BLACK SCALE | Flat base decoded
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At a time when retailers are wringing their hands and brands are wondering about their future, it’s refreshing to see a street-level clothing company that seems bulletproof.

Black Scale is one of those companies. From modest beginnings making t-shirts in San Francisco which now has flagship stores in New York, LA and is sold in hundreds of outlets worldwide. Part of their success can be attributed to some spot-on collaborations – Black Scale has released lines with artists like Jun Cha, other brands Amongst Friends and most famously, a brand new collection with Rocky and the A$VP Mob.

LF caught up with Mega, one of Black Scale’s two founders, to talk inspiration, burning bridges and how collaborations are kinda like threesomes.

Tim Fisher: I know you've told the story many times, but just quickly, why did you start Black Scale? Where did it come from?

Michael ‘Mega’ Yabut: I started Black Scale in November 2007 with Alfred De Tagle in San Francisco while managing the HUF store. We wanted to come out with a darker line because it was something we were always into and the marketplace at that time didn't have any dark lines available so we wanted to capture that lane. It came from the streets of San Francisco and the Bay Area.

TF: Did you completely throw yourself into it from the beginning and quit your job for it, or did it take a long time to get to the stage where you could make a living from it?

Mega: It was something fun for Alfred and I. We wanted to design tees and coming out with a t-shirt line wasn't a big deal. We didn't exactly know what Black Scale could turn into. We didn't throw ourselves in it at first because we were working full time at HUF, but the brand grew by day and we saw tee's selling more and more through the HUF store and then we starting branching out to more stores and before you knew it we had no choice but to take it full time and take it seriously. It didn't take long at all, honestly. We are only going into our fifth year with the brand.

TF: From the outside, it feels like Black Scale grew really, really fast. Did it feel like that for you, or was it a slow process?

Mega: Time flies so we have to fly with time. I mean, I can't believe I am going to be 33 soon. It was like yesterday starting the Black Scale. It is growing fast but if I sit back and think about everything we have done it's at a pretty normal pace, if that makes sense. We experienced so much in such a short period of time we can say it feels like slow motion at times.

TF: Was there a key moment when you knew Black Scale was going to take off?

Mega: When Keith Hufnagel fired me. Haha. You know, sometimes you have to get thrown in the jungle to learn your way back and you are left with no choice. It was that day I knew I had to take Black Scale to the next platform and not mess around anymore.
I wasn't going to work for any other company because I didn't want to look like I was switching gangs (laughs) but it was important I worked ONLY at one brand prior to Black Scale and not a few because I don't think I could've done what I did at HUF for anyone else but my own brand. You kinda get played out in the scene and you’re doing the same shit for other brands that you used to do for the past company you used to work for and it gets played out.
That's why Black Scale also had to look different … it wouldn't have worked if it looked like the prior company I came from either. I have a lot of respect for the guys I learned from and Keith being one of them, it was important I respected the business to move forward so I can do future business the right way for my Black Scale. Never burn bridges unless you know the other side is about to burn it down for you.

TF: How did your design team evolve? Where did they all come from?

Mega: They are all my friends. Alfred De Tagle is the other half of Black Scale so he's been there since the beginning involved with every angle possible. Teron Stevenson and Geoff Leslie help me out with all the daily tasks we take on everyday from sales, design and structuring the company so we all wear many hats. Our design team is very small. A total of 5 of us now. We have a silent designer out there – we can't say who because he works for a bigger fish in the sea outside of our realm and he kills it. That’s pretty much it.

TF: How would you describe the evolution of the brand's design? Are the things that were important to the look of your pieces back in 07 still important now?

Mega: This is the hardest question always because Black Scale is a story that is being told. Since the beginning of Black Scale to now the aesthetic will always be there and the story will only continue because Black Scale is telling the story of mankind and what we as people have been through in the past, present and what we will see in the future.

I am growing as a person so that means some things about me will change and some things will always stay the same but that's the nice part, because I can incorporate that into the line as it grows. Same with everyone else that follows Black Scale. As a kid you might be afraid of the darker things in life, unless you’re just a rebel since birth, and as you grow and understand what's around you. You see it's not so bad and you might accept some of it and some you might not. That's everyday people. It's balance. Ignorance/Education, Good/Evil etc. So to answer your question, Yes we will always run with our look but as we grow we will add to it and make more pieces that we learn about and make.

TF: Collaborations are a really important part of the brand. Why is that, and what are the key things you look for in a collaborative partner?

Mega: Collabs are good for the brand and they are fun. It's like two friends banging out a chick and high five-ing. Sometime it works out and it’s great and sometimes one gets mad and falls in love with the girl.

TF: What inspires you? Are there other clothing companies you look to, or do you deliberately look outside of fashion and clothes?

Mega: I buy other brands that I mix with Black Scale but a very few and most are just higher end brands that make black clothing without branding. Again, that's just me growing up. Mainly I look outside of fashion and clothes when finding inspiration. Books, movies and travelling, looking at my surroundings and people around me.

TF: Is the look of your website, your stores and your marketing as important as the quality of the clothes, or do you feel like the clothes could sell themselves?

Mega: All this matters. They all work with each other and they all have to speak to the audience the same way.

TF: How important is your connection with your customers? Do you go out of your way to get a feel for the people who buy your clothes?

Mega: Customer service is key. For us especially, because we need more time to explain some of the things we make. Take graphics. Yes, people will come in to buy it because they think it's cool but for the most part we try to educate the customer so they know what they are wearing and can explain it to the ignorant asshole on the street that judges them, if in that case they want to explain it.

TF: If you’re giving advice to someone starting a brand like yours, what's the key to making it a successful and built to last?

Mega: A great team and a great team. Knowing to let go and listening to your team. You have them there for a reason, they can't just be Yes men. Your vision is your vision but having your team understand that vision means they will embrace it and take ownership.

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