Returning to my Roots: Unkle Scooty emerging in DC as one of the cities biggest influencers.
Episode 3: Returning to my Roots with Unkle Scooty
Written by: Sope Aluko
What was it like growing up in D.C.?
Scooty: I just turned 36 yesterday so I grew up in the city in the late 80s and early 90s when it was “Murder Capital” and all the negative parts of D.C. were the norm. It was a time where you were either going to use those things as fuel to a fire to do something positive or you were going to let it take control of you and you were going to dive into the same things that took people down that were before you or even beside you. I had a lot of things happening in my personal life with family and I’m just one of those people that decided to take a more positive path towards some serious goals to ultimately come out of the situation that I was in and put myself in a position where I would be able to give back. I grew up with my dad and didn’t have a real relationship with my mom. She was a young mom that had a party phase and I was one of the few kids who had a father they could lean on and I had a family structure on my father’s side that I could fall back on. They all put their arms around me and became responsible for raising me. My mom got herself together and she came around, and we’re best friends now, but it was a very disappointing thing because it was confusing. As a kid, you’re trying to figure, “Why is this way and not that way?” and growing up with my dad there wasn’t a whole lot of warmth. From day one, you had to grow up and learn to be independent and responsible.
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How did your childhood propel you to the next level of life?
Scooty: It was survival and instinct of what it’s like to be on your own at a young age- having to travel across the city to go to school or going into neighborhoods to play basketball that I wouldn’t necessarily have traveled to had I not been playing basketball. It taught me survival. We ended up moving out of the city and moving to Prince George’s County and that was definitely a culture shock and it went back to using those survival skills. I’m in a new place, new people, new system- you have to figure it out fast. At the time, there wasn’t social media and all these things people are able to fall back on. The people that you met (back then) you actually had to know them, like “Can I trust this person? Can I not trust this person?” Not having a glimpse into what I would call the “outside world” because that’s where my mom was at the time, I was stuck in 10 square miles of D.C. and only frequenting five square miles of it. The other five I didn’t know existed. When I moved out to Maryland, that’s when it became more realistic to how huge the world is. Obviously you read books and stuff like you know that there are other places all over the world, but I wasn’t doing a whole of traveling as a kid so moving out there was like, “Okay, there are other parts of the world outside of the city I’ve been living in my entire life.” I was meeting kids that were traveling and I was living vicariously through their experiences, taking vacations and things like that. We left out of the city really early on because of how bad it was here. My father and stepmother were just trying to make a better life for me and give me a better opportunity to do something with my life.
What did you want to be when you were a kid?
Scooty: I always wanted to be a teacher and work in the school system. My dad was like the neighborhood father so watching that example of a person that could be selfless and take on the responsibility of somebody else’s kid. Living with my stepmother and watching her taking on the responsibility that should have been my mom’s made me feel like if I can build myself up to be strong enough to take care of you and somebody else’s kid..I want that feeling. I always felt like it was what my friends needed. The same way that my father influenced them, I wanted to be able to influence them in a positive way.
what were the initial steps that you took that let you know, “I am an entrepreneur”?
Scooty: I didn’t know at all. High school for me was like a popularity contest. It was just about having fun. I had several people in my family murdered before I ended up moving to PG County. Not that it was that much better, it was enough that I felt like “We made it. It’s party time now!” I was pretty popular when I was in high school and I had a lot of fun. I learned a lot from being in that situation because it opened my eyes to a lot about life and living. I don’t want to necessarily look at it like I wouldn’t have made it if I would have stayed in D.C. because I don’t know what would have happened, but I do tell people all the time that when we moved was the thing that saved my life.
You spent some time at University of Maryland, Eastern Shore (UMES) and things got derailed. Talk about what happened at UMES and how you rebounded.
Scooty: When I got to UMES, I had just turned 18 years old, been through a lot, and it was an opportunity for me to relax and I got too relaxed. It was really just arrogance.Before I moved to Maryland, I went to private school until 6th grade. I was already above grade level so everything in high school came super easy to me. I never developed study habits. Comprehension really wasn’t’ a strong point for me because there was certain stuff I would skip over. When I got to school, I thought I could do the exact same thing and it was a rude awakening and it got to the point where I started off being behind and it was a snowball effect. You have that class on Monday and they give you chapters to read with assignments and you’re like, “I’ll do it on Tuesday because I don’t have that class until Wednesday” and then Tuesday you go to a party or you meet a girl and you’re hanging out in her room...in college one thing you don’t realize is that the work just keeps coming. It just got to the point where it just piled up so much that it was hard for me to come back from that. I was spending more time socializing and getting myself into situations that I should never have been in just being a loyal friend and fighting for people that normally wouldn’t have fought for themselves. I was helping them and ultimately not helping myself. If you get into an argument with somebody, I always felt like he’s arguing with you because he thinks he can punk you and I’m not going to let that happen because you’re my friend...It was always different situations that I didn’t need to be in. You combine those things with not going to class, and not doing my school work, and they were like, “See you later!”
