#TejanaStyle: BarbacoApparel’s Culture Couture
You’ve likely seen their T-shirts worn around San Antonio, or for sale at events like the Mercado at Main Plaza. With their bold colors and their cool make-you-think designs, BarbacoApparel’s work is definitely eye catching. Anyone who has lived here long enough will almost immediately catch the visual references, whether it’s a broken piñata, Walter Mercado’s face or just simply “Bean & Cheese.”
Each T-shirt design elicits smiles and laughs, and brings back shared memories that everyone who grew up inside the loop has. And that’s just what the creators were going for.
“One of the reasons we wanted to start a T-shirt line is that we don’t see a lot of positive comments about San Antonio, just a lot of ‘Keep San Antonio Lame’,” said Matt, one of BarbacoApparel’s founders. “We wanted to make something positive for people who live in San Antonio – something that only local people would get. The Donkey Lady, Meximullet those are all parts of our childhood, of our culture”
The three founders Matthew Contreras, Nydia Huizar and Richard Diaz are all native San Antonians, though Matt was raised in Katy and Richard now lives in Dallas – together they had a lifetime of references to help them with their art.
Matt and Nydia are married and work with Richard at the same company. “I would go to Richard and talk about business ideas, we knew we wanted to have a creative outlet,” says Matt. The three wanted to have a different type of work experience outside of their full-time jobs, and have some fun. Richard suggested a T-shirt line and the brand took off from there. The three develop and discuss design ideas and Nydia, who is nearly completely self-taught, creates the art.
Since their launch in March, the start up has sold upwards of 200 shirts, and orders have come in from as far away as Jerusalem. Although their designs are now pretty slick, their first ideas were a little less polished.
“We had some really bad ideas that we thought were going to sell millions,” laugh Matt and Nydia. One initial design featured a math problem: a cowhead + bottle of Big Red = San Antonio. When they submitted their design to a local printer for production, the printer asked what it meant. When they finally understood it was supposed to mean Barbacoa + Big Red = San Antonio, they suggested the trio go back to the drawing board. “We went back and thought about it, and something we hadn’t seen were loteria cards on T-shirts.”
With that as their inspiration they thought about the significance loteria card iconography had on locals growing up. Then they reimagined them for modern Tejanos, like their hipster Calavera complete with black-rimmed glasses.
The approach seems to be a successful one. Sold online via their website and at select events throughout the city (you can find where they will be on their website as well), the team has gotten a lot of positive feedback. Best of all, they enjoy seeing that moment in their shoppers when the concept resonates and they laugh or smile in recognition of the reference. Shoppers even give them T-shirt ideas.
“Another thing I love about the business, is that it lets you connect with perfect strangers,” says Matt. “You have an automatic bond over the images. We all love fideo, we’re all terrified of the donkey lady.”
The three have recently branched out into framed art prints, again riffing off icons and visuals from South Texas childhoods. They wanted to both expand their product offerings for those who aren’t native to San Antonio, and offer something to those young people who love their work, but didn’t always have the $25 to buy a T-shirt.
“Young people really seem to respond well to the company,” says Nydia. “Plus it’s cool to work with more colors and ideas.”
The team says they are always thinking about what they can do next, and Matt reveals they are toying with expanding the brand even more, like potentially cutting boards and some woodwork. But as for their big picture dreams, a licensing deal and in-store retail presence would definitely be of interest.
The atmosphere is ripe for expansion. Movies like The Book of Life, and increased interest in el Día de los Muertos are awakening many throughout the U.S. about the beauty of Mexican and Tex-Mex art. If current trends in popular culture continue, BarbacoApparel will surely continue to grow.