It’s a special feeling when you happen to look at someone’s shirt and realize that they share the same hyper-specific worldview as you. Gun lovers and wine moms have long had the privilege of seeing themselves in the phraseology worn by strangers. Houston-based retail shop Super Yaki has extended this particular joy to perhaps even more specialized sentiments: Why, yes, Toni Collette should be nominated for an award, Jennifer’s Body is a great movie, and it is always time for Dev Patel. Clothes can be a call to camaraderie, a quick signal that I’m like you. If Andrew Ortiz, who founded Super Yaki, has his way, you may even find a lifelong friend.
Ortiz’s Houston-based online retail shop produces niche pop culture–themed apparel centered on expressing the deepest thoughts of the most committed fans. Over the years, the brand has grown into a destination where people can find items that proclaim their love for all varieties of movies, no matter how critically reviled. See: the shirt that reads “I liked Mike Flanagan’s ‘Doctor Sleep.’ ”
Movies have always been part of Ortiz’s life. The 34-year-old Mexican American recalls watching films one of two ways as a child. He, his parents, and his siblings would frequent the Windchimes Cinema in Alief to watch dollar screenings of second-run films. And, as the family’s post-church activity, Ortiz’s father would go pick up a video rental and takeout barbacoa from La Michoacana Meat Market for home viewings. It was his parents’ way of “immersing [the family] in American culture that we were not part of,” explains Ortiz. “My parents were—consciously or not—trying to make us feel like we were part of this place. What better way of doing that than through movies?”
As an adult, Ortiz flitted between a variety of jobs and hobbies, but movies were always there for him. “The one thing that was always a point of relief was being able to go to a movie theater,” he says, “and over time, it turned into something else for me.”
While he was working as the full-time manager of the Chocolate Bar, a Houston bakery, he became enamored with the power of running a small business and the ability to control every aspect of one’s work life. “If I was going to do something, it was going to be on my own terms,” he says.
That revelation, combined with his lifelong love of cinema, led him to launch Super Yaki on e-commerce site Big Cartel in 2016, beginning with a single item: a pin with the grinning face of fatherly cinematic figure Hayao Miyazaki, the mastermind behind the beloved Studio Ghibli. Sales were slow but consistent, so the shop expanded with other pins created with Ortiz’s now-longtime collaborator, artist Blake Jones. Some other early offerings featured Max Goof from A Goofy Movie, the bearded face of director Guillermo del Toro, and the Spanish-accented pronunciation of “Star Wars” (“Estar Guars”).
Eventually, Ortiz linked up with Houston print shop Night Owls to produce apparel. The first two tees were deep expressions of Ortiz’s psyche—a shirt that read “Movies by Yourself Club” and a “Miyazaki Club” shirt featuring a bunch of Studio Ghibli characters.
Despite the loud enthusiasm the shop’s fans expressed on social media, sales weren’t increasing. A year after starting his business, Ortiz was still working at the bakery and almost ready to give up on Super Yaki. But as a last-ditch effort, he decided to take a risk. “I’m going to make a shirt that just says something very stupid, very specific,” he recalls thinking. “We never really took ourselves seriously, and I wanted to really embody that in the things we were making.” The resulting shirt, released in 2018, declared “Judy Greer Should’ve Been the Lead.” The belief that Judy Greer deserves more than her rom-com best-friend roles resonated with so many people that the shirt quickly became a hit, and business began to grow rapidly. The slogan remains one of Ortiz’s favorite catchphrases.
Super Yaki had found a formula. “We kept doubling down on the dumb messages, and we realized that the nicher we get and the dumber we think an idea could be, there’s got to be someone else out there thinking the same thing.” The business, which Ortiz ran out of his home at the time, soon required more of his attention. He decided to quit the bakery; Super Yaki was going to be his full-time job. Ortiz and his five-person team held on through the early uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic. As more people shopped online—and watched movies from home—sales increased.
Even with business booming, Super Yaki’s portfolio still focuses on movies and television shows that the team and its collaborators truly enjoy. “We very much want to be the champions of the underdogs in movies and television,” Ortiz says, pointing to the types of movies people don’t describe as critically acclaimed works (he lists off School of Rock, The Princess Diaries, and Spider-Man 2). One of Ortiz’s favorite movies is The Mummy, but he wouldn’t admit that when he was younger because the film wasn’t considered respectable. But when he realized it was one of his most-rewatched films of all time, he knew it was time to call it his favorite. “You reach this catharsis point where you’re like, ‘Screw it. I’m just going to watch the stuff that I enjoy.’ ” He adds that the movie “is the perfect encapsulation of what a Super Yaki movie is. It’s just a movie that you love whether you want to or not. You just can’t help it.”
Thanks to artists across the country, the aesthetic of Super Yaki shirts has expanded from simple text designs (though those still remain) to elaborate artworks. Ortiz acknowledges that his “design skills are remedial at best”— hence the early text-based shirts. But soon artists started reaching out to work with the company, much to his surprise. They include Houston artists like Stef, a.k.a. Beanpolice, who designed a shirt with an array of Wes Anderson characters and a long-sleeve featuring the house, cat, and significant items from Coraline.
Ortiz says he told his collaborators and artists to focus on “the one thing that you’re just so much more excited about than anything else, regardless whether you think it’s going to be profitable or you think there’s going to be an audience.” That led to a collection honoring Grease 2 and one featuring swoon-y illustrations of everybody’s favorite character actor, Michael Shannon.
Super Yaki’s shirts and hats make people feel like they’ve found their own private club. Customers share photos of themselves wearing the merchandise, share which movies they’re digging in the social media comments, and wait online minutes before sales open up (normal prices range from $25 to $45) for hotly awaited collections. “There’s so many great people that we’ve met who share this open enthusiasm for the dumbest of things,” says Ortiz. “There needs to be some pressure valve that lifts off steam, because talking about movies can be so serious sometimes. We want to be the less dramatic version of that conversation.” Super Yaki even just launched an account on film-centric social media site Letterboxd. The shop and account are fun spaces where people can really care about what they care about without any concerns about how they come across or if they’ll be looked down upon for their choices.
Even the very celebrities Super Yaki heralds are aware of the company. Judy Greer, Jennifer Garner, and Jamie Lee Curtis have all worn their respective shirts, much to the delight of Super Yakians. Director Cathy Yan tapped the company to create a collaboration for the release of her film Dead Pigs after learning about the Super Yaki line celebrating her. The directors of Josie and the Pussycats learned about their Super Yaki shirt (which states that the film is “the best movie ever; join the army”) and wrote to ask about getting some shirts for themselves. “I’m like, ‘Are you kidding me? I would give my life for this,’ ” Ortiz recalls. He and his crew have sent items to actor Kathryn Hahn, and, as he says: “Just the fact that I know somewhere out there Kathryn Hahn is potentially sipping coffee out of a Kathryn Hahn mug that we made for her is, you know—we’ve gotten lucky.”