You may recognize Benjamin Kelly’s obscurely named moniker, Dinosaur Hampton, from his years as the Twin Cities’ king of embroidery. It seemed like every weekend, he and his chain-stitch embroidery machine popped up at vintage shops and makers’ markets, ready to sew a unique detail (or full-on scene) onto shoppers’ jackets, bowling shirts, and accessories.
But as he was hustling around town, personalizing outerwear for the hip-and-quirky set, behind the scenes he was developing his true passion: designing and sewing clothing. “I’ve always loved clothes,” Kelly says. “Especially in times of your life like high school, that’s kind of all you got—the only way to really express yourself is, like, clothes and the music you listen to.”
Though Kelly’s career first drew him to the latter—he has been a musician most of his life and played with bands throughout the Twin Cities—he eventually gravitated back to his love of apparel. Everything finally clicked after he traveled to California in 2015 and fell in love with L.A.’s design scene. “There were all these great brands,” he says. “I went to this one store and told the guy, ‘I love these jeans,’ and he said, ‘Thanks, I made them.’ It just blew my mind. I felt really moved by the physicality of clothing.”
As soon as he got home, he bought his first sewing machine, almost immediately came up with the brand name Dinosaur Hampton (“It means nothing,” he says of the name), and, with the help of YouTube and cheap patterns from Joann Fabrics, taught himself to sew. After a couple of years, he enrolled in Minneapolis Community and Technical College’s apparel tech program to learn the finer points of the craft.
In the meantime, before he felt he had the skills to launch a full-on clothing line—but still wanting to participate in the local design scene—he discovered chain-stitch embroidery. He drove to North Carolina to purchase a machine and lugged it across the Twin Cities to create on-the-spot embroidery at local events and markets. “I probably embroidered 2,000 pieces that are just walking around out there,” he says.
After a pre-pandemic year or two of participating in two or three pop-ups a week, Kelly (mostly) quit the market game. “It was a stepping stone,” he says. “I wanted to grow from there and make fully original pieces.”
Those original pieces—genderless, versatile, workwear-inspired separates—finally dropped in late 2022. They were inspired by Kelly’s favorite clothes: easy-to-wear, no-fuss chore coats and button-ups; straight-leg twill chinos. “I think a selfish place is the best place for any clothing designer to come from, because it should just be all the cool shit they want to wear,” Kelly says.
He plans to add new pieces to the line every now and then, but don’t expect curated seasonal collections or drops—he’ll release items when the time is right. “I’m not trying to out-T-shirt Target,” he says. “They’ve got zillions. I don’t need to do that. My plan is to consistently do things I love and believe in, and hopefully people will follow as such.”
Shop Dinosaur Hampton online at dinosaurhampton.com—and keep an eye out for potential local store collaborations and website drops in the future.
February 23, 2023