Booger Kids started out as a way for San Jose streetwear impresarios Ryan Mante and Michael Ngo to loosen up their design aesthetic and have a little fun.
While Mante’s other local urban-lifestyle company, Breezy Excursion, tends toward more subdued styles, the humorously named Booger Kids gets into a wearer’s face with edgy, decidedly salacious spins on ’80s cartoon characters.
“For example, we did a play off of the whole Simpsons thing, but we have them East Side San Jose cholo style,” Mante says, holding up their “Hoodlums” tee. “It’s really, really just aimed more towards the youth, that’s where the label really defines itself. A lot of our illustrations are made for more of the dancing culture, kids that are into the hip-hop scene.”
From gnarly glow-in-the-dark booger cartoons to turning Plucky Duck into “Drunky” Duck with a party cup to reworking the Burger King logo to say “Booger Kids” or changing the TailSpin logo to say “Mile High” (wink, wink), this clothing line is all about being the life of the party.
“With Booger Kids, we just wanted to make it a nonsense brand, like fun, happy, it doesn’t really matter,” Mante says. “It’s a ‘We’re doing it for our homies, we’re doing it for our friends’ kind of label.”
Considering how in-your-face some of Booger Kids shirt animations are, it’s interesting to note that Mante’s and Ngo’s original vision for the brand was as a toddler’s streetwear line.
“It started originally as a fun kids line, aimed for 2-year-olds to 7-year-olds,” Mante says. “It was just fun animation and graphics. We created the booger guy, our main character.”
However, sales of the kids line were slow to pick up when they first put Booger Kids on the market. The duo decided to transition the brand into a loud men’s graphic T-shirt, sweatshirt and ball cap collection—the sort of thing they and their crew would have fun donning to a club or one of their monthly parties at the VooDoo Lounge.
“Now we have more adult themes,” he says. “Once we dropped the whole children’s line, it just opened up our array of designs into more adult themes. But still, we maintained the animation, and fun colorful graphics.”
Fortunately, this switch-up in target markets worked for Mante and Ngo. In a year, their clothing company went from holding just three steady retailers and storing back stock in their living room to being sold at more than 20 carriers thought the country. They even moved the project into a warehouse in Japantown, which they now share with Breezy Excursion.
Mante says that keeping Booger Kids’ design aesthetic tongue-in-cheek has been a huge asset for them in the increasingly crowded local streetwear market. He says that most urbanwear companies are now opting for more conservative, logo-based trends in their collections—an effort to appeal to a wider customer base in a faltering economy. The fact that Booger Kids has preserved its irreverent, balls-to-the-wall approach has helped it stand apart, he says.
“We’re not being a brand that’s like holier than thou,” Mante says. “We said, ‘You know what, this concept is still awesome, let’s fill that void.’ [Retailers] may carry all these brands that look super clean, but sometimes the buyer isn’t looking for all that simplistic or deeper, meaningful kind of stuff.”
Ngo and Mante say that they want their customers to have as much fun wearing their shirts as they’ve had creating them. “It’s just about kicking it with my friends and having fun and not really worrying about a thing,” Mante says of Booger Kids. “That’s where the label really defines itself. I know it sounds like there is no meaning to the meaning, but there definitely is.”