If you’ve seen the burrito blanket, taco Halloween costumes, or various gifs and memes, you know that tacos are more than just a food beloved by Texans and good people, they are also an expression of a way of living, right down to the shirt on one’s back. There are several apparel and design brands at the forefront of this taco couture. Some take direct inspiration from their hometowns, like SA Flavor and Barbacoa Apparel, while others reclaim or subvert terminology or iconography. Here are eight brands worth checking out.
The group behind the self-described “unofficial T-shirt company” of San Antonio is focused on fêting and promoting pride in Tex-Mex culture, especially when it comes to the Alamo City. Its success has led to its products being available for purchase at H-E-B stores and local markets. Like several other taco couture companies, Barbacoa Apparel started off with whimsical loteria-inspired garb and grew into enamel pins, magnets, and more. “We like to joke that we were offering San Antonio tourist T-shirts that only locals would appreciate, or as others have put it, inside jokes you can only understand if you live in San Antonio,” says Matthew Contreras, who helps run the company along with Nydia Huizar, Richard Diaz, and Catherine Contreras. “We quickly realized, however, that we weren’t just appealing to San Antonians and their culture, but to the Latinx culture in general with our pop-culture-inspired designs and wares, specifically the taco tees and accessories.” Popular items include the text-based shirts listing favorite breakfast tacos and clever riffs on contemporary idioms, including “Corn in the Streets. Flour in the Sheets.” My favorite, though, is the “Periodic Table of Tacos” shirt.
M. Brady Clark Storehouse & Supply
M. Brady Clark, an artist based in Georgetown, sells prints, tees, and another items. His “Support Your Local Taqueria” tee encourages everyone to walk the way of the taco. (Full disclosure: Clark designed my social media handle’s logo.)
Que Rico T-Shirt Co.
“Growing up in Texas, tacos are just part of the culture,” say Roman Flores and Isaac Padilla, co-owners and designers of Que Rico T-Shirt Company, established in January 2018 by the two friends who grew up Abilene and now are split between Austin and Dallas. “So for us, it was a no-brainer that we would create merchandise centered around our love for tacos.” But Que Rico, which focuses squarely on Texas’s favorite tortilla-wrapped treat, isn’t the pair’s first foray into fashion. In 2013, Flores and Padilla created Land of the Thread (parent company of Que Rico), which produces men’s accessories (lapel pins, pocket squares, etc.). However, while at a wholesale show in Dallas in 2017, they noticed the lack of LatinX representation from vendors. Thus was born Que Rico, which mixes designs and humor with Latino pop culture and influences from Flores’s and Padilla’s youths in West Texas alongside cues from Latino music and TV, including Selena and Sabado Gigante. There is the signature “I [taco] TX” and a shirt with a piñata dissected into its candy cuts, “Bidi Bidi Fun Fun” and “Papi Chulo” totes, as well as koozies printed with whimsical phrases like “Estoy crudo pásame el menudo.” Since establishing Que Rico, the partners have seen their sales double, which for a company with a small line of available products is pretty amazing. Next up for Flores and Padilla? There is their kid’s collection, plus other lines in development. They are also in the early stages of developing a scholarship program for Texas high school students.
SA Flavor, which Garrett Heath began as a San Antonio-focused food and culture blog after his move from Lubbock, is now a one-stop source for city life and culture, beginning with Fiesta medals. The collectible tchotchkes made and traded and worn on sashes are perhaps the most fun element of San Antonio’s nearly 130-year-old celebration. The first of his Fiesta medals paid homage to the pairing of barbacoa and Big Red soda, a design that also became a shirt. He’s gone on to release a sticker declaring love for the Alamo City’s signature puffy taco (and an accompanying Fiesta medal), another with an 8-bit-video-game mariachi gripping a taco, and more. He also designed and is selling a taco clutch purse. Heath teased to Texas Monthly that his loteria-inspired 2020 Fiesta medal will be puro San Antonio and sure to strike up a debate. But that’s all he’ll divulge for now.
Run by Elena Flores, Sew Bonita came to fruition as a result of the designer’s dual desire to learn how to sew—“my mother was insistent I learn how to sew, but I never had the opportunity to learn from her,” she says—and to launch a fashion line that empowers women and reflects the Mexican American culture that she grew up with in Eagle Pass. The first release from Flores—spouse of Gerald Flores, of Taco Gear, mentioned below—was a shirt with “chingona” splashed across the front. The brand is characterized by loud, vibrant colors and designs that, for Flores, reflect, not just herself but Mexican American women in general and the foundational food. Sew Bonita’s product line now includes skirts, bags, earrings, pins, headbands, even pencils, and fan favorites with designs such as the Virgin de Guadalupe. “In Guad We Trust” and “My Birthstone Is a Molcajete” are two creative T-shirts.
Kingsville native and Arlington resident Stephanie Longoria established her namesake endeavor, Studio Longoria, in 2009. She started selling T-shirts for kids and babies and soon went on to establish her own aesthetic, one influenced by Lisa Frank and Hello Kitty, “but with a Latino twist,” she says. Longoria’s characters bear large black, twinkling eyes and smiles. There are pan dulces, tacos, tamales, mariachi cactus, representations of Frida Kahlo, and Dia de los Muertos calaveras. “It’s very important for other Latinos, Latinas, LatinX to be able to see themselves in the marketplace and to find things that they’re nostalgic about and celebrate in a different way. Not just in our homes.”
Taco Gear launched in 2014 for the same reason that many taquerias open: because of a lack of something. In the case of Corpus Christi-based owner-designer Gerald Flores, the side hustle began with an online search for a taco shirt he’d want to wear. Coming up empty, Flores decided to make his own. “I couldn’t find one that I would wear that I would be proud to wear as a Latino,” Flores says. “Then it became something of a ‘let me just try and make one that I would wear.’ And I did. Then Elena [Flores’ wife—see Sew Bonita, above] was like, ‘I bet people would buy that.’ I made a website for it and put it on my Instagram.” The first shirt was a graphic tee with “taco” in a tattoo-style typeface, the same one that marks Taco Gear’s signature snapback cap. Five years later, Flores has released shirts, hats, hoodies, and more bearing celebratory and subversive designs, including a loteria taco card shirt, one emblazoned with the phrase “Body by Tacos,” and another with a certain global sneaker company’s brand resembling a nearly destroyed taco. Flores also has a video podcast, The Taco Chair; a podcast he produces with his wife Elena, Sew Taco; and, finally, in a fulfillment of a dream, a deck of playing cards. The cards are especially significant for Flores, a former magician and longtime collector of decks.
Nathanael Gassett is a chef and social media maven with a deep love of Mexican food and culture that begin during his college days when he earned the nickname Wero (an Anglicized form of the Spanish word güero, meaning “light-skinned”). His Wero Brand line’s Instagram account is filled with stylish, magazine-worthy images of his clothing and apparel—even a fanny pack with a trompo pattern—but it all started with a design featuring the Virgin of Guadalupe and the phrase “Make Tacos Not War.” This reflection of the unifying nature of tacos has grown into a full line of shirts with phrases like “Pardon my Spanglish,” embroidered Wero hats, jackets, and more. Gassett sees the success of Wero Brand and other taco couture operations as partly a result of the dominant culture’s growing appreciation and connection to the community behind tacos and Mexican food, as well as the individual designers’s acknowledgement of their place in the culture and community. “This is kind of a way of honoring those people and drawing attention to those people,” he says. “We understand that this is a fundamental part of culture and community where we live. And we’re drawing attention to that, even in a small way as part of apparel.”