"Now we have our own office space, a whole thousand-square-feet for us to do whatever we want," says co-founder Daniel Buezo on a Zoom call with NYLON from the new Kids of Immigrants HQ in downtown Los Angeles.
Sitting next to designer and co-founder Weleh Dennis, the two are looking back at how their purpose-driven fashion brand has grown since the idea of Kids of Immigrants started ruminating in 2013 and officially launched in 2016.
"I love to say the 2013 part because we want people to know this took a lot of time, dedication, and learning," says Buezo. "We learned from our mistakes, how to work with each other, and how to build [Kids of Immigrants] our own way and keep it that way."
With a Vans collaboration set to drop on Friday, Oct. 2, Buezo and Dennis continue to stay true to their brand's roots and budding community. To celebrate the new launch, Vans is donating $5,000 to A New Way of Life, a non-profit that provides women the support they need for life after prison. The donation will help Kids of Immigrants build a community garden for the organization's new home that hosts eight women in Los Angeles.
Inspired by workwear and their own families, the Vans '90s-era, skate-inspired "Lowland CC" is lined with off-white canvas and covered with paint. The Kids of Immigrants team also modified and customized every shoe by hand — 400 pairs total, according to WWD — to have its own distinct look. Plus, each pair will come with a brush and sandpaper for even more personalization.
"We want to encourage everyone to either customize it in their own liking or just create their own shoe," says Buezo. "We believe in everyone's individual story. I think part of what we do is that you can do it, too."
"We try to have things where we can engage and have a call to action for people to be a part of these things that they already connect with," adds Dennis. "I'm extremely happy that people love the designs that we put out, but I'm also extremely happy that they can play a part in it."
Buezo, who hails from New York with a decade of experience in retail, and Dennis, an artist-turned-designer, first met in 2013. They bonded over their different yet similar cultural backgrounds — Buezo's parents are from Honduras and Dennis' from Liberia — which inspired the name behind their brand.
"Those real kids of immigrants upbringings," recalls Buezo. "We wanted to create heritage. We grew up wearing Ralph Lauren, Nautica, and all these American heritage brands, but they didn't represent us. We wanted to do something that actually represents who we are."
Their first product was a collection of 18 T-shirts with the word "Love" on it, which sold out within an hour. Other brand signatures include a tee that says "Support Your Friends" and its latest drop is a varsity-print collection emblazoned with the word "Immigrant," which has now expanded into a "Work A Day In Our Shoes" capsule range to commemorate the Vans collaboration. Kids of Immigrants has garnered a celebrity following, too, including Bad Bunny, Dua Lipa, Kehlani, Lil Uzi Vert, and more.
In addition to helping A New Way of Life with Vans, Buezo and Dennis have always partnered with charitable organizations throughout Los Angeles, from Inner City Arts and artworxLA to No Us Without You and Border Angels. For the upcoming 2020 Election, Kids of Immigrants is partnering with Black Out The Ballet on a voting initiative. "For a lot of brands, it could be very performative or the new marketing plan, but that's always been us," says Buezo. "It's the reason why we make product. We make product with that purpose with our community in mind."
The global pandemic has only solidified their purpose, as fashion brands across the globe have not only been grappling with delayed production and a major loss in sales, but the reckoning and realization of injustices within the industry.
"We are the leaders we're waiting for," says Buezo. "I felt like that position really opened up for us. We've been saying this for four years and 2020 is unveiling who's really down for the people. We're not here to judge any other brand. We are focused on what we're doing. But I think it was that moment we had to say this is our time where we truly lead and continue to lead."