Alex Dakoulas – Strange Ways
We have been avid Strange Ways fans since we first stepped into the shop and met Alex. As our country and our community fight for social justice and equality, Strange Ways creates a safe space where we can feel understood, finding a items that represents our power as human beings and citizens; and where we can support a local shop and small artists from all over the country.
1. What is your background and when did you know you wanted to open Strange Ways?
I previously was a Graphic and Footwear Designer for Converse and Puma. During that time, I also had my own graphic apparel company. With what I learned professionally and personally during those times, I knew I wanted to open a store that could show my love of lifestyle products and have full creative control.
2. Why did you choose New Haven? What has been your experience in this community and how has it shaped your business?
New Haven is a great small city. It has many things that draw people to larger cities, but without losing that neighborhood charm. I can't claim to be a local, but I appreciate how much people from here want their city to be better and do better. I opened my storefront in Westville, because it has a great community pull—plus it’s one of the few areas of New Haven with dense independent retail. People love being able to support small businesses in town, and that’s allowed our storefront to thrive.
3. How has the current climate affected your business? Do you think it’s important to remain open during this time and why?
We’ve always had a popular online shop, so I saw many people flock to that to continue to support Strange Ways during COVID-19 restrictions. I did reopen the storefront during Phase 2 in the state, as I feel our small shop is low risk as long as people follow some guidelines. We need to be in there to pack orders anyway, so it's nice to welcome customers back in-person while we're at it! It's a very unusual and crucial time for our country in terms of many social justice issues, and we carry some items that speak to topics like this. People want to wear their beliefs on their sleeves (literally), and I'm proud to have a hand in that happening as long as it feels authentic.
4. Can you tell us about your business and what’s something you would recommend to someone who’s never been there?
Strange Ways focuses on independent artists and small brands. We source from creative entrepreneurs, while sticking to our “strange” vibe. We specialize in pins and patches, as many of our customers love to customize their clothes and show off their personal style. People tend to come in for those items, but always end up buying something else too! If people want to get a glimpse into what the store is like, I suggest browsing our Instagram and checking out our Google listing. I spend a lot of time on social media making sure things are updated and representing the shop well.
5. Your shop sells merchandise that touches on tough topics such as mental illness and inspire equality in sex, gender, race and culture. What do you feel is the importance of selling these items and representing these topics?
Strange Ways is a lifestyle shop, and as silly as that sounds, we carry items that speak to people's lives. I'd rather have 10 people love our shop, than 100 people think it's an OK place to shop at. With that, I think it's important to have a voice. Really all of Strange Ways is about expressing oneself, and I choose to carry what I like, believe in, and want to put out there more. Luckily, customers respond to that. We're a shop for the underdogs. I don't think people should be ashamed of their differences, it's what makes them unique. I've always connected more with people who are marginalized. They also have the most unique things to say and create! I think being a gay man, I know how great it is to see fun, cool product that speaks to my identity that's maybe not always represented. If I can do that for other people, I want to.
6. Do you have any advice for young LGBTQ+ who are starting their careers or their own businesses?
Perhaps this is just the area I live in and decided to have my business, but putting our queerness out there has exponentially drawn people to us versus pushed people away. I think it's less about people wanting to support LGBTQ+ businesses (I do think it's become much more welcoming the last decade), and more about customers wanting something real. When people shop at a small business or work with a sole individual, they are supporting *you*. People want to know who you are, and authenticity is golden. Be yourself, and your crew will find you.
For more, follow them at @shopstrangeways and shop at www.strange-ways.com!
Photography by: Lisa Tedesco and Aces Imagery