If You Remember The Homies Toys, Their Story Is Even Better
In the late ’90s, Homies toys became a hit seemingly out of nowhere. Kids went from collecting fake jewelry and those little green soldier toys to collecting figurines inspired by Los Angeles lowrider culture. What began as the creator’s teenage passion art project turned into a major company that brought attention (and criticism) to a culture that was often overlooked.
Remember these vending machines? They were often stocked with gumballs, fake jewelry, temporary tattoos and sometimes, Homies figurines.
If Homies sound familar, you might recognize these little dudes.
These little homies toys made their debut in the late 1990s and they definitely left their mark on Chicano culture. You may have pulled out a quarter (or begged your parents for one) to get a figurine from the vending machine.
They were created by artist David Gonzales. His inspiration for Homies? His homies.
Homies were born out of Gonzales’ own love of creating art. At 16, Gonzales started to capture the people of his neighborhood of Richmond, CA where, as Gonzales recalls, every kid in the neighborhood wanted a lowrider for their first car. His first drawings were inspired by his own homies and his first goal was just to have fun with his friends.
“[I] wanted to make my own homies laugh,” Gonzales told mitú. “When they saw the sketch I did of them… it was instant laughter.”
But it was more than just his friends that inspired his art. Gonzales fell in love with lowrider culture as a teen and he says that that too impacted his art.
While at a dance as a teen, he witnessed the power and love of lowrider culture.
“I saw a ’75 creme-colored Caprice Classic cruising in front of the hall with only its parking lights on. The whole crowd of homies hanging out front stopped to stare and whistle at it,” Gonzales recalls. “It was slammed to the ground and was one of the prettiest things I had ever seen. I fell in love with lowriders and lowriding culture that night.”
Gonzales was only 16 when he created the seed of Homies figurines: the Chicano comic strip “Mr. Hollywood.”
The comic strip was the start of the homies toys franchise. At the beginning, Gonzales said he never based his characters off just one person. What he did was he took personalities, styles and names from his homies and mixed and matched to create his characters. Still, the comics were more about just having fun and expressing his culture than reaching for a specific goal.
“No goals except to make my homies laugh and to finish a strip,” Gonzales told mitú about his initial purpose of creating Homies at 16 years old. “I was really slow drawing and spent much of my free time partying. I had no idea what I was creating would be my life’s legacy.”
As Gonzales grew older, he found a full-time job utilizing his art skills…for the U.S. Postal Service.
“Only full-time job I had before I began drawing Homies for a living was I was a U.S. Postal Service employee,” Gonzales recalled. “I started as a clerk there and eventually became a full-time illustrator before leaving to start my first T-shirt company with Homies as my anchor brand.”
Before the figurines, Homies was focused on art and t-shirts.
Though this was the way Homies first entered the world, it wasn’t long until the business stalled and needed a transformation.
“When the run with the Homies T-shirt line ended, before we began selling toys, and I was very close to having my company fall into bankruptcy,” Gonzales told mitú. “We overcame it by perseverance, hard work and good fortune.”
Even though Gonzales almost lost the Homies company to bankruptcy, he kept fighting to keep it afloat.
^^ Words to live by.
Gonzales eventually hooked up with a vending machine company which tried out Homies toys as a “gimmick.” The gimmick? Homies were originally sold as parachute men in vending machines.
That’s right. Instead of green plastic soldiers, they used Homies toys. And people loved ’em. “The marketplace went nuts as they bought the parachute toys to collect the figurines attached,” Gonzales told mitú.
However, while most people were hyped about the release of Homies toys, others criticized the toy line.
“It hurt, and I probably took it too seriously,” Gonzales told mitú about the criticism and backlash he received from releasing the toy line. Gonzales felt like his toys were unfairly criticized for perpetuating stereotypes. He says he was only trying to reflect the culture he grew up with: “I felt we were misunderstood as a culture. Not Mexican, not American, not Texan, not anything but California Chicanos into lowriding. Yes, gangs were part of the barrios we came from, but we were not all gangbangers. Our dress was our lifestyle, and our cars were also.”
Mitú asked Gonzales how he has seen the perception of his brand change over time and this is what he had to say:
Yet, despite the previous criticism, Homies will be relaunching in the near future. Gonzales knows that his brand is more recognized by an older generation, but that’s okay.
“I feel confident that the older kids… from 15 to 60, will gravitate to the relaunched Homies toys as it will take them back to a happy place in their lives,” Gonzales told mitú about his hopes for the relaunch. “Where they collected the Homies toys from vending machines.”
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