Arts » Arts Stories & Interviews

San Antonio’s Inside Joke: BarbacoApparel Designer Nydia Huizar Talks T-Shirts, Tacos and Texpats


  • Bryan Rindfuss
A few minutes before my recent coffee date with BarbacoApparel designer Nydia Huizar, I opened her company’s website to scan through its latest designs. Among the colorful illustrations and slogans Huizar and her crew of collaborators have become known for, a simple sticker design caught my eye.
At first glance the image registered as a sign for Nogalitos Street. But once I slowed down to read the letters it in fact said “Nalgalitos,” changing the translation of the street name from “little pecan trees” to “little buttocks.” I laughed out loud. Not only would you need a decent understanding of Spanish to get the stealthy play on words, you’d need a familiarity with the streets of San Antonio.

It’s in this ultra-niche territory where BarbacoApparel shines as a San Antonio original.

Huizar, an Alamo City native who grew up on the town’s Northwest side, originally intended to work in radio, television and film. After all, she’d graduated from the Communication Arts magnet at Taft High School and earned a BA from UTSA. Instead, she wound up working as an editor for a local educational publishing company. During breaks at the office, she and work friends Matthew Contreras — now Huizar’s husband — and Richard Diaz started mapping out a collective side hustle.

“We definitely wanted to do T-shirts,” Huizar said. “Since I didn’t study art full time, but I always had an interest in it, I felt like T-shirts were a casual enough medium to put my work on.”

Adopting a moniker that plays off of a staple of Mexican cuisine, the trio in 2014 launched BarbacoApparel as “San Antonio’s officially unofficial T-shirt company.”

Evidenced by T-shirts, totes, stickers, prints, buttons and magnets celebrating every imaginable aspect of tacos and tortillas (from the match-made-in-heaven of Bean & Cheese to the sly humor of Corn in the Streets, Flour in the Sheets), a Warhol-esque interpretation of the Q&Q Brand fideo box, a Chorizo Dog modeled after art star Jeff Koons’ ubiquitous balloon dogs, and a mariachi with an avocado hovering in front of his face, food is a consistent theme.

However, the company’s nostalgic brand of humor extends beyond the kitchen to pay tribute to bygone San Antonio locales such as discount clothing store Solo Serve, Handy Andy grocery store and the Hertzberg Circus Museum. It also includes celebrities and urban legends such as flamboyant psychic Walter Mercado, the Donkey Lady, the Dancing Devil and Bette White — alongside her deceased Golden Girls co-stars depicted as Día de los Muertos skeletons.

Now five years into the game, BarbacoApparel can be found in numerous gift fairs and stores across Texas including Whole Earth Provisions and San Antonio favorite Feliz Modern. Earlier this year, Huizar took the leap and quit her day job to focus exclusively on the company, now a tight team of four with the addition of her sister-in-law Catherine Contreras.
  • Bryan Rindfuss
As Huizar confirms in the Q&A that follows, the homegrown biz she launched as something of an inside joke for San Antonians has been embraced by homesick “Texpats,” Latinx communities and others who dig its signature spin on Tex-Mex culture.

What were some of the first BarbacoApparel designs?
We were just brainstorming and trying to figure out what was going to be an inside joke type of item for San Antonians. So, we were, like, “OK, well, lotería is a very popular thing in Mexican culture, so let’s do a play on that, but put Randy Beamer on one of the cards, and a ‘Mexi-mullet’ on one of the cards, and then a piñata breaking apart.”

I see a ton of nostalgia in BarbacoApparel.
One of the things that we noticed when we were setting up at pop-ups around town was that people could relate to the fideo box. And, so, they started talking about, “Oh, I grew up eating this with my family.” And I started [realizing that] a lot of the people here in San Antonio shared this common bond. So, let’s start exploring that — like things of my childhood … And that ended up being a really successful route for us to take.

Are there specific places you look for inspiration?
So as far as this city goes, I’m really obsessed with commercial art and old signage, and restaurants that have come and gone … We also try to dive into Mexican culture. Since we’re all Mexican, we try to think of things that we all grew up either eating — since food’s proven to be a very popular seller — or just little phrases that we may have heard.

I’m curious about your celebrity tributes — Walter Mercado, for instance.
Growing up, I spent a lot of Saturdays over at my grandma’s house and she always had Univision on. [Walter Mercado] was definitely my favorite part of that. [El Chapulín Colorado] is also kind of like a background fixture from my life — him and anybody from Sábado Gigante, although we haven’t used any of those characters … I’ve really wanted to use El Chacal de la Trompeta, which is the guy in all black with the trumpet, because he votes off people he’s not a fan of.

How do people from outside San Antonio respond to your stuff? Do they get it?
A lot of them do. There are a lot of what we’ve been calling “Texpats,” so people from Texas or San Antonio or just with a Latinx background who identify with certain products. You know, they miss home [or] they want a different take on their culture. So those are the people who seem really excited about the brand.

What are some of your favorite BarbacoApparel designs?
Friends Till the End, which is the Golden Girls one. I just really get a kick out of it every time I see it, because I’m kind of a morbid person. So, anything that’s a little dark I really like. It’s kind of hard to put a lot of depressing elements into the business because it’s such a colorful type of thing. Another early design that we did that I really like is the Guacacharro. I grew up listening to a lot of mariachi music with my dad. He used to be a singer. And I’m a Magritte fan … I was sitting and thinking, how could we do something like this that honors the brand and then I was like, “Duh.” But a lot of people don’t get it. … The Periodic Table of Tacos has been one of the most popular ones this year — even though we get a lot of shit because of the peanut butter and jelly taco. Who didn’t have a peanut butter taco as a kid? That’s what I want to know.

I honestly hadn’t gotten the Rene Magritte reference.
Yeah, it’s [a take on his painting] The Son of Man. One of my favorite things to design are the stickers, because I can get as crazy as I want to with the colors without really worrying how it’s going to print out. … I really like the Remember the Alamosaurus [design] … and the Chorizo Dog.

Tell me about the Batas Locas design.
So, I’m a big fan of punk music and … this particular logo, which will be unnamed right now, is so great. It’s just very graphic … It’s something that I wanted to do for a very long time, Batas Locas. Just like the little batitas that Mexican ladies wear, on a clothesline … Originally, I always thought it was vatas with a “v.” And “vatos locos” is a popular phrase. So, that was the initial concept, and I started fact-checking the spelling and I was like, “No! Too good! I’m gonna keep it!”
  • Sarah Cooper
Can you tease out anything on your to-do list?
We’re looking into working with zipper pouches and just doing cute, text-based designs, maybe having some little graphic elements to make it sparkle. We have one shirt that’s in the works. It’s kind of a dark shirt. Matt was like, “Maybe we should try to rework it in a way that’s not as negative.” And I’m like, “I don’t think it’s that negative.” I’m trying to do a Christmas sweater design. It might be too late at this point.

Where can folks buy BarbacoApparel before the end of the year?
We’re doing Brickmas. And Catherine, our wholesale partner, she teamed up with Cristina Martinez of Very That, and they’ve got their own side project called SA Local Market. They do a lot of markets around town, so they’re going to have one at the Pearl. And we’re at Blue Genie in Austin up until December 24.

SA Local Merry Mercado
10 a.m.-6 p.m., Friday, Dec. 20, Pearl Stable, 307 Pearl Pkwy.

Brickmas Holiday Market
10 a.m.-6 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 21, Brick at Blue Star, 108 Blue Star

Blue Genie Art Bazaar
10 a.m.-10 p.m. daily through Dec. 23, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Dec. 24, 6100 Airport Blvd, Austin

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