With a dream of becoming a fashion designer, Ida Rodriguez started out designing and sewing her own clothes. Growing up in the Rio Grande Valley town of Alton, she was one of a family of seven with a father who was the sole provider, and a strict patriarch. In her early 20s she had an opportunity to attend fashion design school in Dallas, but her father said no; she needed to stay at home to help out with the family.
So, she began her career working at local child day care centers. She like the work and loved the kids. But she never lost her desire to design. She did bead work and made necklaces but not as a full-time business. And then, a little over a year ago, she stopped in a store during a road trip and spotted decorated longhorn skulls on display. “I was coming back from Louisiana and saw the longhorns in a store,” she said. “I thought I could do it better.”
That random roadside stop gave Rodriguez the inspiration to start South Texas Longhorns. After finding a source to buy the iconic Texas longhorn skulls she went to work creating individual pieces of art, completing eight of them in just one week, each one different from any of the others. “That’s always been me, designing one of a kind.”
As she created new designs, Rodriguez was faced with how to market and sell her new-found art avocation beyond simply word of mouth. She rented booth space at the Texas Hunter’s Expo in McAllen, as well as a few other trade shows, which generated sales and gave exposure to her work. “Ever since the Hunter’s Expo my sales have been a lot better. It really opened the door.” She is planning for a display booth at next year’s Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show and Rodeo.
Her daughter helps her with getting space at trade shows as well as social media marketing and designing a website. “I am old school and I really don’t know much about that stuff. My daughter does all my marketing for me, Facebook, Instagram and the website. She is the brains behind my marketing.”
Today, in a small studio on the second floor of her home in Alton, the walls are lined with decorated skulls, mostly longhorns but also a few steer skulls, which have shorter horns. A small work table in the center of the room is just big enough to hold a skull and decorating supplies.
Rodriguez likes flashy, elaborate bling designs, and that approach has become a staple of South Texas Longhorns. “My biggest seller is the bling,” she said. “The first one I designed sold really quick.” Other standard designs include Texas flags, skulls encrusted with beads or stones, painted designs and more that are priced in the $250 to $400 range. And she works with customers for custom designs, such as one with a hand-painted Washington Redskins logo or another with a Harley-Davidson emblem.
The decorative longhorns work well as art for outdoor patios, living rooms, offices and man caves, Rodriguez said. She has even designed them for weddings.
“God has been so good to me,” she said. “I used to do necklaces and I would only get $15. My profits are much better but of course I invest a lot more time. But it’s worth it.”