Beija Marie Velez is an irrepressible force. She designed her first basketball shoe at 7 and Adidas recently released an exclusive based on a prototype she created. She launched her own fashion brand while still in college, created social media content for Usher, interviewed Linkin Park, modeled for Nike, and was immortalized in the NBA Live Mobile video game. (Yes, you read that right: not the WNBA — The NBA. Velez’s avatar takes on some of the league’s hottest stars. And holds her own.)
You get the sense that she does the same in person. Velez admits, “my biggest dream was to be in the WNBA, but I did a report in high school on the salary coming in as a rookie and it shocked me at how much women were underpaid in comparison to men playing professional ball.”
Unwilling to play a game rigged against her, Velez decided to forge her own way. Turning her back on a basketball scholarship, she dropped out of college to “pursue design and focus on my brand BEIRIE.,” but she’s managed to keep one foot on the court through collaborations with sports brands.
“It’s beyond profound everything that has manifested,” Velez acknowledges. “And so deep that I was able to tran slate my love for basketball to the creative industry.”
But don’t think she’s just lucky or has been handed opportunity based on her stunning looks alone. No, this 24-year-old is no slacker. Velez knows how to put in the work. She tells Out how a jacket led to a job with Usher, talks the future of streetwear, and shares the pain of not being seen or embraced by our biological families.
Custom cowboy hat by Chauntel Zackery; jewelry by Jeniece Blanchet; pants, Acne Studios; shirt, stylist’s own.
How did you get your gig as social media manager for Usher?
I used to work at this sneaker-streetwear boutique called Wish Atl and I was downstairs in the sneaker room helping customers try on shoes. This superhero of a woman by the name of Grace came down and complimented me on my leather jacket...[and] asked where I got it from, and I told her I designed it... We started choppin’ it up and... she connected me with Usher eventually. I was overseeing all of his socials creatively and pitching ways to make his aesthetic cohesive and target all different types of consumers in his audience. I was 20 years old at the time and it changed my life forever. My first time in L.A., N.Y., Cuba, and mad other places was with them, and I gained so much knowledge and wisdom through the process. Forever grateful for that opportunity and look forward to when I can give a kid a chance toexplore and find new parts of themselves.
You’ve been on the other side of the microphone, interviewing musicians like A$AP Ferg and Linkin Park for Complex. What’s your go-to question and how would you answer it?
My go-to question in interviews is, “What advice do you have for someone that is aspiring to pursue what you’re accomplishing in life?” My answer to that question would simply be, “Just be yourself. There is no A, B, C strategy or algorithm to success. Just do what makes you happy, study the greats, put in your 10,000-plus hours, and everything else will flow after that. Faith without work is dead. Lock in and trust whatever manifests from that.”
The Business of Fashion named you one of the women redefining streetwear style in 2019, and emblematic of why women’s streetwear will be the next big thing. What do you see as the future of streetwear?
I see the future of streetwear becoming more fluid and also tapping more women to handle creative direction and be a part of the branded storytelling. You’re seeing an evolution of women wearing men’s clothes and vice versa and it shows the beauty in balancing our masculine/feminine energy. I also definitely see streetwear transitioning more into the high-end market, more than it ever has over the past 3 years, and cultural innovators becoming key assets in product releases [and] collections that leave their mark on the world.
Jewelry by Jeniece Blanchet; shirt, Calvin Klein; vest by Zara; pants, custom denim by Beija Velez; shoes, UGG
What or who inspires you?
Life itself inspires me. Knowing we all have the same 24 hours in a day and asking myself every morning, “What are you doing today to be great?” It keeps me going seeing all of my homies be motivated by my accomplishments and my hustle really gives them a sense of a hope to get out of the hood we grew up in. I have a lot of people that look up to me now and admire my work ethic, and hearing them express how my story has impacted their lives really keeps me inspired to stay on this path and give the next kid the possibility to dream.
How do you define your style?
I guess you can say I rock a lot of gear that has that balance of street and sportswear.
The NBA Live Mobile game features your avatar playing against the big boys. What’s being memorialized in that environment like?
