Briana Erran created Soft Brand with more than just T-shirts on her mind.
“I grew up in a very Chicano environment,” says the 21-year-old south Phoenix native, "seeing the way that boys, from a very young age, are programmed to think that you can have no emotion, and that when they grow up to be men, they have to be these hard characters.
“I’ve realized it’s more powerful to be able to show your emotions,” she says. “The way that I’m able to process through what I’m feeling shows how hard I am. It shows the toughness within me.”
Erran had always wanted to start a clothing brand, but never could nail down a plan for what it would look like. That is, until August 2019, when she decided she’d put her head down and get to work.
The concept of expressing, rather than repressing, emotion shows up in Erran's designs. The "No Llores" shirt has the Spanish phrase for "don't cry" embroidered on the front and a crying man flanked by an angel and a devil on the back. It's an image that is personally meaningful to Erran.
"When you see that image of the cholo, he's ready to cry," she said. "I have his hands under his eyes because that's what I used to do when I didn't want to cry."
The "Weeping Woman" shirt has the brand's logo (the word "Soft" made out of barbed wire) on the front with an image of La Llorona's cheeks on the back.
A year later Erran began, Soft Brand Clothing has a website and is fulfilling preorders, though, due to the extra strain on the USPS because of a lack of funding, the shirts are being hand-delivered around metro Phoenix.
Erran moved to New Jersey last month, counting on the ability to ship Soft orders out remotely despite the pandemic. Then came the funding issues with the U.S. Postal Service, which has affected mail delivery across the country.
She had ordered some gift with purchase items to send out the shirts, which was the first indicator that shipping might be a problem.
“What was the final nail in the coffin,” she says, “was the extra items were supposed to come in before I moved away and they came a month later than expected. ... If this was going on with just the [surprise items], I don’t want it to affect everything else and keep people waiting longer,” she says.
Erran's solution was to map the addresses for all of the metro Phoenix orders, organize them in a spreadsheet by ZIP code, and enlist the help of her best friend, Leslie Armenta, to deliver the orders.
"Obviously I’m going to help her out, especially at a time like this,” Armenta says.
As the shirts and the gifts with purchase arrive, Armenta brings the products home and sanitizes them before hitting the road to drop off orders.
She says she does her best to minimize contact with recipients, opting to leave the orders on the doorstep or in the mailbox rather than handing them off.
Soft Brand already has sold out of its first batch of shirts, but Erran is already making plans for a second release in December.
"I've started researching different seasons that [Soft] would have in the future," Erran says. "This first one was about Chicano men and the hardness of how men have to be, and I have some ideas prepared about sustainability. I just started looking at everything I'm passionate about and then figuring out how that can all come together."