Beija Velez has been designing sneakers and basketballs since she was seven. Born in Atlanta and raised in Decatur, GA, the model, designer, and creative woman says she would fill sketchbooks with drawings while she dreamed of playing in the WNBA one day.
“I had a whole sketchbook in which I always had ideas and ideas,” she said in a ZOOM call in July.
Beija’s creativity and style have taken her to a number of endeavors throughout her career, from working as a personality in front of the camera for Complex to being a creative consultant as a social media manager for Usher.
Her latest work includes a special collaboration with Wilson Sporting Goods, the official match ball of the WNBA, where she designed her very own basketball to mark W’s 25th anniversary.
Beija’s ball, which fell in July and sold out after two hours, is an ode to the city that has bred its passions and longings. It’s also a testament to their love for the game.
“I think I’m from Atlanta, where it’s a cultural hub for new dances, the fire of hot grand piano records, new music,” she says. “I feel like [it’s] a city of innovation, taste makers. “
Growing up in the south, Beija says she often played against the boys in the cul-de-sac where she lived. At the age of 10, she dominated the travel balls and adapted for the Georgia Metros. Her team even won the U10 National Championship at the Walt Disney Wide World of Sports. As a high school graduate, she even received a scholarship to East Georgia College in Swainsboro, GA, just three hours outside of ATL.
However, everyday life as a college student and athlete was tough for her. Morning lifts would start at 5 a.m., followed by runs and additional exercise or lifts. Her obligations were towards her team and her studies, but her ambitions were also aimed at starting her own fashion brand. Soon Beija skipped classes and went shopping at Goodwill, where she found things like sweatpants and turned them into her own signature pieces – sewing the pant legs to make them slimmer and keeping the top half baggy, like harem parents.
Her second hand stores, which became a sideline, were the early inspiration for her BEIRIE brand.
“I would sell them out of the trunk of my mother’s car. Just rush, just try to get some bread … I was always just a prostitute. “
Beija dropped out of school after a semester just before the season started. Instead, she decided to focus entirely on her brand. She eventually got a job at Wish Atlanta, an upscale streetwear boutique in town that sells high quality, upscale brands and was frequented by celebs and musicians like Usher and his then-wife Grace Harry.
After working there for about a year, Beija said she was asked if she was interested in supporting Usher’s social media.
“I recommended other people for this because they wanted people to manage social media and I was like, ‘Well, it sounds like you all need a photographer and my ass isn’t a photographer.’ I am an internet kid. I grew up in the era of Myspace and Tumblr, HTML coding and glitter on pages and people who pay $ 5 to $ 10 to make their site shake. “
While Beija initially declined the offer, she finally accepted the position and got to work straight away. She applied the knowledge she’d gained from platforms like Tumblr to social media marketing, making sure that Usher’s aesthetic in his feed was coherent while targeting different audiences. The opportunity also meant traveling with him to various events, such as a trip to Cuba in 2016 on behalf of the President’s Arts and Humanities Committee for a cultural arts exchange.
It was also at this point that she first came into contact with Complex Magazine, who were there to make a story about him.
When the position at Usher ended that year, Beija found herself in a “dark place” and started selling sneakers at Wish again. Her “homeboy” Patrick helped her to get out of a subsequent depression and reminded her of a passion she has always had: basketball.
“Patrick was like bruh basketball like basketball, basketball, basketball is the answer, ”she recalls.
After Patrick built such a close bond that summer, tragedy occurred when Patrick died devastatingly in a car accident on Christmas Eve. He was 25 years old.
“This ball [dropped] on his birthday, ”says Beija. “And Wilson didn’t even know it was his birthday, they wanted to balance it with the WNBA All-Star game. So these synchronicities and the mere appearance of God in the universe are simply divine to say the least. “
Shortly after Patrick’s death, Complex Magazine contacted her to offer her a job as a personality presenter in front of the camera. There she was featured in a series of videos that showed off her unique style and love for the basket, such as a three-point basketball shootout.
After working at Complex from 2017 to 2018, Beija put her two weeks, as fate would have it, on the same day as Patrick’s one-year anniversary of death. Perhaps the angel above knew that she had other plans, as Beija continued her modeling career with great success.
When asked about her style, she says she took inspiration from her parents, particularly her father, who moved to Atlanta to become a rapper before he became a pastor.
“I feel like I’m very fluent only in my expression through gender. I’m just kind of neutral … I like to be comfortable, and I feel how comfortable I feel at times [other] People unwell. And it’s like, I honestly want you to feel this because I want you to be like this why [is] Is she so cool and so confident herself? I want to feel this energy. “
Beija’s Wilson Ball is both a reflection of her personality and a tribute to her loved ones. The color blue, which means trustworthiness and reliability, is also her nickname, ice blue. It was given to her by her good friend Shake.
“Baby blue is just so fresh. It’s like something icy. It’s so clean, ”she says. “I actually had a baby blue, white Wilson ball that I was bouncing around with all the time. That was definitely an inspiration [too]. “
Blue is also a color in the uniforms of Chicago Sky, where their “home girl” currently plays Diamond DeShields.
“She was like the best basketball player in Georgia and I always looked up to her. Now we’re like best friends, which is crazy. “
The ball also contains intimate, personal details that they reflect. Her tattoos – a laurel reef and the words Patience, forgiveness and integrity in Italian – are engraved in the blue leather with silver ink. There’s also a line from her journal wrapped around the ball that says: ‘I realized it was time to work hard with basketball. For me, basketball is the art and it has saved my life and I knew what will save me again. ‘
She also honors her dear friend with the words “RIP Patrick.” At the end of her interview with SLAM, Beija reveals that she would be flying to Atlanta the following week to do a photoshoot with his family in honor of Patrick and everything they have been through.
She then shares how grateful she is to all of the people who have supported her over the years, from friends and coaches to her parents. “I want everyone to feel celebrated,” she says. “I feel like I’m the face of it, but I wouldn’t be here if my parents didn’t pay for training, if sometimes they didn’t pay a bill just so I could train for basketball.”
She would like to continue to support other creatives and visionaries, especially those of color.
“I remember being that person just trying to look up to someone or make that dream come true. And it just felt like that out there. And it just felt weird. And I thought is that really possible? To be so within myself and now to walk in my truth is righteous, it goes beyond me. And I’m just blessed. And I look forward to really only giving my neighbor faith and hope in his own life. “
Photo credit via Dalena Le, Chris Martinez, Breyona Holt, and Chris Straley.