What do you get when you mix a girl with killer shoe game and a badass attitude to match? A Bandida! Meet Jamie Balbuena, the original Bandida and woman behind your new favorite street wear brand. Before moving to New York City to attend Parsons, Jamie grew up in the DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia–for those of you who don’t know) area and honed her sneaker connossieur skills working at Finish Line. Fast forward a few years later and after an internship with Married to the Mob, she’s now making big moves and started her own brand, aptly named Bandida. With everything she’s got on her plate, it was no easy task keeping up with the designer/graphic artist, but here she is for our latest installment of Week in the Feet.
Mariana Mandanas: What’s the story behind your brand?
Jamie Balbuena: I started making graphics that spoke to me on different levels, just for fun. Playing around with Spanish phrases and feminist themes got me thinking about what it means to be a Latina today–Latinas have very unique experiences because we’re all so different, but I think a common factor is the culture of being strong, proud and loving life, especially in the face of adversity. We’re marginalized, sexualized and criminalized… so I took that and flipped it in a way that’s fashionable and makes you feel good when you wear it. Bandida emerged as a celebration of girl power plus fuego!
MM: How’d you get your brand started and involved in streetwear in general?
JB: I started on the front lines! Working at one of the first punk and streetwear shops in DC called Up Against the Wall. That’s where I discovered Married to the Mob. As soon as I moved to Manhattan I started a year-long internship with them. Once I came up with my own designs I pawned some of my jewelry and got shirts printed in the Heights. I gave most away to my friends and then slowly started selling them. When I created my site I had one of my best friends model for me. It’s all very homegrown.
MM: I grew up with MTTB–that was my jam in early high school! What was it like working with them?
JB: Interning at MOB was amazing. Being surrounded by women with a vision was so refreshing, and their grind was motivating. Being able to call the originator of female streetwear a friend and a mentor is definitely a blessing.
MM: I noticed that you draw a lot from things you find in the hood, Spanish culture, powerful women–everything you were surrounded by growing up. What inspires your personal style?
JB: Comfort and versatility is important to me. I like to play with size and proportion – I like tight and cropped but also love an oversized fit. Black is a staple, but I like to throw in patterns and different textures as well. My nameplate and gold rings rarely come off. I grew up having to be very creative with clothes. I had to wear boy’s hand-me-downs around the same time my Grandma was making me these cute little shirts with matching scrunchies [laughs], so I’ve always mixed feminine & masculine styles.
MM: How about with your brand [Bandida]?
JB: With Bandida, I draw inspiration from my life experiences and the spirit of the women I love to be around. Women who approach life with a sense of humor and an attitude that demands respect. Women with style. Latinas who’ve made the world more beautiful: Frida Kahlo, Lady Pink, Selena, Celia Cruz. I’m extremely inspired by the diversity of Latinidad. We’re multi-lingual, multi-ethnic, multi-racial. That’s powerful.
MM: What are some of your favorite pieces from your collection?
JB: It’s hard to choose but this Selena jersey is crack.
MM: Let’s talk about that jersey–how’d you come up with that idea?
JB: Selena has always been a huge inspiration to me. She’s the OG Baddie. I was thinking about her impact on fashion – It’s really undeniable. Anyway, I was thinking she wouldn’t wear a graphic tee, but she definitely fucked with mesh. Also, Selena Gomez is cute and I’m glad she’s doing her thing, but I’m team Quintanilla all day. So a cropped jersey was the solution. The 71 on the back represents the year of her birth.
MM: What kind of shoe does the Bandida girl rock on a daily basis?
JB: It’s hard to say because Bandidas are so diverse! A Bandida is most definitely as comfortable in kicks as she is in heels though. For now let’s say Retro 1’s in the day, and leather over-the-knee boots at night.
MM: And how about yourself?
JB: I usually rock Timbs in the winter, but my high top Air Forces are still in rotation. I need my Free Runs too. I brought out my white AF1 lows this summer, and it kind of made me miss my white Reebok Classics! I’m gonna bring them out in the Spring. Some of my other favorites from my collection are my Olympic VII’s, Hello Kitty Vans, Back/Gold patent Retro 1’s.
MM: One fun fact about you and your sneakers?
JB: This is weird but… all of my sneakers smell brand new. My feet don’t sweat! I could run a mile and my shoes would still be crispy [laughs]. Less weird fact: My first job was at a sneaker store. The best part was getting Jays early. Going to school with the new retros a week before a release was fun. The worst part was working a midnight release.
MM: As a girl you know how upsetting it is when you miss out on something that doesn’t come in your size. Was there ever a shoe that you always wanted but could never have because of that?
JB: Copper or Galaxy Foams. Foamposites are big in the DMV area [where I grew up] and I was always super jealous of the guys. I also saw that the Air Max TNs are making a comeback but it looks like it’s only in mens for now! I had like 3 pairs but I lost them in a house fire. I’m gonna need them to release some GS sizes soon.
MM: What was the response like for your brand in 2013 and what big things have you got planned for 2014?
JB: Everything about 2013 was amazing and has definitely inspired me to keep creating. 2013 brought international Bandidas as well as my first wholesale orders. We’ll see collaborations in 2014!