Tucson Citizen
Tuesday, July 19, 2005

It's cool to be naco (tacky)

The Associated Press

MEXICO CITY - Do you applaud at the end of a movie? Does your cell phone ring to "La Cucaracha"? Do you have lawn furniture in your living room? Answers in the affirmative might mean you're "naco" (pronounced NAH-koh) - Mexican slang for "tacky" or "low-class." But don't fret. In a culture hypersensitive to social status, two young designers are embracing all things once considered gauche in Mexico and making a profit by turning class consciousness on its head.

Edoardo Chavarin and Robby Vient produce T-shirts for boutiques across Mexico, California, Arizona, Florida and Illinois with proclamations like "Ser Naco es Chido," or "Being Naco is Cool." Their company name? NaCo., of course.

Retailing for $20, the shirts generated some $1 million in sales last year.

"We started out by saying, how come everything we wear is in English?" said Chavarin, a 29-year-old Tijuana native who founded the company with Vient, a Mexican-American. "Spanish can be funny, too."

The two met while studying art and design in Pasadena, Calif. They often use Spanglish - a mix of Spanish and English frowned upon by Mexico's elite - to create funny sayings for their shirts.

Naco for "Star Wars" becomes "Estar Guars." Staff is "Estaff." "The Beatles," "Los Bitles."

"There was a boom. I didn't think it would last. Fashion changes quickly," said Miguel Angel Charrasco, manager of Klute boutique in Mexico City, which carries NaCo. shirts. "But the shirts keep selling."

A few blocks away is NaCo.'s own outlet, a one-room storefront crammed with shirts, pullovers and stickers in dozens of colors and designs.

In another shop offering NaCo. designs in downtown Mexico City, architecture student Carmen Martinez, 23, was considering a blue shirt emblazoned with "Guey," Mexican slang for "Dude," for her boyfriend.

She said it's not uncommon to see twenty-somethings hit nightclubs here wearing $150 designer jeans, flashy jewelry and a NaCo. shirt.

"Suddenly, naco has status," she said.

There are nearly 120 shirt designs. One corrupts the NASA logo to spell "NACA," naco's feminine form. Another puts an "N" on the front of Acapulco for a shirt turning the Pacific resort city into a hillbilly paradise.

NaCo. began mass producing shirts in 2001. Chavarin, who also works part-time designing CD covers, gave them to friends in the entertainment world as a marketing tool.

Members of the Mexican-American rap metal group Molotov wear them on stage. Colombian rocker Juanes had on a NaCo. shirt that said "Se Habla Espanol," or "Spanish Spoken," when he was a five-time winner during the Latin American Grammy Awards in 2003.

NaCo. does the bulk of its business in Mexico, and relies heavily on nostalgia to drive sales among Mexicans in the United States.