While Veterans Day is always a special day for retired Green Beret Rubén Ayala, this year it also marks the launch of the San Antonian’s diversity-inspired veterans apparel company, Triple Nikel.
Tired of the same gun-slinging, violence-promoting clothing marketed to American veterans, Ayala gathered a team of three other minority vets to co-found Triple Nikel, a clothing business aiming to tell minority veterans’ stories and to rebrand what “looking like a veteran” means.
“We’re not all just the typical white guy with a beard and tattoos. That’s not how veterans look as a whole,” said Triple Nikel co-founder Chris McPhee. “Just like all us Black guys don’t look like the dude with dreadlocks and his pants sagging. When people hear ‘veteran,’ we want them to know that they can be anybody sitting next to you or in front of you.”
Ayala, who also owns San Antonio Healthy Vending, said he and his co-founders decided to create the brand just a little over three months ago and have been working quickly with the plan of launching it specifically on Veterans Day. Apparel will include T-shirts, hats, and hoodies, Ayala said.
“We’ve put this all together in just 90 days,” Ayala said with a laugh. “We’re military, though, so we’re used to working hard.”
The inspiration for the brand’s diversity element came shortly after the police-shooting deaths of Black Americans Breonna Taylor in Kentucky and George Floyd in Minnesota, Ayala said. Ayala also said he was hurt to hear many people describe kneeling during the national anthem as unpatriotic and to see so many Americans divided. Seeing there wasn’t much veteran apparel that made a stand for minorities, Ayala said he wanted to help fill the void in the market.
Even the name Triple Nikel is based on spreading awareness about diversity within the military, Ayala said. The company is named after the World War II-era 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, nicknamed “the Triple Nickles.”
The Triple Nickles comprised the Army’s first Black paratroopers, and Ayala said he felt the name encompassed their apparel because he and his team are a group of minority veterans trying to do something new, as well.
“We decided to pay homage to them as our forefathers and approached the [555th Parachute Infantry] Association to get their blessing,” Ayala said. “They gave it to us but just asked us to spell it N-I-K-E-L so it doesn’t confuse people.”
One thing that makes Triple Nikel’s style different is that it incorporates essences of veteran culture with hip-hop culture, Ayala said. Each clothing item comes with an exclusive “theme song” download from Spotify, he said, and each design will link to a different song. Triple Nikel has partnered with a California music producer to create the tunes. The purchaser will be sent a QR code they can scan to access that download, Ayala said.
San Antonio Air Force veteran DeAnna Harris said she is excited to hear about Triple Nikel bringing something different to the table.
“Honestly I’m over typical ‘patriotic’ veteran apparel,” Harris said. “It all looks the same, predictable. It seems like it’s been that way for years – it needs a fashion makeover. I’m a proud veteran but don’t always want to wear things with flags, eagles, and guns.”
After looking at items on Triple Nikel’s Instagram page, Harris said she liked the founders’ vision.
“Some of his items I would definitely be interested in purchasing,” she said.
McPhee called Ayala and Curtez Riggs the masterminds behind the shirt designs. McPhee and their fourth business partner, Rod Graham, focus on the marketing side, but all four of the men have backgrounds as entrepreneurs, McPhee said.
“I do all the media work and photography, video, podcasting – all of that,” he said.
The apparel’s website is set to launch at 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 11, Ayala said.
“We’re just really excited about telling our veterans’ stories,” Ayala said. “Our clothing aims to tell stories.”