How do you bring other people into the conversation? That’s something that I’ve always wanted to do because, in order to reach a deeper understanding, you have to have a bigger pool of people. I want as many people to know about our story as possible, whether they’re Latin people or not.
— Brenda Equihua
Equihua brings an unapologetically Latinx look to the luxury streetwear scene.
Wow. As a brown boy born and raised in Los Angeles who covers streetwear for a living, that feels really f*cking good to type. In fact, let’s run that back:
Equihua brings an unapologetically Latinx look to the luxury streetwear scene.
Yep, still very satisfying.
I first came across Equihua (pronounced e-KEE-wah if you’re struggling) at this year’s ComplexCon. It was one of four labels given a spotlight as an up-and-coming brand to watch by the festival, and we included the Los Angeles-based brand on our own list of the 12 streetwear upstarts you need on your radar. The hype is well earned. Equihua — named after label head and designer Brenda Equihua — made a name for itself with its vivid San Marcos cobija-inspired outerwear.
Cobija is Spanish for blanket, and if you grew up in Los Angeles in the 90s, or have older Mexican friends or family, you’ve likely seen a San Marcos cobija draped over the couch in the living room. For many Latinx twenty to thirtysomethings, the blankets are a cozy, nostalgic reminder of our family traditions. A cobija isn’t just a blanket in Mexican culture, it’s an heirloom. It’s something you pass down through generations; a piece of home you take with you when you get your first place. And thanks to Brenda Equihua, that tradition is living on in a new way that mixes with your most fly wardrobe fits.
If you’re up on the scene (streetwear, hip-hop, reggaeton), you’ve likely noticed Princess Nokia, Young Thug, J Balvin, AK The Savior, Bad Bunny, and an ever-widening list of fashion’s best-dressed rocking Equihua. The pieces are striking and hard to forget. They carry a sense of history and newness simultaneously. And like a good cobija, they have a classic aspect that gives them staying power.
I spoke with Brenda Equihua this week and we chopped it up about the origins of the brand and her driving design ethos. She also shared some new looks from her latest line. Let’s jump in.
I became aware of your brand at this year’s ComplexCon, and as soon as I walked up to the booth, both my girlfriend and I were at a loss for words. She’s from Compton and I was born on the Eastside, we certainly didn’t expect to see something that was so unapologetically Latinx. Is that a conscious effort in your design or is that simply because your designs are a translation of who you are?
Yeah, I think it’s a translation more of who I am, but also the way that I’ve lived my life has been very unapologetic. So my designs and the things that I choose to talk about and the way that I approach my work is very personal. So I think a lot of that is translated in the work.
What specifically about the cobija of San Marcos do you find so inspiring?
Honestly… The San Marcos cobija, the really amazing thing about it is that it touches on a lot of different emotions. Because on one hand it’s visibly striking and they’re very artistic and expressive but they’re also very… well from an outsider’s perspective, you look at it and you think, “wow, this is a lot going on.”
But I think to Latin people, it doesn’t feel like that. It feels comforting. We’re used to having it in our homes, it’s kind of a neutral, believe it or not. It’s like the equivalent to seeing, I don’t know, stripes. I think what makes it visually striking is taking it outside of its normal environment.
So I think from an artistic standpoint it’s very out there. But the other really great thing about it is that it’s also very practical. It’s warm, it’s cozy and it touches on the relationships that we have with our families… to me it feels like a mother’s love, you know?
And outside of the practicality it also has sort of a historical context and it has a beautiful story with how the cobija came to be. It’s just like a combination of a lot of beautiful things and I feel very lucky to have been able to and to continue to be able to explore what that is.
What made you want to translate the blankets into wearable fashion? Personally, it makes me think of my aunt who used to be the type that would rock her blanket at the movies and anywhere she went.
Yeah, yeah. I think one of the most important things about getting to this place, well first I should mention that in order to get to this place and as most things would have it, you kind of go through a lot of… at least I could only speak of this in my own work, a lot of my better work comes from me kind of being in a dark place and being forced to answer certain questions and get myself out of that place and come up for air.
When that happens, a lot of really amazing things come into fruition. And without really getting into too many personal things… there was a lot of things that I was coping with in terms of the brand that I had started and thinking about, does this really feel like me? Am I creating the kind of work that is touching people on an emotional level? I knew off the bat I want to make something that makes people feel and I want it to be deeply connected to me. I want to explore questions like, “why am I necessary in this field?” and “What do I have to contribute?” and “What is missing and why should I even be a part of it?”
I arrived at this concept of asking myself two questions. The first question was what is a “classic” in fashion? Then I asked myself, “what is a classic to you, specifically?” I went through all of my childhood references and things that I grew up seeing, things that are a part of my life now. Just on a very personal level. Again, I was just going through this exercise of asking myself all of these questions, hoping that I wasn’t full of shit and that eventually, it would connect somehow.