What was your first job after leaving UMES?
Scooty: I worked at Foot Locker in high school. If you worked at Footlocker back in the day, it was the upper echelon of all things. There was a Footlocker near UMES so I would transfer there and back during school, but when I finally got kicked out of school, that became my full-time job. What brought me back to a positive place was that I ended up leaving the city in 2005. I had been through a lot of other situations and ended up moving to New Jersey to be closer to New York. My father was like, “ Listen, I just want to give you a piece of advice. Things aren’t working out for you but you have to do something. What do you want to do?” I told him I just really want to study fashion and marketing because at that point I was back and forth between Nike and being a merchandise specialist and and really getting into fashion. I was always into fashion but never thought about making it a career. It was always a teaching and education thing that I wanted to get into. He saw that I kept getting derailed for whatever reason. I told him “I think I keep getting derailed because I really like fashion, my passion is working with kids, but I keep trying to chase a dollar. I keep going for all these other jobs and not even just ending up unhappy, but God would pull the wool rug from under me. Five years went by when I was going through ups and downs and I moved to New Jersey, was there for 2.5 years, ended up getting myself back into school taking classes in business and interning at a boutique. In 2006, I started my first clothing line, Citrus City, with one of my business partners, and it was a great experience because it felt really good to establish something as a foundation. Things didn’t work all the way out with my business partners with that particular venture but I learned a lot. It was enough to catapult me to another clothing line with another friend of mine and what I learned from it was pop-up shops. It was in a store down the street called District 51. It was my first pop-up shop in 2009. Pop-up shops were a new concept but I was coming from New York and New Jersey so people in D.C. didn’t know what a pop-up shop was and weren’t into it. The first pop-up shop I ever did was sponsored by Scion because at the time Scion was trying to reach out to a younger demographic. They were like, “If you’re doing something cool, we want a part of it!” They sponsored the first event and that opened up the floodgates.
how did your companies come to fruition and who you worked with at each brand?
Scooty: Rock Creek Social Club started in 2010 and was the idea of my business partner, Jerome Baker. He wanted to put together a group of individuals who were the “others” in the city. When you think about Black people in the city, everything is always compared to urban but there are many different types of Black people. He just had an idea that creatives-artists, designers, and people that in general embrace culture could put together a supergroup. It was myself, Jerome, Geronimo, Lamine, and Modi, who started Trillectro. We had a launch party, even though we didn’t think we were going to do parties, people loved it. There was no dress code, we weren’t charging people to get in, we had an open bar, or anyone pressed for bottle service. It was just like” “If you come in here and show us love, if this table is open you can stand on it, we don’t care.” I’ve always been super popular and people always knew that I was doing cool stuff, but it was just the fact that the two situations I was in were situations that I didn’t necessarily start. I just came on the tail end still doing what I was doing in school, just trying to help somebody with whatever it was that they were doing. I didn’t have as much influence as I should have and the decision to shut these companies down wasn’t mine. I had the vision but you can’t show it to someone else and even if you do, they won’t be able to see it the way you do. The second company, just had other stuff going on. At that time, two of my business partners at the second clothing line had multiple kids so it wasn’t like they could be in the streets pushing the business. Fast forward from 2010 to 2013, I just happen to be online researching fashion stuff, and ended up coming across Premium Co. which was already an established brand. They weren’t doing clothes, just men’s accessories and jewelry pieces. I would make comments on things that I liked and someone on the opposite end would respond and I thought that was dope because most brands wouldn’t do that. I had been following them for a couple months and I noticed that they had posted the Broccoli City flyer on their IG page, so I go to the page and read the bio...we ended up talking over the phone, agreeing to meet up at Thunder Burger in Georgetown, with no intentions of being where we are now. It was really, “You have some dope products, I know everybody in the city, and I know that I can help introduce you to people and get your stuff out there.” After two months, we were traveling on the road together in Vegas and I thought that if the two of us could survive the time in the room together, we’d be good. We started traveling everywhere and from the traveling he saw how many people I knew that were outside D.C. We had to transition from accessories to a full clothing line.
