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Meeting demand for classic clobber.

Byline: Emma McKinney

FIVE years ago, the most lorry driver Kevin Lyne knew about vintage clothing was the old clobber he had hidden in his wardrobe from when he was a Mod in the 1960s.

But now the 62-year-old runs his own successful retro clothing store Top Banana in Birmingham and he rattles off designer labels as if he has spent a lifetime working in fashion.

His radical career change from HGV driver to fashionista came from an unlikely chain of events, and the grandfather-of-five thanks his twist of fate for finding him a whole new lifestyle.

Kevin's inspiration to ditch the motorway for a life in retail came from his stepson, 51-year-old Gregg Nicholls.

"Gregg was always into fashion and got into vintage clothes from a very early age," says Kevin. "From the age of 17 he had his own clothing business and was very savvy."

Gregg ran Route 66 clothing store in the Oasis market in Birmingham city centre, and had stalls at the Bull Ring Rag Market.

But Gregg decided on a change and moved to America, where he trained as a hairdresser. Still keen to keep his hand in fashion, he supplied vintage clothing he found from suppliers in the US to contacts he still had in the retail world in the UK.

"We started talking about it one day and we decided maybe there was demand for the clothing Gregg could get in America here in Birmingham," adds Kevin.

"So he came back from the US and we went on a fact finding mission to the vintage stalls in Camden in London to get an idea if it could be a legitimate business."

Once they decided to go ahead, the pair looked for premises, ruling out the city centre because of high business rates and finally settling on a shop in York Road, Kings Heath.

That was almost five years ago, and the business is going from strength to strength, with 95 per cent of the stock coming from suppliers sourced by Gregg in America.

The shop, which has just undergone a make-over, is popular with people from all walks of life.

"We have older customers who love the clothes they used to wear and young teenagers who want to get their hands on genuine vintage clothing," says Kevin. "If you look at the fashion now, people still love wearing things from the 60s, 70s and particularly the 80s at the moment.

"I think vintage is so popular because it was so well made, really good quality that lasts.

"I find these days we live in such a throw-away culture and things simply aren't made to such a good standard."

With the recession leaving many cash-strapped, Kevin says vintage can mean a bargain, with genuine Levi jeans coming in at pounds 10.

Clothes at the store range from anything between a couple of pounds to pounds 80 for a leather jacket.

The shop sells anything from Converse trainers - a particular hit at the moment - to handbags, skirts, shirts, t-shirts and dresses. The clothes are for both men and women, with even some retro trainers for babies.

Shop assistant Mazzy Snape, 30, who used to be a regular customer at Top Banana before being recruited by the firm 18 months ago, believes vintage will never go out of fashion.

"I've been into vintage clothing since I was a teenager," she says. "I used to be mortified when my mum would give me second hand clothes, but now I know what great value they can be.

"For me it's a way of expressing my personality, you can get such individual things, and really bold and beautiful dresses. I'm quite curvy and I find 1950s dresses very flattering for my figure."

Top Banana will be one of dozens of outlets selling their wares at a vintage fair held at the Old Library, in Digbeth's Custard Factory, in Gibb Street, on June 12 from 12pm until 5pm.

The last fair, held in March, proved a big hit, with shoppers lining the streets waiting to get in.

Organisers hope June's event will be even better.

Spokeswoman Louise Whitehead said: "We were blown away by the success of our latest event in Birmingham.

Who knew that there were so many vintage enthusiasts in the region? "It's a fantastic day out for families.

The stands cater for every taste possible whether you like jewellery, artwork or even miniature models.

"I think that for those who really love vintage but struggle to find what they want, this will be a perfect event to pick something up that's really original.

"There's nothing like being able to add something unique to your home or your wardrobe, especially if it has some history to it."

For more about Top Banana visit www.topbananavintage.com or www.chicksdigjerks.com.

For details about the fair, visit www.thevintagefair.

com

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Vintage looks: Mazzy Snape at Top Banana with some of the clothing on sale.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Date:May 3, 2010
Words:827
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