A decade ago, Leila Peraza moved to London, having decided that she needed an ocean’s worth of distance between herself and her hometown of Houston, where she’d graduated from Alief Taylor High School and promptly spun away like so many others before her. She never expected that, after running out of money in pricey London, she’d be back six years later, nor that she’d meet her husband here—a Colombian expat who moved here along with his parents—nor run a popular Montrose boutique with him, nor live with their two kids in Katy, nor find herself in love with a city she once couldn’t stand. And Peraza really never expected to sell Houston-themed merchandise at her boutique, merchandise that now sells out as quickly as she can stock it.
The 28-year-old opened Space Montrose with her husband Carlos four years ago, but it wasn’t until two years later that sales of Houston-themed merchandise—mostly T-shirts and posters—began to really take off. “We live in Houston and love our city, but weren’t sure how much people who live here would want to have Houston stuff hanging on their walls at home,” says Leila, during a rare quiet moment inside her busy boutique, which also sells plenty of non-Houston-themed merchandise too, from greeting cards to handmade soaps. “We figured, let’s see if other people like it too.”
They did, and soon Space became the place for designers—local and national alike—to sell Houston-branded wares. These days, you can find everything from belt buckles that look like local postcards to coasters sporting photos of landmarks, to triptych prints of the downtown skyline on canvas, to infant T-shirts that read “I [Picture of a Stroller] Houston.” Point being: there’s never been a cooler time to wear your Houston pride on your sleeve. Or your finger. Or your head. Or your wall.
“People are just starting to really love their city,” says Peraza, with the breathless excitement of someone who’s still a bit astonished by it herself. “They’re realizing that Houston is actually great, and they don’t have to move away to places like Austin.”
“Houston has changed so much,” agrees Jaime Loera, one half of the designer duo Joey & Jaime, known for its “Houston Dome Right” and H-Town eye chart T-shirts. “We wanted to be part of that change and that growth.” The pair’s shirts, available only since January, have already made their way into boutiques all over the city. Neither Loera nor Joey Garza, his 29-year-old business partner and a pharmacist by day, is a native Houstonian. Both were born and raised in Kingsville; Garza moved to the Bayou City eight years ago, Loera seven.
“It took living here for me to know how awesome Houston is,” says 31-year-old Loera, who’s a hiring manager when he’s not designing T-shirts. Interestingly, he traces the groundswell of Houston pride not to locals but newcomers, the 70,000-plus folks who’ve moved here in just the past two years. “People want to be proud of something, connected to something. And they want something to show off to their friends, something that shows off our city.”
But natives too enjoy wearing statement pieces like the “Come and Take It” shirt featuring the Astrodome, or the somewhat cryptic Loop 610 shirt—both by Houstorian director, blogger, and T-shirt designer James Glassman (see above).
“It’s a great secret handshake look between the wearer and the spotter,” says Glassman,a self-described “Houston history advocate” who began selling city-themed T-shirts in the summer of 2013 and has high aspirations for his designs. “Civic pride is driving plenty of sales,” he says, “but I’m hoping for nothing less than changing the way Houstonians view themselves and their home.”
Meanwhile, in a city with a sudden, insatiable desire to express its pride, the amount and variety of Houston merch is growing by the day. Suddenly, it seems like everyone from newbies to veterans to Leila and Carlos Peraza can’t help loving what they formerly didn’t—the murky bayous, the tangled freeways, the laid-back attitude. “Both of us were always ready to go somewhere else,” Leila says. “But now, I love it here. I really do love this city.”