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Pilsen, Little Village, West Loop

Chicago Streetwear Designers Find Success With Quality Pieces That Tap Into Their Mexican Roots

The Latino-owned clothing line Gente Fina features a variety of apparel, designed with eye-catching graphics and Chicago-centric and Spanglish phrases.

Abraham Cortez and Manny Cabrera pose for a photo at Gente Fina’s studio in the West Loop on Feb. 22, 2022.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — Gente Fina owners Manny Cabrera and Abraham Cortez made their clothing line a hit by following two key principles: They honor their heritage and commit to quality. 

The name of Gente Fina, which translates to “fine people” in Spanish, came to Cortez and Cabrera during a time of heightened anti-immigrant sentiment. For the Chicagoland natives, launching a fashion line was a way to showcase their backgrounds, make clothes that resonate with Chicago’s Mexican Americans, and “show how great the culture is and how great the people are,” said Cortez, who grew up in Logan Square and now lives in Humboldt Park.

Cortez and Cabrera have been friends for more than a decade. Both dabbled in other business ventures before deciding to follow their gut into fashion four years ago.

“One day, we’re like, ‘Bro look at us. We’re f—— styled out all the time. Let’s do fashion,'” Cortez said.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Abraham Cortez poses for a photo at Gente Fina’s studio in the West Loop on Feb. 22, 2022.

Cabrera said he and Cortez would complain about how most Chicago gear was targeted to tourists and was a bit too cheesy for their liking. Once they’d landed on fashion as the starting idea for their business, focusing on creating Latino-themed streetwear came organically, they said. 

“We felt there was a market for it, because there really isn’t any brand that represents not only Chicago people but also Latinos,” said Cabrera, who’s from Melrose Park and now lives in Pilsen. 

Their first clothing launch included several T-shirts with Spanglish terms Cortez and Cabrera grew up with, like “Viento City” or “Xicago.” 

“Looking back, I’m surprised people bought it,” Cortez said. “But because there was just no market, people were like, ‘I don’t even care if it’s good quality or good design; I just relate to it.’”

But quality hasn’t been an issue for the brand as it has grown, Cabrera said. Now they work out of a West Loop studio at 355 N. Laflin St., have garnered a following on Instagram and primarily sell their line via an online shop.

“Everything we do now is very detailed, especially with the quality,” he said. “We wanted to really focus on the fabrics, the details, the printing, making sure we find a really good, local embroiderer.”

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Manny Cabrera shows off the “Chicagoan Till Chicago Ends” Varsity Jacket at Gente Fina’s studio in the West Loop on Feb. 22, 2022.
Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Manny Cabrera shows off the “Chicagoan Till Chicago Ends” Varsity Jacket at Gente Fina’s studio in the West Loop on Feb. 22, 2022.

Even though the business has grown over the years, Cabrera and Cortez try to make at least half of the products themselves for each of their launches — which they drop each season. 

“You really can’t take any shortcuts with any of this stuff,” said Cabrera, who also owns Midwest Cargo Equipment in Melrose Park.  

This work ethic is represented in Gente Fina’s upcoming spring launch, called Chicago Works Harder, they said. It’s expected to drop later this month. The line will include an array of workwear jackets with “Chicago Works Harder” painted on the back, as well as reimagined pieces from past launches.

“Chicago works three jobs, seven days a week,” Cortez wrote on Instagram about the spring launch. “Our world’s immigrants come to Chicago to work and send money back home. Chicago doesn’t do PR, doesn’t brag, it just gets to work because Chicago works harder.”

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
The latest fashionable threads at Gente Fina’s studio in the West Loop on Feb. 22, 2022.

One of Gente Fina’s most popular items is its sold-out “Till Chicago Ends” bomber jacket ($80) — which is one of the only pieces Cortez and Cabrera will restock to meet demand.

“We’re going to try to keep everything new, always new ideas, fresh,” Cabrera said. “But the bomber was so big, it would’ve been stupid of us not to do it again.”

Gente Fina’s other jackets, like a collaboration bomber with sandwich shop J.P. Grazianos with green, white & red cuffs ($115) and their “Chicagoan Till Chicago Ends” black wool varsity jacket ($225), have also sold well.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
DeAna Graziano wears the Gente Fina collaboration jacket at J.P. Graziano Grocery, 901 W. Randolph St.

Cabrera and Cortez said they dream of opening a warehouse in Chicago to hire local printers and embroiderers in the city. They want to make Chicago a major city for fashion, Cortez said.

Above all, the two of them plan to keep the company in Chicago. Cabrera said he knows a lot of artists or creatives may start out in Chicago, but when opportunity strikes to leave, they take it. 

“I get it; LA sounds pretty nice to me, too,” Cabrera said. “But we love being here. … Hopefully this helps [others] see that they don’t have to leave. They can make it here.”

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Manny Cabrera and Abraham Cortez talk at Gente Fina’s studio in the West Loop on Feb. 22, 2022.

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