Gabe Ricioppo served as the creative director of Need Supply Co. and Totokaelo for over two decades. The Virginia native was instrumental in building Need Supply Co.'s digital identity and helped usher it into an era of e-commerce prominence out of Richmond, Virginia. In 2016, he was similarly tasked with helping out Totokaelo when it was acquired by Need's parent company.

Currently Ricioppo lives in Los Angeles and runs a creative agency called Supergravity, which operates between Paris and LA and includes clients like MATCHESFASHION. We talk about the early days of Need Supply, the growing pains he faced along the way, and the moment he decided to step away from it all and focus on his family, himself, and create new dreams.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Jian DeLeon: Hi Gabe! What's going on? How's LA life?

Gabriel Riccioppo: It's good. It's a little weird with everything COVID, kind of moving backwards. We're trying to go surfing and it's like: “Are the beaches open?” and things like that.

JD: For the longest time you were at Need Supply Co. and Totokaelo as the creative director, and now you've got your own agency. What are you up to these days?

GR: I had the opportunity to take a year to transition, slow down, and kind of recenter. I picked up a lot of things that I'd wanted to do, like meditation and hikes. Funny enough, I got into baking — which became kind of cliché over the last few months — but I started doing things like that. It allowed me to give gifts to friends and stay connected to people. I spent a lot of time living a very simple life, but at the same time I launched an agency called Supergravity launching an agency with a friend, Xavier Encinas.

JD: You and I are both Virginians. Need Supply Co. was founded in 1996 by Christopher Bossola in Richmond. How'd you get involved?

GR: Yeah. I had known of Need Supply since it really started. When I moved to Richmond, it was there. It was a place I would go and hang out. I started to help with little things, just art directing this and that. We built a website actually, but it wasn't e-commerce. Need was really its own little thing. The men's side of the business was really small at that time. It was basically premium denim, [Nike] Dunks, and screenprinted tees.

JD: What were Need's best-selling brands — let's say from 2008 to 2013?

GR: In the beginning, the women's business was always the bigger part. Men's was smaller... We started with the denim and then we picked up brands like APC. It was really that heyday of men's heritage that started to really emerge in the market...We did a lot of business with brands like Gitman Vintage, Reigning Champ, some of those core ones. And then we made a push towards the end into the higher end of the market.

JD: I feel like that was sort of the heyday of Need Supply Co. I remember I went down to Richmond when you had an event with Mark McNairy, and he brought out so many people.

GR: Yeah, that was a good one. I think that was a real beautiful time period for that company...Getting Mark down was one of the most amazing things about that experience. He missed his flight — or his flight I think it got canceled — but instead of bailing on us and not showing up, he jumped in his car and drove like five hours down to Richmond. We had the largest group of people ever come out to one of those Meet the Maker events, and they lined up down the street to see him. We had something special. We were curating it very well. We had a very clear customer, and we were going to give them some big brands, but also turn them on to new things they didn't know. That sense of discovery was really key and pivotal for us.

JD: And then down the line, the Herschel guys came along and became partners, then 2016 is when you guys acquired Totokaelo. How did that change the dynamic with what you wanted to bring to the table?

GR: It was big. I can't downplay that at all. It was one of the biggest events. We'd moved out to LA recently. We were launching Need at the in-house brand clothing line for Need Supply Co. And that was a massive project. For anyone's who ever made a product, I've never seen anything harder that I've ever done. And we had our hands full of that. We're setting up a new office, new culture, new everything. The team that had been so pivotal. You saw the inner workings. You knew how tight-knit the group was, how small it was. That was shifting and changing. That was pretty complicated.

When Herschel got involved, those guys were great. I had nothing but positive experiences with them. They really just wanted to empower us. They were big fans of the brand, and we've worked together with them for years. So they came on. Then the Totokaelo situation came up, where Jill [Wenger] had gotten herself into a tough spot with opening New York and just needed help. That happened really quickly. You have one big business, and then all of a sudden now you have two. And where Need Supply was going at that time, we were probably moving more into a similar space that Totokaelo sat in. They had so much history and being known for something so specific...We did our best. Her business was in tough shape, though, at that point. And it took a lot of work to try and get that back right-side up.

JD: When did you know you were ready to move on?

GR: Yeah. It was probably a combination of challenging situations. They were challenging us internally. You started to feel like you were working twice as hard, and getting half of the results. That wasn't great. The market was clearly shifting. It was tough. We've gone through a series of chapters in fashion that have been really hard. Not that it was fun and easy when we were in it, but it was definitely a lot more fun in the beginning.

I look at the movie Goodfellas, and I was like: “I like the first half of that movie. They made being bad look fun. The second half was rough.” I didn't have the passion anymore. And maybe, I just wasn't as into it. It didn't seem like the path for me was making more new stuff without feeling really connected to a community and a culture. And for me, that's really what it was about.

JD: Here's a good question: Do you still excited about product?

GR: It's honestly less these days, but when something really cool comes out, it just hits me and I'm drawn to it. I'm like, “that's good,” because I know it still moves me. It isn't that it's one designer, whether it's a Virgil [Abloh] or whoever. Like Kim Jones's last collection, I was looking at stuff and I was like: “Oh, wow, this is really good.”

JD: What are your thoughts about the legacy you helped build at Need and Totokaelo?

GR: For me, Need was an amazing project, but I still look at it as like a lot of missed opportunity in a way...because I think we could have really evolved and done a lot more. I've found out over the years that I'm not very good if I don't like what I'm doing. And Need Supply was an amazing playground where we could just do things, and we were very successful at it. It led to other things and projects...So it was really that idea of good things create other good things, and you just need to stay focused on what feels true to you and is authentic.

Stay tuned for new episodes of Vibe Check every Tuesday and Thursday.

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