Cardiff Character: Belinda O’Donnell

The owner of Penny Lane Vintage is leading the way to a sustainable future, fuelled by her passion for all things past

Belinda O’Donnell stood in the doorway of Penny Lane’s dressing room

Dusty Springfield sings I Only Want to be With You as Belinda O’Donnell looks out towards the crowded unit teeming with antiques. Clothed in a vibrant red turtleneck and vintage equestrian blazer, she reminisces on the journey of Penny Lane whilst excitedly discusses the future of the sustainable vintage industry and her ever-changing store.

Penny Lane Vintage is known as one of the top independent businesses in Cardiff. It is an emporium of treasure buried in Wellfield Road, specialising in fashion, jewellery, and antiques; selling objects as old as the eighteenth century. But who is the intellect behind the booming business?

‘Clothing from the Victorian era all the way up to the late 70s’

Here for the 60s

Belinda was introduced to vintage through a scooter club for mod enthusiasts. Often dressing in retro clothing bought online, Belinda entered the world of buy and sell to pass on garments. “Before I knew it,” she said, “I began making around £100 a week selling this clothing.”

Her business journey began in the arcades of Cardiff, before spreading across England. Belinda finally settled back on Cardiff’s Wellfield Road and for almost six years this has been the home of Penny Lane Vintage. 

Lining the shop, vintage clothing hangs in an abundance of colour. Belinda says: “It’s interesting to think about who would have worn the clothing and where they went when they did. Maybe they met their future husband in that dress!”

In recent years, there’s been a growing conscience for the sustainable fashion industry. As this idea evolves through communities and generations, online reports have hinted at vintage and sustainable fashion filling our closets by 2029, pushing out high-street clothing and fast fashions.

Belinda is already on to the re-cycled movement and attributes this to consumers possibly becoming “bored” of fast fashion; the good quality of vintage clothing; and the simple fact they know they aren’t going to bump into anybody else wearing it.

Belinda collects the most unique items for Penny Lane that you’re bound to be the only person owning, from diamante-studded Elvis Presley bags to enormous collaged art-work bragging multi-culture elements. 

Bobbing her blonde hair, Belinda happily boasts a large mixed customer base due to the items she holds in store.  “However,” Belinda said, “your market can be so limited. I get a lot of disappointed customers.”

But Belinda adores her business and never grows tired of presenting her own personality and fondness through her finds.

In discussing the clothing she said: “I love 60s clothes and 50s clothes. I wouldn’t particularly wear 30s and 40s but that’s because I don’t think they suit me, but some people suit a certain era of clothing and look great!”

“Having one of everything is so unique but it is also frustrating!” 

“You might visit in two months’ time and it will look completely different as items come and go” – Belinda O’Donnell

Cherished pasts, unique futures

“With objects, you always think of how people who cherished them would have handled them,” she continued. “All the things I have are obviously treasured by somebody otherwise they wouldn’t be around now.”

Specifically sourced memorabilia encompasses the room. From floral hand-painted arts to old telephones and suitcases that travelled to who knows where. 

Items in Penny Lane are hand-picked by Belinda, who believes it is important to know the story behind each object through sourcing by hand rather than from warehouses or offline like many other vintage retailers. 

“People see it as a museum as they start talking about stuff” – Belinda O’Donnell

Smiling contently, Belinda notes: “I’m so pleased. It’s hard to start a business and very often within the first two years, it will not survive. I’ve managed to survive.” But how does she continue to secure her business’ future footprint?

The future of antiques

In remembering the beginning of her business’ expedition into furniture, Belinda says: “I had a beautiful wall clock when I first opened that I grew so fond of that I took it home and put up on the wall.”

She spoke light-heartedly of the bitter-sweet memory, adding: “What a mistake. It looked fabulous, but my husband wouldn’t let me keep it. I brought it in and it sold straight away! The man who bought it loves it and has been back several times to tell me just how much.”

Belinda hopes to venture further into the furniture element of her business that she established two years ago. She is currently researching chairs due to the rising vintage trend. She says: “From Victorian to modern-day chairs, there’s such a lot to know. And that’s just one subject.” 

Belinda beams as she discusses her efforts in researching each and every item within Penny Lane. Her dedication to detail extends to attending courses to ensure she can bring value to her items. But as the business evolves, her learning is never-ending.

“This business is the sort of thing you could learn all your life,” she says, “and you’d never know enough about it.”