A movement to elevate streetwear and promote local artists is bringing cultural pride to East San Jose.
Rap artists, hip hop dancers and live painters entertained crowds at KixCon, an inaugural event held at the Eastridge Center mall last weekend. Featuring brands born from hip hop culture, the goal of the event was to uplift the East San Jose community and inspire youth by hearing how artists built their businesses.
Andrew Espino, owner of 1Culture Art Collective, a downtown gallery and shop, handpicked the lineup of almost 40 Bay Area-based vendors—with half representing East San Jose. Espino, a real estate broker with a passion for art, founded the gallery to showcase local artists. Then he took it a step further and curated KixCon, a pop-up event for sneakerheads and creatives. His hope is to motivate future East San Jose entrepreneurs with original streetwear designs and workshops.
“Streetwear art is something I relate to,” Espino, who grew up in East San Jose, told San José Spotlight. “I found value in sneakers, things that were tangible I could buy and wear. It gave me an identity. I thought about the younger generation shopping or wanting to create their own brand, coming to this event and seeing these brands in person… They love the brands but don’t know about them. Maybe they don’t even know they’re from the East Side.”
Luis Luna, one of those handpicked artists, owns Artes Luna. His streetwear designs on hats, patches and shirts reflect his cultural upbringing in Mexico and East San Jose. His favorite creation features Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec feathered serpent deity, fused with the San Jose Sharks logo.
Luna said in school he got an A+ in art and an F in math—now he has a clothing line and is opening a store in downtown San Jose in September.
“There’s history from my heart being a Mexican-American,” he told San José Spotlight. “The things that I do I create for the culture of San Jose, mixing in Chicano and Mexican traditions. My vision is to share what I do… that way people, especially from East San Jose, can see it’s not always about being cool with gangs. If you know how to do something, it’s pretty cool to pursue it.”
Victor Rodriguez, another artist at the event who owns Humbled Kustomz, said many of his designs are personal. Born and raised near Eastridge mall, he said empowering youth through sharing how he built his business at events like KixCon is important to him. His brand has grown in six years to where he now has celebrity clients like rapper Machine Gun Kelly, who saw his products on Instagram and TikTok.
“To be able to inspire kids is fun,” Rodriguez said. “I get to show them ways to be happy and stay busy. I wanted to speak to people of the community because it’s where I started my art journey.”
Works by artist Carlos Rodriguez, who grew up in East San Jose, dominate the 1Culture gallery. Through his murals, canvases and Reyes Muertos Klothing brand, Rodriguez expresses his cultural identity through art and appreciates Espino’s support.
“He really cares about helping artists grow in their own city,” he said of Espino.
The entrepreneurial spirit was evident at KixCon, from Eastridge tenant Shoe Palace providing racks of clothing to pop-up vendors setting up tables.
East San Jose artist Justin Engel, 44 was checking out the event with his 42-year-old girlfriend Stella Inciarta. Engel said they’re into the arts and music, so stumbling into KixCon was a pleasant surprise.
“The live art is amazing,” he said. “I can’t wait to see what else is here. It’s dope. A lot of dope stuff.”
Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]