LOVE: Meet the designer of the Starbucks Pride cup people are buzzing about


On the 50th anniversary of Pride, Brenden Mendoza created a new 24-ounce tumbler that’s a tribute to love in all forms, solidarity and the joy of dancing to your own beat.

The cross-stitched tableau is only a few inches across, but to Brenden Mendoza, it represents all of life’s biggest dreams: to love and be loved. Against a white background, created in thread, are two men standing together, one with glasses and the other wearing a red stocking cap, separated by only a heart. “You + Me,” is embroidered beneath the two figures. 

It was painstaking crafted by Mendoza’s longtime love, Jomar Tagatac (the one in the red stocking cap), over many hours one winter and then given to him as a Valentine’s present.

It sits next to Mendoza’s desk at the Starbucks Support Center, the company’s Seattle headquarters, reminding him what it is to be truly seen, loved and appreciated for who he is. It’s not something everyone gets to experience, he knows.

Mendoza, a creative manager, is the designer of this year’s Starbucks reusable Pride cold cup, a 24-ounce tumbler that PopSugar calls “a gorgeous rainbow drinking vessel.” Woven into the iridescent rainbow stripes on the cup is a simple message: LOVE. (Or AMOUR, if you buy the Canadian version.)

“The rainbow is an incredible symbol, and it holds so much power,” he said. He aimed to create a cup that would be classic enough to stand the test of time, fresh looking so that it would feel of the moment, be celebratory, but also encompass all that Pride means. “My hope is that for the community, all feel included – that extends to not only the gay community but my trans brothers and sisters. It’s for them as well.”

This year’s Pride celebrations around the country have special significance. It’s the 50th anniversary of the first U.S. Pride rally, which took place a month after the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City, was raided by police on June 28, 1969. In those early morning hours, a riot began when gay, lesbian and transgender people and drag queens resisted arrest -- and a movement was born.

Mendoza, 37, wasn’t born until the ‘80s, but grew up in a time when “LGBTQ history and acceptance was still evolving.” As a “closeted kid,” he recalls watching TV talk shows were gay people were put on display and that “you’d ask questions of because they were so different and ‘other’. … You can see how drastically things have changed in the last 20 years.”

Mark Mahoney, a Starbucks store manager in Charleston, W. Va., sees the Pride cup as a symbol of the company’s solidarity with the LGBTQ community, something Starbucks has a history of doing dating back decades. It’s something that has had a personal impact on his own life, he said.

Today, he calls himself a proud member of the LGBTQ community – but saying that publicly wasn’t always something he felt comfortable with. He grew up in small town in West Virginia and after he came out and moved away from his family home, he felt very alone, he said. One day, when he was in a Starbucks in Beckley, W. Va., the store manager invited him to apply.

“I found a family in that little store,” Mahoney said. “I felt safe and loved every time I put on the green apron. I knew I was in a safe place that encouraged me and helped me navigate how to grow into adulthood, being proud of who I am. I can confidently say that this support and this culture saved my life more than once.”

‘LOVE is LOVE is LOVE’

The limited-edition cup has been lighting up social media. “LOVE is LOVE is LOVE and I am totally in LOVE with these @Starbucks PRIDE Tumblers!”, wrote one Instagram user.  “LOVE the @starbucks #pride tumbler! #starbucks #starbuckspride #gay #gaypride #love #love wins,” wrote another.

Mendoza said he loves the idea that a cup be a subtle symbolic nod to someone's identity or their support of a loved one.

Mendoza was 21 when he came out – starting with himself. Before that, he said, “the idea I hung on to was that I just hadn’t met the right woman.” But when he was in college, he took some time off to backpack around southeast Asia and teach English. Removed from everyone he knew back home, he had the time and space to think. One day, when he was sitting on the beach in Thailand, he realized the truth. “I literally said out loud, ‘I am gay,” he remembered. “It was incredibly freeing.”

While he’d grown up in a family where he’d always felt unconditional love, his ultimate fear was that would change when he came out to them. It didn’t.

“My mom said, ‘Oh, I’ve known since you were 3,” he said. “She is the most loving person. She’s been the biggest supporter in my life.”

Mendoza was born in Burbank, Calif., and grew up in a home full of life and music, he said. He had a vivid imagination and some of his earliest memories are of putting together a dance routine, usually to a Michael Jackson song, and performing for his family. “I’d blow up balloons and run through the house. I was probably 4 or 5,” he said.

He says he doesn’t consider himself an artist, but he did start making art when he was in grade school. One of his favorite memories is of when he was in 2nd grade and his drawing of Mickey Mouse was picked by Disney to decorate a construction wall at the Walt Disney Studios. He and a classmate, who had also been chosen, were invited to Disneyland to paint their pictures on the wall themselves, as well as take a tour and get a special performance by a marching band.

As he got older, and discovered that he could use computers to create, he developed an interest in design that grew. In college, he majored in design, liking that he could help create things that solved a need.

He went to work for several design firms, the American Conservatory Theater and taught at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco before joining Starbucks’ creative team almost five years ago. During his time so far with Starbucks, he’s designed everything from this year’s cup to origin cards for Reserve coffee to the company’s Pride T-shirts for partners last year to an advertising campaign in Asia featuring the iconic Frappuccino silhouette created out of fruit and more.

‘Hey girl’

While he loves the process of creating and having something to show at the end of it, what fulfills him these days isn’t being in the spotlight but rather knowing that what he’s created brings someone joy.

“In my next life I want to come back as a backup dancer. Who I want to be is not Janet Jackson, but the person behind her,” said Mendoza, who confesses he still makes up dance routines at home, just as he did as a child.

Since the Pride cup has gone on sale, whenever Mendoza walks through a Starbucks and sees the cup on a shelf, he’ll give it a little nod, “kind of like ‘Hey Girl,’” he said with a laugh.

When he set out to design it, he was faced with the challenge of “how do you design something about pride that doesn’t feel cliché and I’d feel proud holding in my hand?,” he said.

Mahoney, the store manager, said he loves seeing customers react to the Pride cup. “It is something amazing, to walk into a store and see rainbow colors and the message of LOVE on its shelves,” he said. “It’s even more amazing to see the excitement from our customers and partners. People come together in this third place. People come into our stores to make decisions, share laughter, drink coffee and share love.”

This year, Mendoza and his boyfriend, who he met seven years ago when Tagatac complimented his rain boots, will be celebrating Pride in Palm Springs, along with friends – out, proud and joyful. It’s something so simple that might have seemed an impossible dream to the pioneers at the Stonewall Inn a half century ago.

Though times have changed, and in many places, acceptance is more of a reality than ever, the message of the cup of love is also a subtle, if powerful, call to action to remind everyone how far we have come and how the work isn’t done.

“It's so easy today to be apathetic or disconnected from the struggles people go through,” said Mendoza. But, “we have to remember that showing up matters, voting matters, being vocal and making your voice heard matters.”

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A little kindness is never really little