Benjamin Kelly is the founder and designer behind Dinosaur Hampton, a design brand intended to take an artistic look at things we wear and how we wear them. The mission is to create pieces that embrace your style beyond just looks and encourage you to explore the individuality of your style through custom embroidered jackets, bandanas and other textile accessories.
You can meet Benjamin and see his work at the upcoming Junk Bonanza at Canterbury Park from September 26-28. This interview was happily conducted in collaboration with Junk Bonanza, an event for purveyors and shoppers of vintage finds, beautiful antiques, and artisan-repurposed pieces. When you visit Junk Bonanza, be sure to bring clothing or other items and hire Benjamin to stitch on them - or simply buy something at the show! More info and tickets to Junk Bonanza available here!
Where did you grow up? How did your upbringing shape your ideas about being creative or owning a business?
I grew up in Andover MN, north suburbs of the Twin Cities. My childhood was full of fun memories and I was surrounded by a supportive family. I think creativity is something that grows inside of everyone and when you are nurtured, it is given space to grow. My family had an incredible work ethic and taught me I could be anything I wanted to be like a lot of children in the 90s. I saw everyone around me working hard at things they cared about, so that is all I have ever known how to do.
How did your business, Dinosaur Hampton, come to be?
DHam is basically the most recent invention of mine. As an artist I have made many things—my background is in music and theatre. I have written music, produced musicals, short films, etc… Each idea was awesome in its own right and has come and gone, and I have learned to grow and develop my ideas through them all.
On a trip to California in 2015, I came across amazing clothing brands and designers. My trip was intended to meet with folks in Hollywood to potentially work in television. But I was not grabbed by the Hollywood machine and by contrast felt totally moved by the cool clothes and brands I saw. So then I said, “Screw it, I'm starting a clothing company,” and I did.
Could you talk about the development of your style? Also, I'd love to hear your ideas on what style means to you!
My style is very inspired by vintage garments and the evolution of clothing. Chainstitch embroidery, which is my specialty, is very much an old school way of designing. So the work lends itself to an old world of manufacturing and design. I really love 40s/50s era of clothing.
Style is a larger concept than most of us realize. I believe style is more than what you wear, but it’s how you wear it and how you hold space in the world. For example: I think people with good style are cool, and it’s super cool to be nice to each other and have care and respect, so being good folk is having good style. Clothing is a way of advertising who you are to strangers; we get to choose what we wear and that can relay a personality to the world, the act of subconscious connection is the epitome of style.
Your work is layered and rich with color, movement, a vintage aesthetic, and interesting typography. Could you share some of the designers, individuals, brands, or artwork that have inspired your creative voice?
Vintage garments made by nobodies are what inspire me the most. Like old embroidered bowling shirts that were made by “Joe Noname” in the back of the shop are my favorite. Because the design was intended to be practical and to show perhaps a bowling team’s colors, and yet the beauty and talent it took to invent the work makes me think of all the creativity that lives in all of us. That’s the good stuff!
But I, of course, am inspired by all sorts of content in the world. And it goes in waves. So right now I am super inspired by Marvin Gaye. I have always loved the music, but right now those stories feel extra good.
Do you allow risk or experimentation or play into your own daily practice?
100% of the time. Primarily because I am still learning so much and when I am doing projects for clients, or an original, I am often trying new things—whether it’s a technique or a color, or a design. I am a recovering perfectionist from my life in the performing arts, and I have really become super Zen about screwing up all the time, which I totally do, because sewing is hard, and creating is hard, and if it wasn’t, it would suck.
Being dedicated to sustainability through ethical in house production, and repurposing vintage clothes and materials, what advice do you have in becoming more cognizant of our consumption and avoiding the fast fashion, throwaway mindset?
1. Be a smart consumer; the resources to learn about what you are buying are available and the smarter we all are, the smarter we all are.
2. Don’t beat yourself up for not being Swiss Family Robinson. Meaning, don’t be mad that you aren’t a perfect sustainable system. The global industries are in place for a reason and although fast fashion creates a lot of waste, so does a billion other things that humans make. I repurpose vintage garments, and I also use Styrofoam coffee cups sometimes. It’s about improving yourself and supporting others and using that beautiful brain of yours.
How does living in the Twin Cities influence your creativity or the work that you do?
The Twin Cities is the perfect storm for invention. It feels like an autonomous culture that is its own destination. Sometimes other cities feel like a stop before LA or New York, but MN has the Midwest charm, the big city energy, and it’s fueled by small talk and corn. And we have all seen the incredible minds and beautiful work that has come from this place. Every inch of this city is a work of art, and that makes it pretty easy to be creative.
As a musician I was able to create any style I wanted with any number of artists. And there were places to play for an audience. There is hunger for creativity here, and that pulls the best out of us.
Where do you situate yourself in your work? In other words, how do you think your voice + values shine through your work?
I don’t take any of this too seriously. I recognize that we are talking about clothes, and past the function of keeping us warm, clothes are supposed to be fun. I also learned when making music that there is no master plan or “right” creative choice out there, every color looks great, every style looks great, and whatever choice you make it will be awesome if you think it’s awesome. So I’m just sharing the awesome. There’s a lot to go around.
I don’t need a piece I made to have my name all over it, or a style that is immediately recognizable in the wild. Because once a garment is sold it is no longer my story; it is now the wearer’s time to define that piece as a part of their style. So all day it’s just setting these things free.
What does community mean to you? Where have you found community in your creative work or elsewhere?
Community is everything because people are everything. My community is vast and full of rad folks. Basically anyone who gets stoked about a great shirt, or a dope hat, or a great cup of coffee, or a killer spy television show. These are the people who have a contagious joy whether they know it or not. And these are the people who have accepted a guy like me and have invested in their style and I am honored to be a part of that.
There’s so much to learn along a path like this. What advice could you pass along to someone who is struggling with their creative path that you wish someone had given to you?
1. Creating is hard, but mainly being a person is hard, and it’s supposed to be. That's the deal about this being alive thing. And when you are creating find the thing that you get really pumped about. No matter how small or silly. And let that keep you lifted through the bullshit parts. For example I wrote a musical in 2014. It is hard to write a show, but I had found the perfect pair of shoes for opening night. So it was like, “Man this producing business is hard, but those shoes are gonna look sick… so grind on young one.”
2. Talk to yourself. They’re a good friend.