The tricky aspect of exclusive, hard-to-get items is that they’re exclusive and hard to get, which is exactly how Gab Waller has carved out a corner of Instagram for herself to become the app’s luxury sourcing maestro to the stars.
The Australia native was spending time in Los Angeles and increasingly noticing items that she knew they wouldn’t receive back in Sydney. This sparked the thought that — though personal shopping and styling as concepts are nothing groundbreaking — perhaps she could iterate on the traditional conceit by sourcing pieces unavailable in someone’s home market — and for a new, digital-first audience.
Returning home, the fashion enthusiast — but by no means professional (“I definitely wasn’t known within the fashion industry down here in Australia,” she notes) — catalyzed her business by cold direct messaging potential clients on Instagram, pitching the idea of delivering them items that they were seeing across the internet but had no access to Down Under, and crossing her fingers. “I really just had to prove myself to them in those early days, because I was just this random girl.”
Officially launching her business via the @gabwallerdotcom Instagram account in June 2018 wasn’t without its challenges. “I was getting hit with a lot of setbacks of, ‘No, we don’t know you; you don’t have a buying record.’ I think the biggest thing was I wasn’t a VIP client at any of these brands. I was not living that lifestyle financially,” Waller says with a laugh. “So I really was a stranger coming into Chanel and saying, ‘Hey, can I source some of your most highly requested pieces?’”
There were logistical issues, too: “In those very early days, I have very vivid memories of being up at 2 a.m., sitting on the phone. I was quite literally calling boutiques in Paris, and that was so tough because I don’t speak French and there’s phone connections going wrong. But in the early days, that’s what I did.” It didn’t take her long to realize that that wasn’t scalable, or personally sustainable, and she hired someone to help her in Paris, her main sourcing hub. She now has sourcing assistants based in various regions around the world, so that clients in places like Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai and the U.S. are covered.
Going from sitting in her home haggling with the French to leading an international team of luxury goods huntsmen didn’t happen overnight, naturally, but rarely does one event change the course of a nascent business the way that Waller’s was rocked in December 2018.
Model and actress Rosie Huntington-Whiteley posted a photo of a Celine coat on her Instagram stories lamenting that she couldn’t find it, asking for help. Waller said, “I remember seeing that [coat] and I knew that I could potentially get it based off a conversation I was having with a boutique in Denmark about it a week prior,” but she declined to reach out. “I never thought to reach out because I didn’t think that she would see my DM. About a week later, a mutual friend that we have in the States DM’d me. I guess she was aware of what I was doing just purely through Instagram. She said, ‘Hey, I’m speaking with Rosie right now. Do you think you can get her that coat?’ And I replied, ‘I think I can.’”
Huntington-Whiteley tagged Waller’s personal and professional accounts the following week while wearing the coat and everything changed. “I remember waking up and my Instagram was going absolutely mental. It was unlike anything I had ever seen. And following that, some press pieces came out about this Australian girl locating Rosie’s coat, and that was really what introduced me into getting my first celebrity clients.”
From that moment on, she began being courted by the young fashion set’s best and brightest, counting Hailey Bieber and her stylist Maeve Reilly, Lori Harvey, Sofia Richie, Sabrina Elba and Chiara and Valentina Ferragni, among others, as clients. Still, Waller remains devoted to the client base that she set out to serve in the first place: friends and strangers on Instagram. A-lister or not, Gab’s services are open to all at a flat rate of 220 Australian dollars, or roughly $167 at current exchange.
Some clients actually end up saving money, she says. “I love the euro. If I could source everything from Europe that would be a dream, it’s so good. I think that other people don’t know that and maybe that is why some people initially don’t reach out, because they think of a personal shopper as someone very expensive.” And while it’s certainly an indulgence to be able to pay someone to find fashion’s most boasted about (and pricey) items for you, that relatively accessible sourcing fee is important to her.
As is the personal touch. “I’m just as involved as I was from Day One. I know every single order that goes through. I speak to every single client that comes through on DM,” she says. From the beginning, she set out to differentiate herself by being the woman in front of the curtain. “In terms of authenticity, I feel what kind of set me apart from the very beginning was I put a face to my business.”
The notion of authenticity is an important one, especially in light of events like Gucci and Facebook jointly filing a lawsuit against an international online counterfeit business operator who has evaded the platform’s prior enforcement efforts; resale platform Goat closing a Series F round that will allow it to invest further in machine learning for authentication, and eBay extending its Authentication Guarantee to handbags.
The mandate is clear: there is ever-increasing demand for exceptional items, be they the upcoming Nike x Louis Vuitton Air Force 1s (which currently have a 5 million person waitlist for a 13,000 pair run) or the new shearling Hermès Oran Sandal (“They are going to be the death of me, those shoes”), but people are becoming savvier about knock offs and scams. And, of course, knock offs and scams are multiplying at a fever pitch.
This is a leg up for someone like Waller, whose entire brand is built on white glove service and a celebrity clientele — who are quick to shout her out to their massive followings — that reinforces trust with potential buyers. “I’ve been very, very fortunate that I’ve never had to run into issues of clients questioning authenticity. If it was a page where there is no person behind it — who runs this page? who am I talking to? — I think those kinds of issues would definitely come up,” she says. If she’s good enough for Hailey Bieber, she’s probably good enough for me, is a reasonable line of thought.
But a clean track record and satisfied clients might not be enough to keep Instagram as loyal to Waller as Waller has been to it.
The pro shopper muses on this thoughtfully, and realistically, “Instagram is currently my one and only platform. I don’t use WhatsApp for client communications. We do use email, but Instagram is our bread and butter because it’s always been really important to me that I can connect almost face-to-face.…That has been so important in growing the business. But definitely, within a 12-month plan, we are planning on exploring alternative options.”
Instagram Shop officially launched in 2020, touting “fresh collections and products from brands and creators, as well as special curation from our social shopping channel, @shop.” Depending on whom you ask, Instagram Shop is an effective and convenient way to discover and shop businesses or a circumvented feature that just adds to the escalating amount of noise on the platform. It seems clear that the social networking behemoth aims to have everyone shopping directly within the app, rather than being redirected to a proprietary website — and that includes the luxury sector.
To that end, Waller says, “I’ve just had brief discussions of Instagram’s plans for their shopping tool and how they’re really wanting to amp it up. And doing sales through DMs is probably not what they’re really wanting with that tool that they’re trying to push out. So I think we will see within the next six to 12 months, if not sooner, that Instagram will be looking into these personal shoppers because personal shopping on Instagram has definitely exploded within the past, maybe, two years.…I think Instagram will want to have some kind of control over what’s happening there.”
So what does the future hold for the woman — a forebearer of that personal shopping explosion — who is calmly, kindly and efficiently responding to the desperate fervor for Chanel dad sandals, crystal-encrusted Amina Muaddi Begum pumps and Celine athleisure sets? A likely return to LA, where it all started, for one — a plan waylaid by the pandemic. And continuing to service @gallwallerdotcom’s devotees, however that looks. Beyond that, she’s figuring it out.
But it’s OK, she’s good under pressure.