Emerging Avant-Garde Designer Works to Stand Out in San Francisco’s Fashion Scene

Teodore Mata gains traction and sells out fashion shows with his over-the-top, wearable art.


Andrea Jiménez

Teodore Mata works on a mannequin in Daly City on Feb. 26, 2023. (Andrea Jiménez / Xpress Magazine)

Teodore Mata, 25 years old, stands over his kitchen counter, twisting and toiling with a piece of canvas fabric that he found on the street. Only weeks before, it had belonged to a painter as a drop cloth. He turns the fabric and pins it into place to create the shape of a rose. He walks to the mannequin in his living room and hovers the rose over one of his latest pieces, a beige paint-covered jacket with a fabric rose large enough to take up the greater lower half of the jacket. 

Teodore Mata’s latest designs hang on a mannequin in his dining room in Daly City. (Andrea Jiménez / Xpress Magazine)

At first glance you wouldn’t be able to tell from Mata’s minimalistic uniform — trousers and a white button-down shirt — that he is the designer behind the small, San Francisco-based, avant-garde brand Teodore Mata. Mata began designing clothes in 2019 as a hobby and started posting his designs to Instagram. His elaborate drapings and over-the-top designs garnered attention, earning him over 4,000 followers on the app. Since then, Mata has sold out two fashion shows in San Francisco and hosted his biggest show yet with over 100 attendees earlier this year. 

“Teo is a very humble person,” said Ysabelli Cusi, one of Mata’s models. “When I first met him, he was really shy… but I think it’s very telling of his genius.”  

It was never Mata’s goal to become a fashion designer. During the day, Mata works as a supervisor at a popular museum near Fisherman’s Wharf. He originally studied and graduated from SF State with a journalism degree. 

“I realized that I might have done the wrong thing, because my brain wanted to do something more creative…I decided to just suck it up and go with it,” Mata said. “Ever since… 2019, I started doing this fashion stuff. And at first, it was for fun. It still is for fun, but it just grew, and grew.” 

Early on, Mata’s designs gained the attention of people beyond San Francisco. Lilas Ferdi, Mata’s pattern-maker, is based in New York and reached out to Mata back in 2020 after seeing his work online and taking a liking to his aesthetic.

“Teo is really good at building relationships with people from all around the world … It’s good for his business, his brand showing that he can adapt to everyone’s kind of like or desire,” Ferdi said.  

To the untrained eye, Mata’s designs seem impractical and excessive. Each piece is intended to be a wearable piece of art. Mata draws inspirations from nature – or rather his fear of it. 

“In a sense everything that I’ve made is kind of a representation of my fears,” Mata said. “They’re all so personal to me. I almost feel like … everyone sees my emotions and my thoughts through the clothes…everyone in the crowd is seeing how I felt. They just don’t know it.” 

Mata has never received formal training in fashion design or apparel construction. Aside from recalling watching his grandparents sew growing up, Mata just did “what felt right.”  

Mata was raised by a young, single mother in Inglewood. Moving from home to home, he recalls feeling neglected. 

“There was a lot of tension in the family growing up… Everyone was separated,” Mata said. “And I took notice. And maybe in some ways, that’s why the clothes look so unique and look so different, because I’ve really embraced all those emotions… just taking them out on the clothes.”

Mata has drawn inspiration for his work from various aspects of his life. “Scraps” was Mata’s first fashion show in 2022. The garments appeared deconstructed, distressed and worn. Mata recalls creating “Scraps” at a time when he was unhappy in his life — he still has a hard time looking back on the collection.   

When asked if his family had ever attended any of his shows, Mata dropped his gaze and held both of his hands in his lap. 

“They’ve never been to any of my shows,” Mata said. “I would wish that they did. ‘Cause it’s literally about them. The showcases are about me too but I’m showcasing what I felt. And a lot of my feelings come from my childhood.” 

Despite his difficult upbringing, Mata has created a new home for himself in San Francisco with his friends and colleagues. Luiza Costa said that she got one of her first real modeling opportunities working on Teo’s latest show, “Interlude.”

Teodore Mata’s latest designs hang on a clothing rack in his dining room in Daly City on February 26, 2023. (Andrea Jiménez / Xpress Magazine)

 “It’s been beautiful throughout,” Costa said. “The first time meeting him to now it’s a constant beauty in my life. I’m basically sworn to model for Teo for forever. I don’t see why not.” 

Although Mata’s brand takes after his name, Teodore Mata is composed of an entire collective of people with an appreciation for art and fashion. 

“It’s such a team effort,” said Juliane Roberts-Hansen, Mata’s stylist. Every single one of us has played such a key role and it really couldn’t have been done without any of us.”

Mata worked collaboratively with his team to create all three of his past collections. His goal is to make his brand his full-time job in the near future. No one, including Mata, gets paid for their work, aside from the occasional income from ticket sales at shows. They all do it for the love of the craft and hope that one day the brand will become a fashion house. For now, Mata funds his brand and supports himself with his full-time job at the museum.  

Since gaining attention, Mata has felt pressured to produce collection after collection. He has considered quitting many times since starting but worries about the impact it will have on his team and the future. 

“I think I would really be losing out on an opportunity… and I have no intention of quitting anytime soon.”