone from six to about 150. The thing I love about game worn jerseys is that they're not only collectors items, but I also wear them, unlike most collectors. They’re basically my uniform for work. The same way a lawyer wears a suit and tie to work, I wear game worn NBA jerseys to the store everyday.
As a Knicks fan, I have Patrick Ewing’s game worn 50th Anniversary jersey. I’m obsessed with the New Jersey Nets throwback tie-dye design, so I bought a game worn Sam Bowie jersey. I love the vintage Raptors, Hawks and Bucks jerseys. I also love All-Star game jerseys because of how rare they are. Players only wear them one time, so they’re extremely hard to find. I have Patrick Ewing and Hakeem Olajuwon’s game worn All-Star jerseys.
I’m all about the design of the jersey. The player doesn’t mean very much to me. For example, I have a Chris Crawford game worn Atlanta Hawks jersey. Obviously, he’s a no name player, but I love the aesthetics of the jersey so much that it doesn’t matter who wore it. Also, the bigger the player, the heavier the price tag. I paid $500 for the Chris Crawford jersey, whereas, a Dikembe Mutombo Hawks jersey would cost around $1,500.
Kee: Collaborations and projects wise, what are some things you have planned to continue expanding the Mr. Throwback brand?
Spitz: Working with companies like Chalk Line, Starter and SLAM Magazine have been amazing, but I’d love to design my own product and sell it at other stores. For example, a goal of mine is to be at Agenda and to have people see my Mr. Throwback clothing line and want to sell it at their own stores. I also want to have a seasonal clothing line the same way Supreme does. When it’s the summer, I want people to be excited for my summer clothing line, and when it’s winter, I want people to be excited about the jackets and sweaters we’re producing. I’d say those are my next moves; not only working with other established brands, but building a true Mr. Throwback clothing line.