Beija Velez has been designing sneakers and basketballs since she was seven years old. Born in Atlanta and raised in Decatur, GA, the model, designer and creative says that she’d fill sketchbooks with drawings, all while dreaming of one day playing in the WNBA.
“I had a whole entire sketchbook where I was just always ideating and imagining,” she says in a ZOOM call in July.
Beija’s creativity and style have led her to several ventures throughout her career, from working as an on-camera personality for Complex to doing creative consultant as a social media manager for Usher.
Her latest work includes a special collab with Wilson Sporting Goods, the official game ball of the WNBA, where she designed her very own basketball in celebration of the W’s 25th anniversary.
Beija’s ball, which dropped in July and sold out after two hours, is an ode to the city that has bred her passions and desires. It’s also a testament to her love for the game.
“I think coming from Atlanta, where it’s a cultural hub of new dances coming out of there, the fire hot wing plates, new music,” she says. “I feel like [it’s] a city of innovation, tastemakers.”
Growing up down South, Beija says she’d often play against the boys in the cul de sac she lived in. By the age of 10, she was dominating on travel ball circuits, suiting up for the Georgia Metros. Her team even won the U10 National Championship at the Walt Disney Wide World of Sports. As a senior in high school, she even earned a scholarship to East Georgia State College in Swainsboro, GA, just three hours outside of ATL.
The daily grind of being a college student-athlete was tough on her, though. Morning lifts would start at 5 am, followed by runs and additional training or lifts. While her obligations were to her team and her studies, her aspirations were also aimed at creating her own fashion brand. Soon, Beija found herself skipping class and going thrift shopping at Goodwill, where she’d find items like a pair of sweatpants and re-purpose them into her own signature pieces—sewing the pants legs to make them slimmer, and keeping the upper half baggier, like harem pants.
Her thrift store-ventures-turned-side-hustle was the early inspiration for her brand, BEIRIE.
“I would sell them out of the trunk of my mom’s car. Just hustling, just trying to get some bread…I’ve always just been a hustler.”
Beija ended up dropping out of school after one semester, right before the season started. She chose instead to focus on her brand full-time. Eventually, she got a job at Wish Atlanta, an exclusive streetwear boutique in the city that sells high-end, upscale brands and has been frequently visited by celebs and musicians, like Usher and his wife at the time, Grace Harry.
After working there for about a year, Beija says she was asked if she’d be interested in assisting with Usher’s social media.
“I recommended other people for it because they wanted people to manage the social media and I’m like, ‘well it sounds like y’all need a photographer and my ass ain’t no photographer.’ I’m an internet kid. I grew up in the era of Myspace and Tumblr, HTML coding and putting glitter on pages and people paying $5-10 to make their page shake.”
While Beija initially turned the offer down, she eventually accepted the position and got right to work. She applied the knowledge she’d gained from platforms like Tumblr to social media marketing, making sure that Usher’s aesthetic was cohesive on his feed while targeting different audiences. The opportunity also meant traveling with him to different events, such as a trip to Cuba in 2016 on behalf of the President’s Arts and Humanities Committee for a cultural arts exchange.
That’s also when she first got in contact with Complex Magazine, who was there to do a story on him.
When the position with Usher ended that year, Beija found herself in a “dark place” afterward and went back to selling sneakers at Wish. Her “homeboy” Patrick helped her rise out of an ensuing depression and reminded her of a passion she’d always had: basketball.
“Patrick was just like, bruh basketball like basketball, basketball, basketball is the answer,” she recalls.
After building such a close bond that summer, tragedy struck when Patrick devastatingly passed away in a car accident on Christmas Eve in 2016. He was 25 years old.
“This ball [dropped] on his birthday,” Beija says. “And Wilson didn’t even know that it was his birthday, they wanted to align it with the WNBA All-Star game. So those synchronicities and just God showing up in the universe is just divine to say the least.”
Shortly after Patrick’s passing, Complex hit her up to offer her a position as an on-camera personality host. There, she was featured in a series of videos that showcased her unique style and love for hoops, such as a three-point basketball shootout.
After working at Complex from 2017-2018, Beija put in her two weeks, as fate would have it, on the same day as the one-year anniversary of Patrick’s death. Perhaps the angel up above knew there were other plans in store for her, as Beija continued to pursue her modeling career with much success.
When asked about her style, she says she draws inspiration from her parents, specifically her father, who moved to Atlanta to become a rapper before he became a pastor.
“I feel like I am very fluid within just my expression through gender. I’m just kind of neutral in some way… I like to be comfortable, and I feel like how comfortable I am sometimes makes [other] people uncomfortable. And it’s like, I honestly do want them to feel that because I want them to be like, why [is] she so chill and so confident herself? I want to feel that energy.”
Beija’s love for the game never wavered, and her Wilson ball is symbolic of that. It also honors all of her loved ones that have supported her throughout her entire journey.
The color blue, which means trustworthiness and reliability, is also her nickname, baby blue. It was given to her by her good friend, Shake.
“Baby blue is just so fresh. It’s just like some icy vibes. It’s so clean,” she says. “I actually used to have a baby-blue white panel Wilson ball that I used to hoop with all the time. So that was definitely an inspiration [too].”
Blue is also a color in the Chicago Sky’s uniforms, where her “homegirl” Diamond DeShields currently plays.
“She was like the top basketball player in Georgia and I always looked up to her. Now we’re really great friends, which is crazy.”
The ball features intimate, personal details that are a reflection of her. Her tattoos—a laurel wreath and the words patience forgiveness and integrity in Spanish—are engraved onto the blue leather in silver ink. There’s also a line from her journal, which wraps around the ball, that says, ‘It hit me that it was time I started going hard with basketball. Basketball is art to me and it saved my life and I knew it would save me again.’
She also has the words “RIP Patrick” engraved on the ball. At the end of her interview with SLAM, Beija says that she’s going to fly to Atlanta the following week to do a photo shoot with his family in honor of Patrick and all that they’ve been through.
She then shares how thankful she is for all of the people who have supported her throughout 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 this, but I wouldn’t be here if my parents didn’t pay for the training when sometimes they wouldn’t pay a bill just so I could train for basketball.”
She also wants to continue to support other creatives and visionaries, specifically those of color.
“I remember being that person just trying to look up to someone or trying to attain that dream. And it just felt so out there. And it just felt outlandish. And I was like, is this really possible? So to be so in myself and walking in my truth now is just, it’s beyond me. And I’m just blessed. And I look forward to really just giving the next person faith and hope in their own life.”
Photo credits via Dalena Le, Chris Martinez, Breyona Holt and Chris Straley.