BusinessGayest & GreatestGayest & Greatest 2023

Eye For Design

Israel Cruz develops unique styles for his apparel brand MANBUNS.

Israel Cruz

Best Local Clothing Designer, Best Online Clothing Store

Perusing the underwear aisle at a department store is a familiar memory for many gay men. Scantily clad Adonises in solid colored, albeit oftentimes plain, undies grace the front of each garment package lining the aisle. Local entrepreneur Israel Cruz is on a mission to add his own spin to the underwear industry with his cheekily named apparel company MANBUNS. Cruz’s dedication to delivering comfort, versatility and quirky style to all types of customers from around the world landed him the Gayest & Greatest Readers’ Choice Award for Best Local Clothing Designer.

“MANBUNS is my part-time job. I work full-time for my family’s countertop installation company,” the Houston native explains. “I’ve been doing that for nine years now.” Cruz, a graduate of the University of Houston Bauer College of Business, as well as Rice University’s Digital Marketing Bootcamp, explains that his father served as a role model when it came to his career as an entrepreneur. “I saw what he was doing and I was always really inspired by it. I knew by the age of 15 that I wanted to pursue becoming a business owner. Not everyone has that entrepreneurial drive, but I think I always have.”

The underwear, sock, swimwear and accessory brand was not always under the leadership of Cruz, he explains. Having connected with the original owner via Twitter around the time of MANBUNS’ inception, Cruz says he “kicked himself” for not having thought of the concept himself. When he learned the company would be ending its operations, he knew it was his chance to step in. “The owner announced that he was going to be shutting his company down. I messaged him and I asked why and he explained that he wanted a career shift,” Cruz explains. “I sat with his message for a day and I reached out to him asking if he would be open to selling the company to me.” The original owner mulled over the option before agreeing. “October 2022 is when I officially took over MANBUNS.”

Models wearing MANBUNS

The brand is a one-man operation, with Cruz at the helm. “I keep all the inventory in my apartment and I package everything first thing in the morning, after lots of coffee, before taking it to USPS for shipping,” he explains. “The rest of the day is spent monitoring sales and managing the social media account, which plays a big part.”

MANBUNS prides itself on its unique designs, with a light blue boxer trunk featuring a yellow rubber duck pattern as the company’s top-selling product. The artwork, as seen on the company’s website and popular Instagram account, is all original and what sets MANBUNS apart from competitors. Design options range from underwear with pizza, shark, and eggplant patterns to socks with eggs and bacon, French fries, and yellow lightning bolts. Cruz explains, “Between the previous owner and myself, we’ve done all of the designs ourselves.”

“I usually find inspiration in things that I like and then look around to see what other design trends people are connecting with. One recent product that I designed was the evil eye sock,” the business owner says of his artwork inspired by the malevolent glare thought to bring a curse upon unsuspecting people. “I was walking around and I kept noticing the evil eye on people’s necklaces and bracelets, so I kept a mental note. Eventually, I developed the design, making sure it was something that I would wear as well.”

A unique factor of his underwear apparel is what Cruz refers to affectionately as “the pouch.” “The pouch is extra fabric that allows your boys to be a little bit more comfortable and have a home, versus being smushed. It gives that extra room for your junk to feel like it’s not being squashed,” he explains. “I wear the black boxer briefs with the pouch every time I work out, and it makes such a difference. I don’t feel like things are moving or out of place.”

With sales on an upward trajectory, Cruz continues to look ahead to the future of his company. “Ideally, I would love to see MANBUNS in big stores and eventually have my own storefront,” he says. “I recently dipped my toes into swimwear, and I’m excited to expand further.”

Whether customers purchase items online or at Hollywood Super Center on Grant Street in Montrose, Cruz’s main goal and his driving force is to bring joy to his customers, one garment at a time. “MANBUNS brings fun to your everyday life, whether it’s our socks or various underwear options. The products are cute, fresh, fun, and I won’t put something out there that I don’t feel comfortable wearing myself,” he says. “I want to really stay true to who I am, and I think that the fun aspect of it is who I am as a person. I feel like that drives my creativity.”

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Zach McKenzie

Zachary McKenzie is a marketing professional and freelance writer in Houston, TX. He received his bachelor's degree from The University of Texas at Austin in 2014 and has lived in Houston since. Zachary is a volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters and enjoys spending his free time with friends, exploring the richness and diversity of Houston.
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