An Interview with Svante Nybyggars, the Urban Hippie
Anyone who lurks pretty heavily on Instagram will probably have come across Svante Nybyggars (AKA @theurbanhippieswe) before. A professional writer based in Malmö, Svante is a connoisseur of classic menswear, and has garnered a strong following thanks to his photos of what he calls ‘aging with energy and style’.
But there’s more to this man than just a penchant for well-made gear—and his passion for clothing is just one facet in a big life shift that came about when he hit 60.
We called him up to find out more...
When did your obsession with clothes start?
When I turned 60 I had a mid-life crisis. I’d not been living so healthily—eating too much and drinking too much. I had been working as a copywriter, I wasn’t in the best shape and I got the feeling that life wasn’t forever, and something had to change, otherwise I might not get to 70. So I quit drinking alcohol, became a vegetarian and started training. And naturally, I felt much better.
Around that same time I started to look at my forefathers—I have roots in Finland—and my forefathers there were peasants and fishermen and soldiers, and they wore things like tweed caps and braces. From there I started to learn about the big subculture around heritage, and from there, I found Cabourn.
These clothes had a connection with my roots, and I soon developed a big passion for them. And over the last ten years, I’ve really been digging deep—regularly going to London, taking a trip to Japan and often going to the trade shows.
What were you wearing before all this?
It was Italian fashion… black blazers and ties.
So it was quite a shift then. What is it you’re looking for in clothing now? What stands out to you?
I’m looking for good quality. I like to mix—sometimes I might have a jean jacket with dungarees, and then the next day it might be an M-65. I think it’s really nice when clothes have a history, but are still up to date—it connects that time with today. These things might be expensive, but you wear them year after year—they’re not cheap clothes that you quickly get tired of.
What about Swedish vintage gear? Are you into that at all?
I know foreign guys who like to buy Swedish military stuff, but I did military service when I was younger, so it’s not so exotic for me. It’s not like the British or American stuff. I stick to that. I don’t know if this means anything, but we haven’t been in war for 200 years—that’s very unique in the world. For me, it’s just not exotic.
Fair enough. How did people react to your big life change?
The Swedish media think it’s a bit odd for someone of my age to be so passionate about these clothes, so I’ve been in so many magazines. They expect someone of my age to be playing golf or collecting cars. But then I come along on my bike…
If anything a man of your age wearing classic, well-made clothing should be normal.
In Sweden, most people are dressed in a very mainstream way. Guys my age might spend a lot of money on a nice car, but they don’t care so much about the clothing they buy.
I think a lot of my followers on Instagram are a lot younger, and they like seeing someone my age still passionate about clothes, as it shows that things don’t have to be too bad when they get older. They say, “When I get old, I want to look like you.”
And are you happier now?
Yeah, much happier. It’s been ten really good years between 60 and 70. So now I wonder about what it’ll be like from 70 to 80—I don’t know. I’m healthy, so I carry on. A good thing about being older is that you don’t care what people think. You do what you like, and if some people don’t like that, it doesn’t matter. You’re secure and you have your identity.
I think this is a very good period of life. They say that the two happiest periods in life are when you get out of your teens, and when you retire. I meet a lot of young people now who say, “I wish I was retired.” Obviously if you get an illness, being old isn’t that much fun, but I’ve been lucky—I’ve tried to stay in shape.
How do you do that? Do you have much of a fitness routine?
When I was 60 I went to a gym very frequently, but now I don’t have a car, and I cycle or walk everywhere. It’s like easy training.
I’ve noticed you’ve got a fair amount of Cabourn gear. Do you have a favourite piece?
I’ve been wearing my Cabourn duffle coat a lot this winter as it’s been so cold. I’ve had it now for seven years and it’s just as good now as when I first bought it. I’ve met Nigel three times now. When I saw him at the Army Gym in London he said that me and him must be the oldest people in his clothes.
Haha he might be right. What next for the Urban Hippie?
I’m part of a documentary made by Stefan Berg that hopefully will be shown on National Swedish Television. The title is Big Boys—it’s about how the post war generation hasn’t aged the same way as our parents did, and features me and another aging guy with a lot of energy called Olle Berggren.
Sounds good. And are you still working as a copywriter these days?
It’s small scale now. I’ve retired from my old work and now just try and get harmony in my life. I feel like I’ve got more time to enjoy life now than when I was working full time.
Maybe a strange question, but how do you feel about your old life now?
It’s okay that life has different phases, so I don’t regret anything of my life before. This is just how I want to get older—I’m thankful and grateful for how my life has worked out.
You seem like quite a wise chap—have you got any words of wisdom to end this with?
If you can stay curious and not become a grumpy old man. You’ve got to talk to the younger people, see how they think and treat them with respect. That way, aging can be alright. It’s good to still have that curiosity, rather than just think, “It was better before.”
Is that a common thing with people your age?
Yeah. But I can’t have that attitude when I’m talking to younger people, as then I can’t communicate. I’ve got to genuinely be interested in how they think. ‘Aging with energy and style’ is my motto.
And maybe 70 isn’t that old now?
No. I sometimes say that as long as you’re younger than Mick Jagger, it’s cool.
All photos by Mats Andersson.