O n Instagram feeds and Pinterest boards, a new old way of accessorizing is popular again. Pins and patches—colorful, often irreverent pieces of flair that were, until recently, considered passé and perhaps a little dweebish—are back, and a storefront in the Westville neighborhood is the trend’s local standard-bearer. “I feel weird saying we helped pioneer it, or that we’re at the forefront of it,” Alex Dakoulas says. “But some people have said that. So that’s flattering. That’s cool.”
Dakoulas, who worked at Converse and Puma in the past and started his own now-defunct clothing line Dance Party Massacre, founded Strange Ways two years ago as an online store. A little over a year ago, he opened the storefront on Whalley Avenue in Westville. The small shop—which has been pinged by GQ, Seventeen and Harper’s Bazaar—is brightly lit, tidy and packed to its gills with small pieces of humor and art. There are patches and pins, of course, but also jewelry, art prints, retro candy, zines, vintage clothing, stickers, hats, magnets and soft drinks, from the New Britain mainstay Avery’s. Dakoulas says he is committed to showcasing independent artists and designs, and the result is an eclectic collection of unusual and charming products.
There are pieces that celebrate the sensitive soul with a weep and a wink. “Cry Baby,” reads one patch; “Crying at the Party” reads another, as part of a collaboration with local vintage shop Vintanthromodern. There are tougher options as well—“No One Cares,” “Fuck It” and “Down For Whatever,” for examples, are available to hang on your wall or person. There are New Haven-specific pieces—a few made in collaboration with Da Legna and Junzi, plus a pin that honors the long-gone hockey team Beast of New Haven.
Some items are just plain odd. A large-scale back patch depicts a cat coven dancing around a cauldron. A pin shows a blotchy behind below the words “Pizza Butt.” A pennant offers some hard-boiled advice that sounds ripped from a spaghetti western: “Kill the Closest Snake.”
“I feel like you kind of get it or you don’t,” Dakoulas says. “If you walk in and you’re kind of turned off or don’t get it, I feel like you’re not going to. It is sort of a specific consumer.” Since Dakoulas is the owner, the buyer and the artistic director as well as the person who runs Strange Ways’s nearly 33,000-follower Instagram account, the products often reflect his own taste. “I kinda go off of instinct. If I think something is interesting, and I could see other people being into it, I just go for it,” he says.
Although the store is nothing if not distinctive, one of Dakoulas’s top priorities is inclusivity. The front windows of the store read “No Sexism, No Queer-Phobia, No Racism, Be Cool” under construction paper that passes through all the colors of the rainbow. “We carry a lot of women artists and a lot of queer artists. That’s something that we try to cultivate,” Dakoulas says. As gay man, he says, “I want to stand up for the underdog. That’s a lot of the culture of the shop,” from feminist and queer messaging to imaging that features a wide range of skin tones.
The space itself is welcoming as well, with the friendly vibe of a rec room—albeit a remarkably alternative one. In the back there’s a sewing machine and safety pins for applying your patch right when you get it, which sits beneath a TV/VHS player stocked with slasher flicks and ’80s cartoons.
Many of the pins and patches for which Strange Ways is known aren’t just about social inclusion; they’re also agents of economic inclusion. Dakoulas considers them “little collectible pieces of art,” and sees Strange Ways as a kind of affordable, punky stepsister to more traditional art sellers. “It’s all independent artists and designers, but we’re not trying to be an art gallery. We’re not trying to sell fine art. We want people to be able to come in and not spend a ton of money, and still support artists,” he says, estimating the average price point at $10.
So if you want to flaunt your love of NASA and your distaste for Mondays, but you’re on a tight budget, Strange Ways could be for you. “It’s very much a customizable idea,” Dakoulas says, touting the individualism his shop accommodates. “Everything kind of stands out and speaks to someone… These pins, you see them and think, ‘This is me. It gets me,’” adding that “the way people mix and match them is unique to themselves.”
Because at Strange Ways, it’s okay to be strange.
Written and photographed by Sorrel Westbrook.