Rise in thrift culture has been beneficial to business, says vintage clothing shop owner

Owner of Hobo’s Vintage Clothing Benjamin Downing has been into thrifting for 30 years and says people are accepting pre-loved now more than ever

Benjamin Downing has been living and breathing pre-loved clothing with his thrift store Hobo’s Vintage since before it was a trend. And today, shoppers in the city are buying second-hand more than ever. Reports suggest this could be due to the cost of living crisis

Being unemployed for 18 months right after university and seeing his friends settle into conventional jobs, Ben still didn’t know what to do.

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“My girlfriend just said, ‘You love vintage clothes. Why don’t we open a store?’ So, we raised enough money to pay for rent,” says Benjamin, fondly remembering his university and business contacts (and dear friend Kev) who helped him get started. 

Vintage shop in High street Arcade
From furniture to glass and artefacts to clothing, Ben has dressed the entire store in vintage Credit: Poorvi Singhal 

From ’92 to ’22

Setting up shop in Swansea in 1992 and moving to Cardiff after two years, Ben says “change” in fashion trends has kept the business relevant all these years. In these 30 years, it has changed massively. 

When Ben started out, he opened the store seven days a week. “We just worked so hard for 10 years, just to try and make it work,” he says, billing a happy thrifter for a fleece. 

My girlfriend just said, ‘You love vintage clothes. Why don’t we open a store?’

He worked “hundreds of different jobs” before settling in the High Street Arcade with Hobo’s Vintage Clothing. And today, the four mini Downings are in the business too. 

Hoodies and jackets in Hobo's Vintage - a thrift shop in High Street Arcade
USA sports jackets, oversized fits and all things Y2K Credit: Poorvi Singhal

La Familia

His eldest one, Millie, put Hobo’s on the Gram and currently, the page boasts 6K followers. The twin boys and their elder brother also take turns at the counter. 

Ben credits his kids for keeping him relevant and jokes that they find him “annoying.” His daughter disagrees. “He’s very clever, very business-minded. He’s good at creative thinking and problem-solving and that is how the shop has done so well.

“He also collects all the parts and builds his own BMX bikes from scratch. Anything you could think of, he has already collected,” shares Millie, spilling her dad’s secret talents. This explains the vintage furniture and glass. 

If not into thrifting, he would’ve either been a graphic designer or DJ, says Ben, excited for his kids to attend his music gig in his hometown, Swansea. “I’d love to DJ twice a week and have unlimited funds to buy records,” he adds. 

A rack of sneakers in Hobo's Vintage - a thrift shop in High Street Arcade
Party for sneakerheads at Hobo’s with their collection from the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s Credit: Poorvi Singhal

Looking ahead

Sharing a slice of conversation with a fellow thrift store owner from three years ago, Ben says, “Me and him were sitting and chatting and he said, ‘Vintage will overtake fast fashion.’” This has stayed with Ben and today, he believes the rise in thrift culture has been beneficial to his business but, one has to take care of standards and quality checks. 

“This year has been okay. But, it does go in cycles. The turnover has been good in the last four weeks. We’re not going ‘wow’, look at us,” says a humble Ben, after facing a lull in the lockdown, and delayed deliveries due to dock strikes worldwide. 

And, what does the future hold for him? Shuffling his Crocs, the 55-year-old looks at his thrift store and goes, “We wanna try to keep it going. I’d love to stay here. It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”

What’s trending?
Calling his own style “effortless”, Ben says the vintage trend keeps changing. 

Ben: It comes and goes in waves. For guys, oversized stuff. For girls, a lot of different styles. We’re selling a lot of fleece and knitwear at the moment.

Millie: It changes from week to week. But, knitted jumpers, high-waisted jeans, Y2K jeans.

Store owner of Hobo's Vintage standing outside his thrift shop
You’ll always be greeted with a fresh collection and a warm smile at Hobo’s from Ben Credit: Poorvi Singhal

Biz whizz

Ben’s advice to anyone starting a business

1. Believe in yourself

2. Work hard

3. Love your business, it reflects on your work

4. Attention to detail