How Tijuana leather designer Kiko Baez ended up working with Latin music’s biggest stars

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Collage of Kiko Baez and images of musicians wearing his designs
(Elana Marie / For De Los; Kiko Baez )

By Cerys Davies

Many of Kiko Baez’s happiest memories took place at his grandfather’s leather goods manufacturing facility in Tijuana.

It’s where he learned to ride a bike and where he would run laps around the machinery and ask employees endless questions about what they do, learning about the ins and outs of the fashion industry.

It’s also where he has made custom outfits for some of the biggest names in sports and Latin music.

As the founder of luxury streetwear line Baez, the 24-year-old designer has made intricate leather jackets for the likes of Karol G, Daddy Yankee, Maluma and Santa Fe Klan. Baez has also made Mexico-inspired custom boxing shoes for boxing champion Saul “Canelo” Álvarez.

Baez says that as a child he would shadow his grandfather at work. Quickly catching on to how the facility functioned, the younger Baez says he was always left with one question: “Why don’t the clothes say our name?”

At the time, the factory was a leather manufacturer for several large American brands. This meant the Baez family had no input as to what they made. This arrangement often confused and frustrated the young creative, who longed to see the Baez name on the clothes they produced.

“A lot of the things that were being made in the factory had to do with big sports figures and artists. I would always look at these jackets and get so excited to run to my school and tell my friends,” said Baez. “But my grandpa was always telling me, ‘Don’t say nothing because this is not ours.’”

The business was founded by Baez’s great-grandmother, Adela Corona, and it began by making and selling common leather souvenirs like moccasins and purses. When Baez’s grandfather took over several years later, he expanded the business to function as a wholesale manufacturer. When Baez inherited the company at 18,he set out to grow the family name.

“I immediately told my grandpa how I felt. I don’t want a factory. I want a brand. He told me, ‘You have the business running already. The safe route to go is to just do what we’re doing,’” said Baez.

Jowell & Randy and De La Ghetto on stage at Coachella
Jowell & Randy and De La Ghetto on stage at Coachella | (Kiko Baez )

As the company continued to run as usual in Tijuana, Baez spent all time traveling to various cities to make the connections needed to realize his dream.

On a fateful trip to Los Angeles, Baez met his now-mentor, designer Manuel Roa, who agreed to introduce Baez to famous Mexican boxer Canelo Alvarez. The plan was for Baez to meet the world champion after a fight in Las Vegas and hand him a custom-made Baez champion’s jacket.

It wasn’t a sure thing, but this was Kiko Baez’s best shot. Given the lack of certainty, his family was hesitant. They knew the odds of him wearing the jacket were low — the boxer has an exclusive contract with Dolce & Gabbana.

“This was the first time where everything was against me. My grandpa was telling me to take a smarter shot, but I had to do what my heart tells me,” said Baez.

Before he could hand Alvarez the jacket, Baez had to come up with the design first. Everything was riding on this garment. Not only would it be the first piece to represent the new brand, but if it was good enough, it could give his brand the spotlight it needed.

“It was a special feeling. I don’t know how I managed it but I knew my dream was up to me,” said Baez. “I remember I did about 20 designs before presenting one that I like.”

He settled on a boxing motif— it featured a boxing ring and included Swarovski crystals to match the winner’s championship belt. The multicolored sleeves displayed the four belts Alvarez had already won, and the back of the jacket read “Undisputed Super Middleweight Champion 2021.”

The day of the fight had finally come. Alvarez handily defeated Caleb Plant in the 11th round by technical knockout. After the fight, the world champion headed toward his green room, where Baez was waiting for his own victory. The young designer seized on his opportunity — Alvarez loved the jacket and even wore it for a picture with Baez. In the designer’s mind, he had already succeeded. He got exactly what he came for.

But the night wasn’t over just yet.

“I was sitting there on the street in front of the MGM and I started receiving a lot of messages and calls,” said Baez.

“I remember I didn’t want to answer anything until my grandpa FaceTimed me. He was crying. He told me, ‘I don’t know how you did it.’ I didn’t know what happened until he flipped the camera to the TV. Canelo was wearing the jacket to the press conference where they presented him as the world champion. We were both crying. That was the perfect moment.”

Baez says he received a call from Natanael Cano shortly after the fight. The sad sierreño superstar wanted Baez to design his look for his set at the 2022 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. The end result was a red varsity jacket that implemented touches of who Cano is an artist. The back of the jacket portrayed King Kong and the Empire State building, a nod to his album “Nata Kong,” as well as a pattern inspired by the singer’s tattoos.

Custom Kiko Baez jacket for singer and rapper Santa Fe Klan (Kiko Baez )

For this year’s festival Baez made outfits for Santa Fe Klan, Jowell & Randy and De La Ghetto.

“I emphasize a lot in what the artist wants to show, express, and make people feel when they’re wearing it. Most of these custom pieces are based on their colors, on their feeling [and] on their albums,” said Baez.

As he continues to make a name for himself, the young designer says everything comes back to the brand’s namesake and where it was started. He remembers his friends and family encouraging him to chase his dreams elsewhere.

“They were telling me don’t stay in TJ. It has nothing to do with fashion. You gotta go and learn fashion. But I remember always saying to them I don’t wanna go to fashion. I want to bring fashion to TJ,” said Baez.

He hopes his journey will one day serve as inspiration to other designers who are told their dreams are too big.

“Even if it took more time and effort, it means way more for the culture and for my community to be that example,” he said. “I want to create a platform where the day that I retire, I see 100 or 1,000 Mexican and Latin American designers that grew up looking at what we’re doing.”

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