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Taco Bell wants to sell clothes with your chalupa

By: Kim Bhasin, Bloormberg
October 11, 2017 Updated: October 11, 2017 at 10:40 am
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Taco Bell has teamed up with Forever 21 to create a fashion line. Photo courtesy Forever 21.

Taco Bell took over the fashion district in Los Angeles on Tuesday.

Yes, the same Taco Bell that serves up 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 electro house music. Guests ate tacos, of course.

The show was put on to promote Taco Bell's new fashion collaboration with Forever 21, which hits stores Wednesday. Quirkiness is a signature of the fast-food chain, which often uses odd marketing to stay embedded in pop culture-like hosting weddings at its Las Vegas flagship restaurant. Executives insist that the new clothing line isn't a gimmick, even though it's a one-off, and say they hope the styles are taken seriously. 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 and fun and modern," said Marisa Thalberg, chief marketing officer of Taco Bell. She expects the limited-edition merchandise to sell out quickly.

The fashion foray is part of a continuing eruption of taco commercialization-a broader push to get more merchandise out into the world. Taco Bell first collaborated with a fashion label back in 2014, when it teamed with streetwear brand The Hundreds for a line of taco socks. Last year, the fast-food chain opened a retail store devoted to merchandise on the Las Vegas strip, hawking all kinds of funky Taco Bell 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 artery cracking idea of selling chalupas with a shell made out of fried chicken.

In the case of this Forever 21 collection, Taco Bell is going global with its branding effort. Taco Bell merchandise will be sold in some countries where there aren't even any Taco Bell locations-yet.

Meanwhile, parent company Yum may be taking some cues from its adventurous subsidiary: This week Pizza Hut 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 July, KFC released its own fashion collection, called KFC Limited, with sandwich lapel pins, Colonel Sanders tees, and sweatshirts the golden brown hue of crispy fried chicken.

So what's next? A Taco Bell x 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's something Taco Bell is open to.

Thalberg said the company will always remain taco-first, but expect plenty more weird stuff when opportunities arise.

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