Funky, fresh threads from the past

Darren D'Altorio

The Funky Hippy in Akron has clothes, décor, art, and literature from the 1960s through the 1980s. Owners Dawn and Richard Ward said vintage fashion has a power reminiscent of the era it represents. Darren D’Altorio | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: DKS Editors

Vintage is a way of life for Dawn and Richard Ward, the wedded duo behind The Funky Hippy, Akron’s wonderland of clothes, décor, art and literature from the 1960s through the 1980s.

If you need an analogy to make sense of the concept, dig this: If life is a big dial representing the rat race, Richard and Dawn have turned it down to low.

Having both spent their lives in the corporate world, Richard as a planner for a large company and Dawn as the president of her own graphic design firm, they decided to take a step back from the hustle.

For the past nine years they have spent their days in a state of simplicity, maintaining a low profile, but standing out in what they do best: finding and collecting things.

This self-described desire to collect and dissipate artifacts of the world led Dawn and Richard to make their brainchild, The Funky Hippy, come to life.

And people are taking notice. Loyal customers come to the store for multiple reasons because they heard there is a new dress or belt for sale, because they need to have a costume for a weekend party or simply because they want to hang out and talk to Dawn and Richard. The store was voted onto Fox 8 News’ Northeast Ohio’s 2008 Hot List as “best vintage and resale,” proving that customers appreciate what Dawn and Richard have to offer.

“People support us,” Richard said in a mellow voice. “And I appreciate that.”

There are a lot of things that make The Funky Hippy a special place. It’s located on Grant Street on the outskirts of downtown Akron. The surrounding community is broken and downtrodden. Even on a beautiful, sunny day, the houses and buildings on the street look depressed.

But the storefront pops against the dismal backdrop of a hurting city. Brightly painted flowers are scattered around a lime green sign that hangs over the front door. As you approach the entrance, the musty scent of incense creeps into your nostrils. Richard said in the summer, when the plants are alive outside, the place is absolutely inviting.

As I sipped jasmine green tea with the couple on a laid-back, glowing Wednesday afternoon, the conversation flowed freely.

Dawn said her life has been in a constant cycle around fashion, stemming from her mother’s job as a seamstress. As a child, she said she remembers seeing the fabrics her mother worked with and being in awe of them. This exposure at an early age led her to pursue a career in graphic design, which ultimately led her back to the origin, fashion.

Richard and Dawn said vintage fashion has a power, reminiscent of the era it represents, a time when people were stepping outside of society’s norms. The clothes represent this mindset.

“People are leery to wear these clothes,” Richard said. “They are afraid of how they will change their persona.”

Often times, people shop for a costume there, using the goods as a method of escape from their normal, everyday character.

But for those who embrace the mindset, this fear is nonexistent. Ownership of the style takes over the fear and a certain self-identity is achieved in the end.

The end – what a concept it is. Many people think the vintage styles The Funky Hippy carries were from eras that ended, places in time that saw their rise and fall. But this store knows no ends. In fact, it’s a place for renaissance.

There is something that people are looking for and trying to grasp by coming to The Funky Hippy, Richard said. It might be a piece of the past, or a glimpse of the future.

Contact all correspondent Darren D’Altorio at [email protected].