So one day I was on my way to Six Flags — I hate this part of the story cause it’s not romantic or cool at all. It’s not how I wanted it to go down. I wish that I could be like, “Oh, I climbed Mount whatever and I was at the…” I wish that I had a better response to how this idea came up. I was on my way to Six Flags, in the back of a van with my brother and my family, and I was sitting in the back and I remember this idea just kind of barreled through me. And I’d asked my brother to stop the music that he was playing and I made an announcement to everybody in the van.
“Oh my fucking God, I have this really cool idea.” And then I told the idea to everyone because they were like, “what is this all about? Why are we just listening to you speak and what’s going on?”
So I announced the idea to my family and just the way that I would expect them to react, they did not give a shit. They were just looking at me like, “Okay whatever dude.” Then my nephew was like, “Sounds cool.”
The starting point for these jackets was a hoodie. So marrying the idea of a hoodie with a blanket because I knew that the blanket represented something to Latin people or Mexican people and that was something that it wouldn’t be difficult or challenging for them to connect with it. But it was this idea of, how do you bring other people into the conversation? That’s something that I’ve always wanted to do because, in order to reach a deeper understanding, you have to have a bigger pool of people. I want as many people to know about our story as possible, whether they are Latin people or not.
How do I bring other people into the story and share it and get people to understand what this is? So I decided that I was going to start with the hoodie. It’s a very familiar silhouette to many people and it’s also very comforting. When you put on a hoodie, you just feel cozy and cool. I knew that if I didn’t do it right then it would become the story that you’re talking about, your tía or your aunt out in the movie theater wearing this thing and that’s not what I wanted to do.
In order to do that you have to master the quality and the design and you have to look at all of the details and you have to engineer the piece so that it’s a work of art and people take it seriously.
So that’s what struck me about it so much the first time I saw it… On one hand, it brought up so many memories from my childhood, because you don’t see those blankets anymore, really. I remember my mom always hated them. She thought they were really cheesy and kind of tacky. But I think for so many Latinx people who are kind of in my age range, in their twenties to thirties, it brings you back to this nostalgic era. But then also the silhouettes are cool. So you don’t feel totally insane for wanting to drape yourself in a blanket.
I think that, to a lot of people, it is still considered some lower-class shit, just to keep it real. It’s kind of like, “Oh, you have a San Marcos cobija?” there is a group of people who think that. One Christmas, one of my tías gifted one of our prissier members of the family, one of these blankets and she was so dismissive of it and we were all super shocked. But to some people it’s like, “Oh, no, we’re not doing that anymore!”
So I knew I wasn’t going to bring everybody along, but again, it was this idea of how do you take this, like you said, nostalgic thing and this item, and then how do you bring it into the future?
I don’t know, I feel like it got like another breath of life. Which is pretty cool.
What do you hope for people to feel when wearing your creations?
I think more than anything, loved. I really want people to feel that when they wear my pieces. I think that love is such a strong feeling and we keep the clothes that we love, even when it has holes in it, even when it’s been through the wringer. If you love a piece of clothing, you will keep it. You won’t toss it, it has value beyond what the actual piece is because you have an emotional attachment to it.
Touching on the emotional side of it is one of the things that I really want to do with the brand. And it’s a large part of why we engage in so much storytelling. Because I want to make the kind of clothes that they feel like heirlooms. That you would want to hold onto and that when you feel ready to let it go… in my head this is how it would go down, then you then decide, I’m ready to let go of this piece and now I want to give it to somebody that is worthy of keeping it and that it has the type of value that the San Marcos blankets have, which means that you take it with you to college, maybe you, you gift it to your child and it just is a continuous, I loved piece.
And every time you pass it to someone else that sense of love also gets passed on with it. And it just keeps growing and growing. That’s what I would love people to experience with my clothes because I’ve never been interested in hype despite the advice that I’ve gotten from a lot of people about how important that is — but I want longevity.
I think that when you buy an item because it has hype behind it then you get it home and then the hype dies down and then what? What are you left with?
The prices of clothing out of small labels like Equihua tend to be steep because of the handmade quality they possess. But I think, for the most part, everything that you guys have is pretty affordable and you allow people to pay in installments, which I think is really cool. As a new label, is it a struggle trying to balance eco-responsibility and price responsibility? How do you navigate that while wanting to make something handmade and a piece of wearble art?
It’s been, and it continues to be, one of the biggest challenges that I face. I think that there’s a large group of people that know that the value is beyond the price. If you would compare it to what’s out in the market, they’re actually super well-priced. But, on the flip side, there is a lot of people who don’t have access to that kind of money and the perceived value of it is, it’s just this thing made out of a blanket and why isn’t it $100? Believe it or not, some people are like, “Why isn’t it fifty bucks?”
