Advertisement

Vans and L.A. label collaborate to celebrate immigrant roots, working-class heroes

Weleh Dennis, cofounder of Kids of Immigrants, in new Vans collaboration shoes.
Weleh Dennis, cofounder of Kids of Immigrants, wears the label’s new shoe collaboration with Costa Mesa-based Vans.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Since launching their unisex streetwear line Kids of Immigrants four years ago, Daniel Buezo and Weleh Dennis have become known for making sartorial statements tied to causes.

Their first fashion release in 2016 was a T-shirt emblazoned with the word “love” in bold block letters. A year later, they painted a custom jumpsuit for singer Kehlani’s 2017 Coachella performance to raise awareness about the mysterious disappearance of women in the Washington, D.C., area. And in 2019, the brand’s Love Has No Borders hoodie raised money for the San Diego-based nonprofit Border Angels to provide resources for migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border in Tijuana.

Buezo and Dennis took the same approach when they designed their first sneaker, a collaboration with Costa Mesa-based Vans. The shoe, which is set to drop Friday, was originally scheduled for a release in May around the brand’s four-year anniversary but was delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Daniel Buezo, left, and Weleh Dennis, founders of Kids of Immigrants.
Daniel Buezo, left, and Weleh Dennis, founders of Kids of Immigrants, show off their new collaboration shoes with Vans.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Advertisement

The shoes, which retail for $100, and other goods, including a hoodie, T-shirt and bucket hat, will be available at 9 a.m. Pacific on Friday on the Footlocker-owned Greenhouse app. They also will be available for purchase Saturday at 9 a.m. Pacific on kidsofimmigrants.us, according to the brand’s website. Also, beginning Oct. 9, the shoes will be sold at a Footlocker location in Compton.

First-generation Americans Buezo, 32, and Dennis, 34, focused the release on the concept “Work a Day in Our Shoes.” The project is also a means to celebrate their immigrant roots and honor the country’s working-class community, which is oftentimes overlooked.

The off-white Lowland CC Vans shoe has been hand-distressed by the Kids of Immigrants team. No two sneakers are alike. The tweaked style was inspired by Buezo’s father, a longtime construction worker who moved to the U.S. from Honduras in the 1980s.

The Kids of Immigrants' new sneaker, a spin on Vans Lowland CC shoe.
The Kids of Immigrants’ new sneaker, a spin on Vans Lowland CC shoe, drops Friday.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Advertisement

“Kids of Immigrants” is printed in black on the back of each shoe. The shoes come with tool kit — complete with sandpaper and a paint brush — to encourage the wearer to further customize the monochromatic shoes.

“Our parents worked super hard coming here [to the U.S.],” said Dennis, whose parents migrated from Liberia in the 1980s. “A lot of the jobs my pops and my mom had access to were manual labor jobs.” Dennis, who worked at Vans when he was younger, said having the main inspiration for a corporate-backed product be their parents and their upbringing was a special moment.

Leading up to the launch of the shoes, the Kids of Immigrants team — including creative director Debbie Gonzales, whose family is from Mexico, and director of operations Christian Gray, who’s Jamaican Belizean — created a video campaign highlighting members of their families who are essential workers.

Weleh Dennis, left, cofounder of Kids of Immigrants; Debbie Gonzales; Christian Gray; and Daniel Buezo, cofounder.
Members of the Los Angeles-based streetwear label Kids of Immigrants include cofounder Weleh Dennis, left; Debbie Gonzales, the brand’s creative director; Christian Gray, director of operations; and cofounder Daniel Buezo. The label was started by two first-generation Americans.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Advertisement

In the heartwarming videos, the Kids of Immigrants team members pose the same question, “Why do you work so hard?” And just like the ethos of the brand and the inspiration behind the shoe, the general response is simple: family.

In celebration of the release, Vans will donate $5,000 to A New Way of Life, a nonprofit that helps women rebuild their lives after prison; Kids of Immigrants, which has worked with several nonprofits, including Black Out the Ballot and Inner-City Arts, will build a community garden at a new home in Los Angeles for the organization.

×

Years before the Kids of Immigrants owners were designing apparel and sneakers, Buezo, who’s originally from Brooklyn, N.Y., studied social work at Norfolk University in Virginia and worked retail jobs.

Advertisement

Dennis, who hails from Sacramento, studied design at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco thanks to a basketball scholarship. As he worked at an art supplies store and other retail shops, he was also designing and selling his own leather goods.

The pair met in 2013 through a mutual friend and bonded over a shared love for fashion and their upbringing as first-generation Americans. It was during this encounter that Dennis first used the words “kids of immigrants.” Despite friends encouraging them not to use it, that phrase would eventually become the name of their brand, which launched in May 2016.

Daniel Buezo, left, and Weleh Dennis, founders of Kids of Immigrants.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

“Prior to us, I think people were always proud of their roots but people weren’t screaming, ‘I’m an immigrant. I’m so proud,’” said Buezo, who moved to Los Angeles in 2014. (Getting started in L.A., he worked at the now-defunct high-end store Opening Ceremony, and he later styled and served as tour manager for Kehlani. Dennis moved to Los Angeles in 2015.)

Advertisement

“We spoke about creating a heritage brand [and] something that truly represents who we are,” Buezo said. “If the trends change, we will still be kids of immigrants.”

Their early designs were predominantly one-off DIY pieces. They used clothing they thrifted from secondhand stores. Dennis would hand-paint their logo onto pieces and create patches from different fabrics. Rapper Big Sean was among the first celebrities to wear one of their custom designs.

Christian Gray, left, Debbie Gonzales, Daniel Buezo and Weleh Dennis of the L.A. streetwear label Kids of Immigrants.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Since their start, they’ve released several collections, including a Support Your Friends series, which is among their most popular. Pieces have been worn by Bad Bunny, Lil Wayne, Jhené Aiko and Odell Beckham Jr., among others, as well as on the shows “Insecure” and “On My Block.”

Advertisement

Although their brand launched during the Trump era at a time when immigration became a hot-button topic, Buezo and Dennis said the political climate hasn’t affected their work. Human rights has.

“It’s interesting that [politics] connected to it, but the main thing was to empower people like us that were from different countries and use that as your bridge to connection,” Dennis said. “Be proud about expressing and sharing your culture with other people, because that’s when you really, truly understand, to me, what it means to be American, which is diversity.”


Advertisement