Company Spotlight: Interview with Cruel World Vintage Owner-Operator Caro

In a world where thrifting seems to be more in the forefront of culture than ever before, Cruel World looks to specifically center queer and trans people in vintage with their collection. It began back in 2018 as an online passion project and creative outlet for owner-operator Caro, who didn’t see himself represented in fashion as a mixed, Chicano queer. 

We chatted a bit more with Caro about Cruel World and creating space for LGBTQ folks in vintage: 

How has Cruel World grown and changed since you started it in 2018?
Working in vintage shops throughout my twenties, I would dream about having my own shop. I was thinking a lot about design, inventory, aesthetic, but less about community and inclusivity. At that point, I wasn’t thinking beyond my own needs and desires for a space. Then, once I started vending and doing pop-ups, I grew out of that mentality.  

As far as tangible growth, when I started the online shop in 2018, I was working part time at a restaurant and renting out my friend’s scary unfinished basement for $20 a month to do shop stuff. I was putting a lot of effort into it, but I knew that the business was going to need a lot of time and focus before being able to go full time.  

Since then, it has grown steadily. I started being able to afford to rent better spaces, and eventually went full time in the summer of 2019. Currently, I’ve got my own studio in a warehouse that is open for private shopping. That’s also where I run e-commerce as well as doing any mending and alterations.  

What has been the reception among customers and especially the queer and trans folks who have found your shop?
It’s been overwhelmingly positive… I get a lot more support than I sometimes feel I deserve, but it’s been very cool to have the level of loyalty that my shop receives. I still have to work hard, but it usually pays off. It feels like a huge honor to source a whole new wardrobe for someone—especially for folks that are transitioning or are shifting their gender expression. 

How do you know when you’ve found a piece that’s right for Cruel World? 
When I’m sourcing in bulk and have to make hundreds of decisions in a short period of time, sometimes it’s as simple as, “Is it cute, will it sell, for how much?” Other than that, my questions are, “Is it culturally significant? Do I know someone that would be excited to buy this? Is it damaged beyond repair?” 

Do you think that the vintage space has gotten more inclusive of LGBTQ folks of different backgrounds over time, or not as much?
Some people may not realize this, but, queers have been buying and selling vintage and antiques forever. We’ve historically had to be resourceful in the ways that we express ourselves. There are some vintage scenes, especially now, that are extremely cis/straight male dominated. I’ve witnessed a lot of casual homophobia and transphobia in these kinds of spaces. But within the queer communities, there is a different set of expectations for how we make a space accessible to our community.  

For the most part, people that I meet in the business are cool or neutral to me, but that might not have been the case 20 years ago.  

Any plans for Cruel World moving forward?
Right now I think my next step is to open a brick and mortar here in Philly. I am only one person, and there are a lot of intimidating logistical challenges, so it’s taking me longer than I’d like. In the meantime, I’m hoping to do some pop ups in different cities—I’d love to do something in my home state of California. 

For more from Cruel World Vintage, find them on Instagram and their official website.

Photo courtesy of Cruel World Vintage and Caro

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