It’s completely surreal to me to say the least. I had the craziest imagination as a kid and loved building my own computers, conceptual video games, and would be up ’til like 5 a.m. playing my Playstation 1 and Super Nintendo all night. So it’s crazy that I had a full circle moment like this as a woman and immortalized myself in a NBA game that’s targeted towards men. It’s mind-blowing and makes me realize I have potential to do so much more.
Tell us about your 2019 partnership with Adidas on the exclusive friends-and-family shoe.
This story is crazy. So I’ve been designing shoes since I was 7 years old. I remember one time in elementary school I was at a PSA meeting or school play or something like that, and someone broke into my family’s minivan and stole my sketchbook of all my sneaker designs and it broke my heart. I stopped designing for years. Fast forward, 2018...[Adidas] flew me out to their headquarters in Germany, and then to London for a workshop with creatives representing different cities from all over the world. We had the chance to make a one of one shoe, and I knocked my prototype out in an hour, and some of the top heads there were really feeling the design. I left the prototype in London...and my modeling agency out there shipped the shoe to my home in Atlanta...[where] someone ended up stealing [it] off our porch. I was distraught and told myself I needed to maybe have a detachment from “materialism.” The image I posted on social media of the prototype ended up getting a really great response.... We did an exclusive friends-and-family release of 50 pairs and it was one of my biggest dreams to check off of my bucket list. What makes this story even crazier is when I was 14 years old my first tattoo I got was the Nike swoosh on my wrist and I paid $10 for it in some ratchet-ass basement, and my dad was pissed. He was like, “What if Adidas wants to work with you one day?!” And I said,“They’ll never want to work with me!” And now, here we are.
What are you working on next?
I’ve been spending this time to ground myself and line up new ideas. I’ve been working on designs for some potential collaborations with some prominent brands that I’d rather not [name] right now. Also been focusing on: bringing my brand BEIRIE. back by fall/winter 2020, cooking up the creative rollout for the hi-res character revealing of my basketball character on the Playstation/Xbox console for the NBA Live video game later this year, and looking forward to my images dropping for my first ever makeup campaign. Also, I’ve been really brainstorming on philanthropic ways to give back to the community that are sustainable and really leave an impact.
Do you identify as queer or something else?
I can’t give a one-word answer for this. I personally don’t like labels: both in the creative industry and my identity. I feel like people are always trying to box me in, when I’m multi-dimensional. I identify as a lesbian with peers [and] in the world, but unfortunately my father is a pastor and both of my parents are extremely religious, and we have never discussed my identity and sat down face to face to unpack everything and how traumatic it has been for me to hide this part of myself my entire life. My parents are my number one supporters and love me very much. I would never be the person I am today if it wasn’t for how they raised me and all they poured into me. But this is the one thing we never, ever talk about. I love them dearly and have always respected their views and wanted to protect them, but there’s been no balance in acknowledging a huge part of me, and I’m curious if one day those worlds will coexist. Until then, I stay to myself and it’s painful. To be honest, it really hurt to [say] this because I know they love me so much and are beyond proud of me, but I wonder if they’ll ever love this part of me too.
Are you comfortable sharing your cultural background?
I’m half Black and half Puerto Rican. My mother is African-American and my pops is Puerto Rican.
What would surprise most people to learn about you?
Despite me being in front of the camera for modeling and on-camera hosting, I actually have really bad anxiety and I’m very introverted. I just do all that photo and video work because it keeps the lights on. Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy all that, I do, and I’m slowly getting more comfortable and confident.
How do you define pride?
I would define pride as owning your truth. Not being afraid to find the beauty and strength in your vulnerability and knowing that your existence is worthy. Pride is acknowledging your value, despite societal norms rejecting your identity. It’s a constant battleof checking in and reminding yourself, “You matter. You are seen.You are loved. And you are appreciated.”
Photography by Breyona Holt; wardrobe, Beija Velez; hair and makeup by Fesa Nu.
To read more, grab your own copy of Out's Pride issue featuring Atlanta-based musician Damez as the cover on Kindle, Nook, Apple News+ and Zinio today, and on newsstands June 30. Preview more of the issue here. Get a year's subscription here. The issue was guest edited by photographer Alex D. Rogers.