Eat and wear Taco Bell

SAN FRANCISCO • Taco Bell has a new treat for customers - clothes.

It unzipped its intention by taking over the fashion district in Los Angeles recently.

Yes, the same Taco Bell - that serves double-decker taco supremes and naked chicken chalupas - held a full-fledged runway show, with models strutting down a white catwalk in hot sauce bodysuits and purple anoraks as speakers blasted electronic house music.

Guests ate tacos, of course.

The show was put on to promote Taco Bell's new fashion collaboration with Forever 21, which hit stores last week.

Quirkiness is a signature of the fast-food chain, which uses odd marketing to stay embedded in pop culture, such as hosting weddings at its Las Vegas flagship restaurant.

Executives insist that the new clothing line is not a gimmick, even though it is a one-off, and say they hope the styles are taken seriously.

Taco Bell collaborated with Forever 21 for its one-off clothing line.
Taco Bell collaborated with Forever 21 for its one-off clothing line. PHOTO: FOREVER21/INSTAGRAM

Taco Bell has already been active in sports, music and gaming, so why not fashion too?

"We really took pains to make this a legitimate collection that is relevant, fun and modern," said Ms Marisa Thalberg, chief marketing officer of Taco Bell.

She expects the limited-edition merchandise to sell out quickly.

Taco Bell first collaborated with a fashion label in 2014 when it teamed with streetwear brand The Hundreds for a line of socks.

Last year, the fast-food chain opened a retail store devoted to merchandise on the Las Vegas strip, hawking all kinds of funky swag, from beanies to bikinis.

The shop also has an e-commerce presence, selling vintage wash Taco Bell logo sweatshirts, rings that spell out the brand's name and greeting cards with illustrations of Crunchwrap Supremes and Mountain Dew Baja Blast.

Taco Bell has done well by parent Yum Brands, which also owns KFC and Pizza Hut, helping offset lagging sales at its embattled pizza chain.

But Taco Bell hit a speed bump last quarter, as same-store sales fell short of expectations.

Pairing with Forever 21 makes sense in some ways.

The two chains employ the same tactic of rapidly updating merchandise with limited-time offerings, hoping to draw more customers through the doors.

For example, Taco Bell came up with the idea of selling chalupas with a shell made of fried chicken.

In the case of this Forever 21 collection, Taco Bell is going global with its branding effort.

The merchandise will be sold in some countries where there are not even any Taco Bell locations yet.

Meanwhile, parent company Yum may be taking some cues from its adventurous subsidiary.

Pizza Hut has unveiled the Pizza Parka, a limited-edition coat that uses the same thermal technology found in pizza delivery pouches.

Last year, the chain sold an apparel line called Hut Swag, selling pepperoni print scarves, tribal pizza yoga pants and hoodies that read, "Pizza is bae". In street lingo, the word "bae" is used to connote something good or cool.

In July, KFC released its own fashion collection, called KFC Limited, with sandwich lapel pins, Colonel Sanders sweatshirts with the golden brown hue of crispy fried chicken.

So what is next? A Taco Bell and Supreme streetwear collaboration? Perhaps some taco styles tucked into a Vetements fashion show?

There are no immediate plans to sell more clothes or open more merchandise stores, but it is something Taco Bell is open to.

Ms Thalberg said the company will always remain taco-first, but expect more out-of-the-box forays when opportunities arise.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2017, with the headline 'Eat and wear Taco Bell'. Print Edition | Subscribe