LOS ANGELES — Don’t ever expect drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman to give you the shirt off his back, but you can buy one just like it.
Now that the world’s most wanted man is safely behind bars, U.S. shirtmaker Barabas Premium Apparel says its long-sleeve shirts are flying off the shelves. The drug lord was photographed and videotaped wearing two styles of them.
“Right now, it’s crazy,” designer Shawn Esteghbal told CNN en Español. “We cannot keep them in stock, and we have a lot of demand from all over.”
Call them the “most wanted shirt,” available in a “wild paisley design” or “abstract pattern,” as the Barabas website says.
Esteghbal and his brother Sam, who are co-owners of the shop, find themselves at the center of the clothier universe since Guzman was photographed wearing their blue-and-grey-striped shirt called “Fantasy.” The drug lord was shaking the hand of actor Sean Penn in the photo.
Guzman wore the “Crazy Paisley” shirt in a rare 17-minute video of the Mexican cartel leader speaking to the camera.
The shirts are bold and colorful, especially the one designed with green inner cuffs and a print of blue paisley.
The brothers, whose family is from Iran, were stunned to see El Chapo wearing their all-cotton shirts. They were also surprised to see the so-called “El Chapo” shirts trending all over social media.
“Once I saw it, I was like, my God, I even know the style number by heart,” Shawn Esteghbal said.
When the news broke Saturday that Rolling Stone magazine had obtained an exclusive interview and photograph with Guzman, the Esteghbal brothers immediately noticed he was wearing two of their shirts. Penn wrote a story for the magazine about meeting the drug lord, and the magazine helped arrange for the making of the video.
“We already knew it because this is what we make,” Sam Esteghbal added.
The brothers say their phone won’t stop ringing, and their website has crashed twice in the last few days because of the demand.
The shirts sell for $128 each.
In his shop, brother Shawn pitched his product this way: “The shirts are all 100% cotton satin. They are all slim fit, they have a really nice fit to them. The quality of work. The quality of stitching. It’s just top of the line,” he said.
When asked why people would want a shirt affiliated with a drug trafficker, brother Sam answered quickly: “I don’t know. People just always look for something unique, and they’re probably thinking this is unique because that guy wears it. He could wear a $10,000 shirt or a $3,000 shirt, but he wears Barabas.”
Juventino Romero, a wholesale buyer, traveled from the state of Washington to buy a load of the shirts in downtown Los Angeles’ Fashion District, where the Esteghbal brother do business in a famous flea market called Santee Alley.
“Our clients are asking for these shirts, they want them,” Romero said.
Romero enjoys an inside track in buying the shirts: He’s been doing business for a while with the brothers.
“It’s a good brand and very good quality, and (Barabas) sells about 80% of their shirts in our store,” Romero said.
“I have a lot of young people, adults and just anyone wanting to buy these shirts,” Romero added.
Romero thinks his clients want the shirts because everyone knows of the notorious “El Chapo,” who escaped from Mexican prisons twice, only to be caught last week for a third time. Mexico says it wants to extradite Guzman to the United States, whose supermaximum security prisons are supposed to be escape-proof.
“To put on a shirt that he wore probably makes them feel good, and a lot of people see him for the good and a lot of people for the bad,” Romero said.
Though some on social media have questioned the taste of consumers wanting an “El Chapo” shirt, the brothers say Barabas’ mission is to bring philosophy and fashion together and surround themselves with good words, good thoughts and good deeds.
Barabas, which manufactures its own products and is a wholesale distributor, has more than 500 vendors, and the firm ships its products to Mexico, Brazil and Italy among other countries.
The shirts are also very popular among Mexican norteño musicians.
The brothers don’t know how Guzman got their shirts, but what they do know is that the traffic to their store’s website is so high they can’t keep up.
If someone is still looking to get one of the shirts, they will have to wait until the week of Valentine’s Day, because right now they are sold out.