And then there’s also the people that are like, “Oh, you need to price your stuff at $1,200 if you want to be considered this and you want to be considered that.”
At the end of the day, I’m the person that has to decide, what is the message that we are sending? If I were to price out our pieces at real market markup, they would be over a thousand dollars. But with that price tag comes a specific audience. And I have an audience that I want to speak to and it’s a large part of the reason why I’m reaching out to stores and being in stores has been a bit of a challenge because we don’t have as high of a margin when we sell to stores. But that’s because I don’t want these pieces to be that expensive and I want them to be a bit more attainable and it is very challenging because we also can’t control the pricing.
Everything that we’re doing is made to order, it doesn’t really help us when it comes to negotiating pricing with contractors. Because you go to a contractor and you tell them, “I have 300 jackets that I’m making,” you get a better price. On the flip side, we can only lower our prices by so much. Because of my expectations, expectations that I’ve set for quality, we can’t make cheap stuff.
I come from a luxury background. I worked in luxury for over 15 years as a designer, so I can’t untrain my eye. Sometimes I wish that I could, I wish that I could let shit go and be okay with it and be like, “Fuck it, let’s just get this money.” But I can’t. I see something and I’m like, “It needs to be fixed. This doesn’t look right.” I’m always pushing for better and better quality. I think a lot of what happens in the fashion industry is the more that people sell, the less they care about quality because it’s just like, fuck it, people are buying it. And then let’s see what we can get away with. Whereas I expect my production to be better than our samples. Which, in my experience of working in the industry, isn’t common.
It’s been a super big challenge to make a quality garment and have it priced at a price point where it is accessible and it does come at a major compromise to us.
But I think that it will help us in the end. And a large part of what we do is try to educate people. People email us and they ask us, or DM us. I try to be as active in my DM’s as possible because there’s a lot of people that ask us questions and “Why are these so expensive?” is one of the biggest ones that we get asked. And just letting people know that there’s labor involved. And I think that, at least here, living in the U.S., you don’t really get to see how clothing is made anymore.
If you go to a restaurant, the kitchen is back there. You hear people working and you can kind of see the pasta being made or whatever the case. And here, you go shopping, you don’t see any of that. So it’s not something that you’re constantly exposed to, which means that you’re not thinking about it, you’re just looking at the garment and the only thing you’re wondering is “Why this is $50 bucks and that’s a hundred?”
That’s where we come in and that’s why our job is to educate people and to explain to them why something costs what it does. Also explaining to them that we are making compromises on our end in order to get them to be the price that people think is too expensive.
Who are some of your most favorite style icons right now?
I get a lot of inspiration from people on the street, but from more recognizable people, I would say I really like Princess Nokia. I like Lil Nas X. I think he’s doing some really cool shit. And Solange has always been amazing.
I like people for different reasons. Some people are better at their everyday wear and some people, they bring different things to the game. Solange, I think she’s amazing for red carpet stuff because she’s always doing unusual things.
What is it about Princess Nokia that you’re really digging on?
I think what’s really cool about her is that it seems to me that she dresses for the mood that she’s in, which I really love and appreciate. You could just tell that she’s like, “you know what, I’m on my tomboy shit today.” And so she’ll wear some like punk tee and basketball shorts. Then maybe tomorrow she’s on her salsa shit and she’s wearing this cute little dress.”
And so she’s not dressing for anyone in particular. She’s just dressing for the way that she’s feeling. You know who else I really like? Rosalia, I think she dresses super cool. She’s super dope. She has that perfect balance between a street style and high fashion but girly, but kind of edgy. I think she’s hit a really nice balance aesthetically.
I’m very into the way that people translate their personality with their sense of style.
I have to say though that most of what inspires me is people on the street. I look at the way that celebrities translate their personal style, but when I’m out walking, especially in downtown, the improvisational part of how people dress is the most interesting to me. When somebody is too hot and they take their sweater off and then they put it on their body. When we all do that, we wear our sweaters differently.
Somebody will put it around their neck, somebody will put it around their waist or they’ll put it on their backpack or they’ll carry it. To me, those sort of things are super, super interesting. The unexpected parts of things. When somebody is wearing a cap and they get too sweaty and then they the way that they place their cap off like the top of their head, exposing their forehead.
What do you think or hope for fashion in this next decade?
Honestly? I really hate establishment bullshit and I hope that more people are able to build on their dreams without having the obstacles of an establishment to prevent them from becoming who they want to become. That’s what I really hope. I think that there’s a lot of people with really big dreams and there’s a lot of talent out there. Now you don’t really have to go to fashion school, I don’t think.
When I started, it was pre-Instagram and there wasn’t really an option to get discovered without working for somebody. So, yeah, I hope that that drives more innovation because as more people start to experiment and stand out from the crowd, I think we’ll be able to see a lot more people getting out there and doing newer and cooler shit.