Kids of Immigrants, The DIY Brand Dressing Kehlani & Big Sean, Are Cultivating Solidarity & Pride in Fashion
Almost a year ago, Daniel Buezo and Weleh Dennis launched a clothing brand that would become the DIY rallying cry for marginalized communities in today’s troubling political landscape. Kids of Immigrants (KOI), a line that repurposes thrifted items of clothing into unique, hand-made pieces, has risen to fame in the short time since its positivity-driven streetwear has hit the digital market — their designs are already supported by artist like Kehlani, Big Sean, Lil Uzi Vert, and Camila Cabello.
Daniel, a 28-year-old stylist and longtime fashion retail worker currently with Opening Ceremony, grew up in Brooklyn with parents who immigrated from Honduras. He met Weleh, a 31-year-old Liberian-American and design graduate from San Francisco’s Academy of Art, four years ago. “We both had a strong connection about style, fashion and family,” Daniel tells Billboard. “KOI evolved from our bond about being first generation Americans.”
From the hand-painted “Find Our Girls” overalls Kehlani wore for her Coachella 2017 performance to the hand-cut “LOVE” hoodies their friends model on Instagram, KOI is a brand about solidarity, self-esteem, and resourcefulness. “We strongly believe in the power of unity,” they explain. “We believe we need each other. The only competition is with ourselves becoming better than yesterday.”
To better understand the innovative minds behind KOI’s radical fashion, Billboard spoke with Daniel and Weleh about their inspirations and dreams for the growing brand.
Daniel, how did you originally link up with Kehlani?
Daniel: I met Kehlani 3 years ago when my childhood friend David Ali started managing her. I began styling her, tour managing and doing whatever was needed to make it happen. We are a big ass family and always did whatever needed to be done to get the job done — styling was just one part of my work with Kehlani. After our first tour, Debbie Gonzales started styling her. However, we still work very closely, especially with Weleh customizing special pieces for her.
How did KOI begin working with Big Sean and dressing him for tour?
Daniel: Working with Opening Ceremony, I've had many opportunities to work with many stylist and that’s how I met Ade Samuels who styles Big Sean. I showed her some of our pieces and she pulled them for his tour. He ended up keeping about 10 pieces for his tour. Big love to Ade for making that connection!
Your mission statement, "Do the best we can with what we have", is very inspiring. What are ways you’ve seen the musicians and artists you work with doing the best they can in this political environment with what they have?
We believe that our brand statement is a lifestyle that we live and inspire others to live. Kehlani is on tour right now and asking for donations from her fans in each city to contribute to local shelters. That's a beautiful example of doing the best you can with what you have.
How would you describe the pieces you create? What are the references for your clothing?
We live in the Korean Town area of L.A. and are inspired by our surrounding environment and daily lives — there’s street vendors on every corner and people feeding their families with these businesses. That inspires us to make pieces full of ingenuity and innovation. [Street vendors] may not own an actual store but they still make it happen. We feel the same — we might not have an actual factory but we still make it happen.
Do you have favorite second hand stores in L.A. that you like to frequent while shopping for KOI?
St. Vincente by Dodgers Stadium is super lit.
What is one piece of advice you have for children of immigrants trying to break into America’s fashion world?
We are the culture, we are self-sufficient, and the future is ours. We are the ones we are waiting for.
Moving forward, what is your dream for KOI?
Teach and help the people from our communities. We want to educate them about life -- not just what we learn in school -- but real life.