A chat with the sneakerhead Beija Marie Velez
From designing her first pair of kicks at age 7 to becoming Usher's social media manager by age 20, BEIJA MARIE VELEZ is a non-stop creative who refuses to not explore every single one of her interests to the fullest ― whether that be designing for powerhouses like Adidas, modelling for brands like Nike, or dunking on any basketball challenger.
Her notoriety in the street culture scene has basically been a nonstop skyrocket since she was singled out for a lifechanging creative consultant role while working retail at a streetwear boutique in Atlanta. Since then, she's been an unstoppable force gaining versatile gigs from all your fave sneaker names.
We chatted with Beija on everything from her Atlanta roots and childhood sneaker designs to her career turning points and eclectic talents. Scroll down and meet YOUR NEW FAVE STREETWEAR STAR.
You've been into design and sports culture since you were a little kid, how do you think your Atlanta roots influenced your personal style and interests?
Atlanta is literally built into my DNA. The energy is unmatched out there. Me and my homeboys would hoop in the cul-de-sac late at night until the street lights came on and then I would go post up in my room sometimes till 3-4 am just filling sketchbooks with designs. Some of the most creative minds come out of the A, especially from the eastside, because we didn’t really have much to work with so we had to use our imagination to create, because of the lack of access to tools and resources. A lot of us from Atlanta have to go to New York or LA if we want to get some solid looks for modeling, high-end fashion, and a lot of other mediums outside of music/film. To me though, Atlanta is the mecca of raw creativity and ideas. That city gave me the confidence to believe in myself and that foundation definitely had an impact on who I’ve grown to be and all that I’m doing today.
Speaking of roots, you started designing shoes at age 7 — and now you launched a sneaker with a big brand like Adidas. Can you tell us more about that experience of achieving this big dream and seeing your idea come to life in such a major way?
Anytime anyone brings up my Adidas shoe it still feels very surreal to me. To materialize my own shoe has been a dream of mine since I was a little girl, and to have done it with a sports powerhouse like Adidas is crazy to me. Adidas flew me out to their headquarters in Germany and then we went to London and all of these international creatives had the opportunity to do a 1-of-1 sample in this workshop. I literally made it in an hour and it wasn’t even supposed to be mass produced.
I had my modeling agency in London ship the prototype of the one sample I made to my family’s home in Atlanta because it couldn’t fit in my luggage. My family and I went to Mexico for a week and someone stole the sample off the front porch. It’s still missing to this day. I was distraught and heartbroken because that was the first shoe I had ever brought to life with my bare hands. A few months later, Adidas circled back with my team and said they wanted to produce the shoe. We ended up doing an exclusive friends-and-family seeding of 50 pairs and it meant a lot to me to see how excited my loved ones were about it.
What makes this story even CRAZIER is my first tattoo was actually a Nike swoosh I got on my wrist that I paid $10 for when I was 14 in some sketch basement. My dad whooped my ass and said, “WHAT IF ADIDAS WANTS TO WORK WITH YOU ONE DAY?!” I was like, “They would never want to work with me!” And here we are.
Your list of skills is extensive, from modeling to design to basketball, what would you say is the one common element that ties all your interests together?
I would say the common elements those skills give me are energy and confidence. They literally feed my soul. Design and basketball keep me mentally and emotionally grounded, and help with my anxiety. I also used to be super shy when I was younger and I hated being in front of the camera, and tapping into modeling has given me that boost of confidence to do whatever I put my mind to.
Let's talk about one of your first big gigs in pop culture, creative consultant and social media management for Usher. How did you end up in that role, and what lessons from the experience have stuck with you?
This magical woman Grace saw me working retail at this streetwear boutique in Atlanta called Wish and she ended up connecting me with Ush. I was 20 years old when I took that position and it changed my life. My first time to New York, Los Angeles, Cuba and mad other places was with Usher. It really sharpened me and taught me to always be game-ready. I was having meetings with Roc Nation’s digital content team, Sony, RCA and was so nervous but figured it out because I was doing was exactly what I had been since MySpace and Tumblr days: just creating fire content that brings engagement.
Usher’s work ethic is unmatched ― press runs, meetings, voice overs, boxing sessions, studio sessions, flying somewhere the same day and then coming back. His stamina is literally insane and the craft he’s blessed the world with really inspires me. Probably one of the biggest lessons that has stuck with me is to never say you’re “done” or “have nothing to do”.
"THERE'S ALWAYS SOMETHING TO GET DONE, something new to learn, something new to accomplish. Always."
You've worked with brands like Nike and Adidas who have created endless styles that become cemented in streetwear culture, like the Air Jordan 11. What characteristics do you think have the power to make a design timeless?
I think there are so many different key elements that play into a timeless design that allows it to leave its mark on sneaker culture. Characteristics like silhouette, materials, comfort, storytelling behind the shoe, and memorable moments that really solidify the sneaker's impact on the shoe game.
For example, Jeff Staple’s Pigeon Dunk with Nike that had people rioting for the shoe in the freezing cold and is reselling for up to $30,000. Or Michael Jordan rockin’ the 11s which were the first basketball shoe to incorporate patent leather, and each game he was fined $5000 for wearing them. Moments like these just add even more hype to the shoes in addition to the attention to detail in the overall design, it leaves this legacy that makes you want to add it to your closet even more.
As someone who's worked with shoes on all levels from designing to modeling to styling, what role do you think material plays in the quality of all these approaches?
Sneaker material is so important. That’s one of the main characteristics that draws someone’s eyes to your kicks. You’ll love the shape of a pair of sneakers but the material can elevate the shoe to a whole different level, or the material can be wack and it messes the entire shoe up. Sneakerheads love the attention to detail in texture, durability, and comfort. Corduroy, nubuck, suede, canvas, premium leather, genuine python, patent leather and pony hair are some of my favorite materials that have definitely made me fall in love with a shoe and made me feel like I just needed to add them to my collection.
Whether she's making or modeling them, we'll always be hype for more kicks from Beija.
Speaking of kicks, find your next closet cop at our sneakers sesh here.