Photos and interview by Stacie Joy
It’s 7 p.m., and I’m meeting Joseph Angel Tijerina, the artist/owner behind the Aliens of Brooklyn clothing and accessories brand, which recently opened its first storefront at 305 E. Ninth St. between First Avenue and Second Avenue, as he closes up for the day.
It’s his birthday, but he’s agreed to chat with me about the history of the pop culture brand, his Mexican heritage, his ’90s-era Taco Bell inspiration, and his love of collabs with other brands — all before heading out to celebrate.
As a child of the ’90s, I recall watching the original “Ghostbusters” movie, going to my mother and telling her that I would live in New York City one day. And she then would shoot me down with a simple “No.” I would ask why, and she would say, “It’s too far and too big.” Plus, she’d miss me too much. But in my mind, all I did was dream big.
I would later graduate from Wade College art school in Texas, and my mom would pass away from a heart attack. That was the catalyst that led me to move to New York. I had never even been to the city, just watched movies and dreamt about it.
Aliens Of Brooklyn came alive the moment I moved to Crown Heights in 2012. The culture, the vibe, the space where an artist could complete their puzzle of whatever it was that they couldn’t convey anywhere else. All my puzzle pieces were finally connecting. I was finally healing.
The people in Brooklyn were so vibrant, and everyone dressed however they wanted. I never knew I could come to a place where trends were ever-changing and there felt like no rules. I think this is what they meant when they said to find your tribe. And I have no idea who “they” are.
This brand is absolutely inspired by the people I’ve met and the ones I people-watch. I did Google to see if actual aliens were living in Brooklyn, and some articles popped up about sightings. I sort of knew this name was special, and so it stuck.
It’s something about constantly feeling like an outsider and creating a world where everyone is actually invited to the party. Being in Texas was great, but I realized being in NYC was better. I could be OK with where I came from, who I’ve become, and who I was becoming.
And although there is so much more to me than my race and sexual orientation, I absolutely embrace that I’m a Mexican American and an LGBTQIA+ brand. It makes me brave, and it might make people struggle to be brave too. I think the thing I’m really proud of is that I’m a Mexican who owns a successful business. I’ve always wished my mom could see me at this stage of my life because of how far I’ve come. I’d like to think that she’s around working through me somehow.
You recently opened a shop in the East Village. How has a brick-and-mortar location differed from your pop-up and Artists & Fleas vending background?
Well, the locals are this tight-knit community who basically have welcomed my brand with open arms, which is something I’ve always needed. We don’t always have to be pushed away. We can treat each other with respect and kindness. It shows with the East Village, and I was pleasantly surprised. I think they might recognize that I’ve come with an interesting point of view. And to me, art is exactly that. In my eyes, the East Village is always a place where the artists migrate, and I find that sacred and want to honor the history already created here.
Pop-up markets can be really hard but also fulfilling once you hit your sweet spot of being satisfied with your brand, and it’s not always about the money. I think those are big lessons that many artists struggle with because what you love may not pay the rent at first, although it can. You just have to go back to the drawing board and problem solve for a bit.
Doing markets for almost 10 years gives you a lot of experience. I’m so happy that the customers helped the brand become so successful by buying hats and beanies at our pop-ups. But having a hit item in markets doesn’t always translate to having a hit brick-and-mortar store. I am still learning, but with a store, I get to have a fully realized concept and aesthetic. I’m enjoying every moment of it. Instagram teased the inspiration for your shop décor was ’90s Taco Bell. Has that come to fruition?
[Laughs] A picture of Taco Bell in the 1990s was actually on my vision board for the store. I was inspired by the pastel motif, so I painted those exact colors on our walls. My brand is known for neon colors and tie-dye, but it is always evolving and ever-changing.
I love the 1980s, 1990s and Y2K era. So, Taco Bell walls one day, and then we might be inspired by Blockbuster the following week. Who knows? I just know I’m going to try to make the customers smile and laugh when they walk by.
You have done some collabs with other brands. Do you foresee future collaborations? And what’s next for the brand?
Collaborations are so fun and a lot of work as well. But it is great working with other small businesses or artists and cross-promoting your audiences. You gain all these wonderful people who only discovered you because of that collaboration.
I for sure can see myself doing many more collabs in the future. I will always pay it forward — some of my first gigs were popping up in front of another small business boutique and selling hats outside their front window on the sidewalk.
I want to grow the business in a way that customers can customize anything they see in the store. Leonardo da Vinci said, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” So, to me, that leaves space for all of us to make things happen.
And there’s still so much art to be made and work to do. I can’t wait to see what happens next with the brand! here.
Aliens of Brooklyn is open daily from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.