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EFE News Service

Latino Designers Make Inroads Into U.S. Urban Street Wear Market

By Alejandra Villasmil

11 December 2004
Copyright © 2004 EFE News Service. All rights reserved.

New York, Dec 11 (EFE).- Hispanic designers are breaking into the United States' competitive fashion industry with lines of street wear that reinforce their identity and draw inspiration from urban hip-hop culture and graffiti imagery.

Established in New York, California and Florida, these fashion artists are seeking to reinforce their Latin identity by including in their creations words or phrases that allude to their origin or history but also reflect the influence of U.S. culture and the urban context in which they live and work.

For example, designers at Industrias Ilegales have come up with T-shirts blazoned with the word "Aztlan," but with the typeface and logo of Atari, the now-defunct brand of videogames, and another that says Mexicanos, with the M a dead ringer for McDonald's golden arches.

Industrias Ilegales is a small company founded in East Los Angeles in 1998 by a group of Chicano artists and activists bent on producing "a quality garment with a positive message."

"We are tired of false representation from big companies with no connection or respect for our cultura or our struggle. We would like to stress that we in no way promote or encourage racism," the designers say on their Web page.

Along the same line, Orale Wear offers T-shirts with illustrations inspired in Aztec and pre-Columbian imagery with an urban accent, featuring phrases like "United States of Aztlan (Rebirth of an Empire)" and "ChicanoPride."

Zapata and Che Guevara are other sources of inspiration for designers of such informal wear.

One of the most solid Latino brands is Republica Trading Company, founded by Dominican Rafael Jimenez, which offers a wide range of designs, including their famous "Choco-Latina," for dark-skinned young women.

Jimenez started the business after his success selling a dozen home-printed T-shirts featuring type similar to that of Banana Republic but reading "Dominican Republic."

Other Latino brands find inspiration in graffiti and hi-hop, originally African-American urban cultures that are increasingly taking root in the Hispanic barrios of New York and Los Angeles.

One of them is Tribal, which defines itself as "a movement, a lifestyle without limitations that transcends boundaries, labels and stereotypes."

"We are not just a hip-hop brand, a skate brand, a rock and roll brand or a west coast gangster brand. We're the worldwide tribal clique, recognized as being innovative since 1989," say Tribal's creators, who have opened branches in San Diego, Los Angeles, New York, Tokyo, Hamburg, Bordeaux, Taiwan, Manila and Mexico City.

Other brands concentrate on a line of clothing that could be defined as universal, making no reference to Latin roots so as to achieve the longed-for "crossover." They include Joker Brand, De La Calle Urban Wear and Boricua Collection.

The latter company, which claims to "merge Latino and Latin identities," offers T-shirts with such phrases as "Super Guillao," "Boricua" and "Latin Passion."

Boricua Collection was formed in New York by Puerto Rican Jose Cartagena in response to "the need to make available a greater range of street clothes with a Latin flair."

As was the case with Jimenez and his brand, Republica, Cartagena started out by selling T-shirts among friends and families. He now boasts more than 15 designs and a branch in Puerto Rico.

De la Calle Urban Wear, founded by Andy Irizarry with the motto "tearing down stereotypes," employs Colombian fabrics in its first collection, as one of the company's objectives is to support Latin American manufacturing.

His designs feature "Old English" type and such plays on words as "Mofoking," "No Tres Passing" and "HisPanic." EFE

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