Q&A: Pitt alum opens Haus of Vain thrift store


Models sport clothing and accessories from thrift store Haus of Vain, located in Oakland on Centre Avenue and owned by 2015 Pitt graduate Jerome Roberts. (Photo Courtesy of Jerome Roberts)

Thrifting in Pittsburgh is an underappreciated subject. When I discuss my excitement with people about finding a really interesting or rare find while thrifting in Pittsburgh, they look at me funny — maybe because I’m from Brooklyn.

I grew up in what some consider “hipster central,” where it’s almost impossible to find anything cool at thrift stores before someone else snatches it up. Hipsters are vultures when it comes to vintage clothing and will pull out all the stops to acquire certain items. This is where resellers enter the scene. They go to vintage thrift shops and buy out everything they can sell themselves for more than double what they paid for it.

Jerome Roberts, the owner and creative director of Haus of Vain, is not one to let resellers take over thrifting culture. Roberts, a 2015 Pitt graduate in architecture studies and studio art, opened the storefront on Pitt’s campus only two months ago and has since been making his presence known in the City’s thrifting scene.

Haus of Vain is an Oakland thrift store located on 4711 Centre Ave. — squeezed between a pizza place and a Dollar General — with its very own drive-through window.

I sat down with Roberts in his quaint store to ask him a few questions. On the left side of the store, the walls were covered with retro clothing items, from old Adidas to a vintage Bob Marley T-shirt. Over on the right half hung one of the largest selections of caps I had ever seen, with certain items dating back to the ‘90s. In the far corner of the room sat a small check-out box in place of a cash register — covered in memorabilia including old issues of Time Magazine referencing anything from the O.J. trials to a Playstation 2. It truly felt like a store stuck in the past, and here’s what Roberts had to say about it all:  

The Pitt News: Why’d you decide to open up a thrift store?

Jerome Roberts: Well, during school, I simply fell in love with thrifting and decided to start thrifting to save money. So, I just did some thrifting online, I sold stuff on eBay, and yeah — I fell in love with it and became passionate about it.

TPN: Where did you thrift while in school?

JR: I usually went to Goodwill, but ever since I graduated and have been able to travel, I saw how wonderful the world is. There’s just a lot stuff and a lot of places, so I’ve tried to contact other thrift stores that I know about. The collection is all curated, and I try to implement my style into it and keep it fresh.

TPN: What do you want your store to represent?

JR: I want it to represent the culture of the ’90s, which was the culture of unity, and I would say just from my studies it was also a time of struggle and lack of awareness. But as the decade went on, the ’90s as a time in the world has become pivotal to the idea of unity.

TPN: What’s one of your favorite brands in the store?

JR: My favorite is Cross Colors, because they were the first people to do what they did — like the decision to go with baggy clothing, as opposed to clothing that goes more closely tight to your body, and their decision to switch up their colors from just color blocking to include stitch color. I just consider them some of the best from the ’90s.

TPN: What’s your most prized possession that you’ve collected over the years?

JR: My most prized possession is my T-shirt for the LA riots.

TPN: You’ve only been open for two months, so what do you hope to accomplish long-term?

JR: In the long run, I’d like for the shop to be a platform for other artists. I’ve been putting out my ideas and collecting items. I pretty much realized I’m not the only other person in Pittsburgh with these ideas, so I like having a storefront where people can meet and host events and just come chill at. The culture of unity, I guess.

TPN: You also have your own clothing brand, Haus of Vain — anything you can tell us about it?

JR: Haus of Vain pretty much came to me while I was studying architecture in school. The “haus” comes from the Bauhaus, which was an art and design school in Germany. “Haus of Vain” in general just came from me trying to find out who I was. People thought I was vain because I didn’t talk much, just being laid back, so they assumed I was arrogant.

TPN: Pittsburgh is an up-and-coming city. How do you hope it develops in fashion sense, and how you can contribute to it?

JR: I really hope Pittsburgh will become more comfortable with trying to push the limits of fashion. I see a lot of Pittsburgh talking trash about the new and then end up copying something that’s already been done. People need to find different ways to incorporate what they like to do and just make it their own.