What’s the vision for Diet Starts Monday?
Scooty: Diet starts Monday is a brick and mortar because that’s how we chose to launch the brand but it’s just our second clothing brand. My partner Davin, and his best friend John Geiger, had been talking about starting a second brand outside of Premium. The talking went on for a long time- hence the name “Diet Starts Monday”, which has nothing to do with health or food, and has everything to do with procrastination that was happening between the two of them. Once they came together to figure out what they wanted to do and named the brand, it was brought to the table and I was just honored to be a part of it and have the opportunity to be an owner. From their hard work coming up with the vision of what the brand was going to be, the only I could do to complement that was to come up with a concept for a retail restaurant/bar so we could launch the brand.using my connections from Rock Creek Social Club and the relationships I had built through Premium Co. in order for us to be able to get this spot. Business has been great. It’s a lot more work than we’ve ever done. We’re talking 16-17 hour days.
If you had to name two or three people that inspire you, who would be on the Mount Rushmore of inspiration for Scooty?
Scooty: I think Virgil Abloh is dope. I think Magic Johnson is dope. I look at him as a person that’s a fighter and an amazing example of an entrepreneur. He was one of the first Black people that was opening multiple businesses. I would say Barack Obama because people always talk about him and his struggle to get to the point when he was the president but I think about what it was like waking up every single day with millions of people that hated him. He never had a clear understand [of why] but it was something he had to deal with everyday. A person that could take the type of pressure and scrutiny and still love and care about people with a smile on his face it was like, “How do you do that?” How do you not get on televison and just want to say “Forget this teleprompter!” and say what’s really on your heart?
What would you say was your passion and when did you know?
Scooty: I would say I knew from Day 1. Ever since I moved out of the city, it was always a goal for me to somehow get myself in a position where I was going to influence the people that I felt that I had left behind. Every single day with everything I do, it is very important for me to highlight the city that I’m from and shine a light on the people that are being forgotten about today. The biggest challenge is making that happen. Right now in the city, we’re going through gentrification on every single block. It’s not even just pushing everybody out, but they’re watering down the brand, and the culture. It’s great to embrace different cultures because I’m all for that 110%, but I feel like there’s still a beautiful culture is still here in a lot of different pockets. As influencers, we have to make it so we’re talking about it all the time. Kevin Durant won a ring and shouted out the DMV...name another athlete besides Lebron that are screaming their city out on national TV?
What separates people that have made their dream a reality from those who haven’t?
Scooty: Drive. That’s Diet Starts Monday. People that have the potential to do great things but don’t do it for one reason or another or no reason at all. It’s also about passion. What are you dreaming about? Are you dreaming about one million dollars just because you don’t want to be broke or are you dreaming about how you are going to affect and change the world and make a couple coins in between? Kids inspire me to succeed. The kids that I work with and the other that I keep relationship with that are in college right now are following my lead. The further I go the further they are going to go. If I continue to raise the bar high, they have a long way to go. If I give up now, then what?
What frustrates you the most about today’s culture on social media?
Scooty: People living lies. Everyday ballin’! Nobody’s life is like that. Even people with money go through everyday struggles. People make it seem like everything is peachy keen like you’re a rapper and you have a song with Travis Scott but you didn’t have to work to get it because he was calling you. It influences the youth to think that it'll happen like that for them. Everybody wants to finesse and nobody wants to work anymore. Picking my brain has a consulting fee. You think just because you know me or because we’re Instagram friends, I’m just supposed to give you that. It doesn’t need to necessarily be about money. It’s just about this is what I had to go through and I’m not willing to give it up and when you say that to people it’s an automatic attitude. People will think that just because they have 10,000 followers and I have 4,000, I am doing a lot more than you but because you have those 10,000 you think we’re on the same level when we’re not. People will approach you as if they’re doing you a favor. I just opened up a spot with my partner on 14th Street, we had an idea and a vision had a conversation about it in February and were able to open up our spot May 1st. There a people will millions of dollars that can’t even do that.
What advice do you have for the next generation of entrepreneurs on how they can do what you’ve done?
Scooty: You just have to work for it and not work for a handout all the time. You should not look for a handout all the time. When someone pulls you to the side and gives you a piece of advice, or puts you in an opportunity that gets you to the next level, it’s a bonus. Just because it can be done, doesn’t mean you should expect it. That’s just not how the world works.
Interested in learning more or connecting with Scooty?