It all started with the name. The way Danny Baker told it, his New Haven-based urbanwear brand, Local Scumbags, has its origins in a toast he proposed when he was out with friends.
“To the scumbags,” he said.
“To me, in my head, it was all a joke,” Baker said. But, he added, “it had a nice ring to it. And one day I just thought of it.”
The “local” was a crucial addition, as the brand centers its products — shirts, caps, tank tops and totes, among other merchandise — on New Haven.
Local Scumbags, which launched in January, has taken off with a speed that has surprised and motivated Baker, who was wearing an eye-catching gold watch and black Adidas. (“Since I was a kid I’ve been keeping it fresh,” Baker said, adding that he was an avid collector of sneakers as a teenager.)
Jack Mushin, who works at ThinkBig Printing (a.k.a. Big Prints), where the garments are made, said the appeal of Local Scumbags garments is deceptively simple.
“The key is the artwork,” Mushin said. Personal touches — every purchase comes in a drawstring bag — differentiate the hyper-local brand from more generic, big-name brands.
The New Haven-born and raised Baker started with a run of black shirts, emblazoned with “Local Scumbags” in a white cursive font reminiscent of Dodgers uniforms. From the original black shirts (a 50/50 cotton-polyester blend) followed baseball caps, tank tops, and shirts in white, red, neon, and powder blue.
When I noticed a sports-themed shirt at ThinkBig with three all-stars and a frat-boy font, Baker hastened to add: “Oh yeah, I forgot about Scumbag University,” Local Scumbags’ line of college-themed clothing.
Local Scumbags’ production takes place at ThinkBig in East Haven, where Baker’s business associate, Mark Azzolina, uses a silk-screening and heat-sealing process to make the garments. Because the runs are still relatively small — typically 60 shirts at a time — the whole process is done by hand.
Azzolina is proud of Local Scumbags’ New Haven roots and attributes Baker’s success to a growing appetite for local production in urbanwear.
“People want to feel part of something,” Azzolina said. He and Baker had been friends a long time, so when Baker approached him with the idea for Local Scumbags, the two partnered up.
Local Scumbags isn’t the first native urbanwear line to come out of New Haven. Blessed Never Broke and Surrounded By idiots (SBi for short, founded in 2011 and still active) were making New Haven-specific clothing before Local Scumbags came on the scene, but Baker saw an opening in the market.
“There’s a few people doing it,” Baker said. “But nobody’s doing it like me.”
Baker first got the word out about his urbanwear line by making appearances at New Haven clubs, including Karaoke Heroes. Baker, who grew up in New Haven and now lives in East Haven, still brings merch with him in a satchel and sells it on the spot, since Local Scumbags has no brick-and-mortar store. (“I’m everywhere,” Baker said, and even in his movements — loose-limbed, always whipping out his phone or turning to conversation — he looks the impresario.)
Azzolina said that the small supply and informal means of distribution have strengthened the Local Scumbags brand.
“Part of the charm of it is that it’s not easy to get,” Azzolina said. “If everybody could get it, it wouldn’t be cool anymore.” But Baker says his ultimate dream is “to open up a shop in downtown New Haven.”
For now, Local Scumbags markets its wares by selling at bars and clubs as well as advertising through its Facebook page.
Chris Fulcher photographs Local Scumbags merchandise and helps with advertising. Baker and Fulcher met on Crown Street; Baker was a regular at Karaoke Heroes and Fulcher was working next door on 216 Crown at a now-defunct artists’ collective called UpCrown.
Fulcher, a young photographer who grew up in the area and now lives in Los Angeles, does everything from standard shoots of emo bands like Mayday Parade and Never Shout Never to pictures of tattooed women clad in skimpy outfits posing by red bougainvillea. But he says working for Local Scumbags has been a special project.
“I have a lot of love for New Haven, so this hits home for me,” he said.
“We want the photographs to tell a story,” Fulcher added. “The last photo shoot we had was at Karaoke Heroes, which was connected to UpCrown, so we thought that place would be the perfect place to tell that story.”
Telling the story of Local Scumbags at a music establishment makes sense, given Baker’s history. Before he started Local Scumbags, he had his hands in music production and the New Haven club scene. Baker takes inspiration from the rappers Master P and P Diddy (Sean Combs), the latter of whom started the highly successful Sean John clothing line.
“People who came from nothing,” Baker said, “show me that anybody can do it.”
Where He’s Coming From
So what’s next for Local Scumbags? For one thing, it’s going beyond local. “I have people contacting me from overseas,” Baker said, citing inquiries as far afield as the United Kingdom.
A slight uptick in prices will accompany Local Scumbags’ growing popularity. “I’m going to up prices by $5 and that’s it,” Baker said, “because I still want to keep it affordable.” (Shirts currently cost $15, baseball caps $20.) Baker also plans to link PayPal to the Local Scumbags Facebook page so that people can buy his products more easily.
And Baker has new pieces coming out. Local Scumbags released black hoodies about two weeks ago. Baker and Azzolina have been working on prototypes for a skateboard to start selling at skate shops, thus expanding Local Scumbags’ cultural reach.
In other words, Local Scumbags is evolving and expanding. Products have “New Haven” printed on them, to keep Local Scumbags local even as it expands.
“I started putting ‘New Haven’ on it because I wanted people to know where it’s coming from,” Baker said. “I do it all for my city — that’s what inspires me most.”