Michael Holloway

New Shop is Selling Nostalgic Streetwear

Milwaukeean Benny Tralongo opens passion-project business during a pandemic.

By - May 15th, 2020 11:25 am
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SayWerd. Photo courtesy of SayWerd.

SayWerd. Photo courtesy of SayWerd.

For Benny Tralongo, growing up happened fast. At the age of ten, he began working at Glorioso’s on Brady St. — his grandfather’s business. At the age of 20, his first daughter was born. Now, at the age of 28, he’s the proud owner of his own retail clothing store — SayWerd — located at 3475 N. Oakland Ave.

Tralongo officially obtained the keys to the space on April 1, which was previously home to Exclusive Lighting Gallery, a storefront that specialized in lighting fixtures and equipment. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Tralongo was unable to find help to remodel the space, so he took it upon himself —  redoing the floors, building shelves, hanging mirrors and tagging all of the clothing.

“There was a day where I got there at 9 a.m. and ate breakfast, lunch and dinner by myself there and got home after my daughters had been put to bed,” Tralongo says. “It was long hours, but it was so self-rewarding. It was so awesome to have that time to get away from quarantine and to put my energy and literally my heart and soul into this.”

In a way, SayWerd is a lot like the sleeve of video game and cartoon characters tattooed on Tralongo’s right arm — its symbolic of not losing sight of what makes him feel young and happy. Heavily inspired by skateboard culture and streetwear, SayWerd’s clothing meshes old-school cartoons and anime subject matter with hip clothing styles. The designs are all created by Tralongo, who attended Roosevelt Middle School of the Arts and Milwaukee High School of the Arts.

“I was always drawing and making comics, doodles and designs and I just knew that this was what I always wanted to do,” Tralongo says.

SayWerd began as a pop-up in 2017. Choosing the name for his pop-up business was easy — for years, his social media handles have all been some variation of the phrase “Say Werd,” inspired by an spelling error scribbled in a sketch book by a friend. He decided to stay consistent with his personal branding.

“The way that the logo is stacked — its just worn and chipped away — it has this grungy and 80’s skate vibe to it,” says Tralongo. “When I first launched, so many people would say they saw the logo out in the wild like at Bucks games and its doing what I planned it to do.”

SayWerd doesn’t just offer nostalgia-inducing clothing. A shared love of thrifting between him and his fiancee gave Tralongo the idea to also start selling vintage figures, comic books and anything else he can get his hands on that he thinks customers will geek out on.

“I needed something to supplement and sell in between clothing drops so I started doing the vintage threads and collectibles and it really started taking off to the point where I would post teasers on Instagram and they would sell before I even made the actual post,” Tralongo says.

The collectibles act as companion pieces to the clothing Tralogno releases under the SayWerd brand. Customers that find nostalgia in figures or books at the SayWerd shop are likely to take interest in Tralongo’s designs that pay homage to the cartoons that he and many others grew up watching.

“I think its a nice contrast and allows the streetwear to be received better,” Tralongo says. “We’re building a whole culture with it — we’re building this together.”

Tralongo currently has a two-year lease signed at 3475 N. Oakland Ave. His goal is to outgrow the space by the time that lease is up. But for now, he’s working with what he can and offering sales by appointment and curbside pickup for those who order through SayWerd’s website or Instagram page. But even though opening a business during a pandemic might not be the most ideal time to do so, Tralongo’s excitement for the future remains at an all-time high.

“Every day I step into this store and it still doesn’t feel real,” Tralongo says. “After the quarantine, I think so many people are going to be looking for anything to make them happy again, and hopefully having people come in and vibe and geek out together is something I think is a positive thing for this time, and to just have a spot like that in Milwaukee.

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