Even though old school Milwaukee brands like Boy Blue or Mrs. Howe’s potato chips are no longer lining streets or packed onto grocery store shelves, soon enough, you might start seeing them around town a little more often. Or at least their classic logos.
Thanks to Bygone Brand, a Rockford-based retro T-shirt company created by husband-and-wife team Keith and Amy Watson, cities across the Midwest are starting to see a bonus splash of nostalgia in their wardrobes. And now Milwaukee can be counted among hem, as the project recently added a line of Milwaukee-themed shirts, each one emblazoned with a gone but certainly not forgotten Cream City brand.
"Milwaukee’s got such cool stuff," said Keith Watson. "I mean, yeah, there’s Miller and Harley-Davidson, but it’s the little brands that only the locals would look at and know."
The T-shirt collection currently features four old-school Milwaukee brands: Mrs. Howe’s potato chips, Dutchland Dairy Stores, The Milwaukee Road railroad and, Keith’s particular favorite of the bunch, ice cream shop Boy Blue. The line also includes three additional shirts repping non-Milwaukee-exclusive Midwestern and national brands that still left considerable footprints in locals’ memories, such as Mr. Steak, Sandy’s Thrift & Swift and Moon Fun Shop.
The Watsons founded their fashionable blast to the past back in 2013, a passion project that chicly combined the couple’s interests in logos – Keith’s day job is designing – and history. The duo started with a few shirts for some retro Rockford companies, and the idea took off, eventually growing Bygone Brand’s focus toward other Midwestern cities like St. Louis – Amy’s original hometown – Chicago, Peoria, Madison and now Milwaukee.
"(Milwaukee) just seems like a natural fit," Keith explained. "I’ve known Milwaukee my whole life – although I didn’t live there; just going up and around. It’s Midwest, cool and got the same values."
Of course, considering their status as Milwaukee outsiders, the two had to do their research to do the shirts right – and to do the right shirts. To begin, the Watsons took to the internet to get some basic background on retro Milwaukee logos that have stayed in locals’ hearts – and would look good on the front of their chests – as well as to make sure the trademarks have expired so they’re not taking the logos from somebody. The couple then came up to Milwaukee for a weekend to visit the Chudnow Museum of Yesteryear and explore the city for themselves.
After their trip, they compiled and compressed their potential Cream City candidates into a list of about 20 fun possibilities. The pair then turned to who else but Milwaukeeans to help with the next step, pitching the idea out to the popular Retro Milwaukee Facebook page.
"They posted this image of all of these different logos, and we kind of went from there," Keith said. "They got a lot of really good feedback about what people liked and what people remembered and a lot of other ideas that we hadn’t even thought of. It was really a good conversation starter for people just thinking about the history of Milwaukee and growing up. From there, we saw what people said the most of and from what we thought looked good, so that’s where we came up with the beginning line."
That beginning line – printed by the small company itself, where Keith and Amy are currently still the only employees – is currently only for sale for $24 a shirt on Bygone Brand’s website. The Watsons, however, have begun talking to local museums, gift shops and retailers about carrying their shirts in town with the hope of having them available somewhere locally in the upcoming few months. Frill, a shop in Cedarburg, has already gotten on board and plans to have the old school shirts in stock in a few weeks.
While that’s all in the works, the Watsons’ and Bygone Brand are already looking ahead to some more Milwaukee shirts to add to the collection. According to Keith, a Dandelion Park T-shirt is ready to go soon, with the Stone Toad and Pinky’s Bowl both leading candidates for the next batch. And there’s no lack of suggestions coming in.
"I’ve got whole lists I can’t wait to go through; I love old logos, so it’s kind of fun to go in there and do that," Keith said. "But I’ve got a list of about 30 or 40 that we could start on."
There would seem to be no end in sight for Bygone Brand – and therefore no end to these companies’ stories as well.
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.