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Boardroom Q&A: Vashtie Kola

Last Updated: July 1, 2023
Vashtie Kola discussed representation among women of color in the sneaker world, working with Justin Bieber and Drake, Kith, and more.

Vashtie Kola is a woman of many talents; she’s a DJ, director, talent, designer, and mother.

The 41-year-old has notched many achievements during her career, from being the first woman to design a pair of Jordans for Nike to directing Justin Bieber‘s first-ever music video. She is now a vital part of New York City’s cultural fabric as a tastemaker in music and fashion. Vashtie graced the newly renovated and reopened Chase Lounge at Madison Square Garden with a DJ set before the Knicks took on the Lakers.

In a pregame chat with Boardroom, Kola discussed representation among women of color in the sneaker world, working with Bieber and Drake, what NYC means to her, and why Ronnie Fieg being named Knicks creative director is so meaningful.

Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity

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Shlomo Sprung: You’ve dipped your toes in a lot of different pools, from music, sneakers, and fashion to everything New York City. What’s your creative process like, and is there a common thread in what inspires you? 

Vashtie Kola: Yes, I have my toes dipped in many pools. What I find inspiring in all the things that I do is really New York City and street culture. I always go back to street culture no matter what it is. If it’s street culture from today, the ‘90s, maybe even the ‘70s, there’s this interest that I’ve always had in subversive subcultures. I really find inspiration in that.

SS: What collab or idea would you say put you on the map? 

VK: Definitely being the first woman to design a pair of Jordans in 2010. It still is something that people ask me about or people recognize me for. 

SS: What was that like, first being asked to design, and then still being asked about it 13 years later? 

VK: At the time because it was so unprecedented, I feel like it wasn’t really embraced by the company, by the brand. It was something that was so new that I don’t think they really knew that it would hit so hard, especially with female sneakerheads. It might have been because there wasn’t much representation that they could see, right? Being in the street, being someone who loves sneakers, as a girl, I knew that there were other girls who love sneakers, but I think brands were not that savvy because there wasn’t really big positioning for social media, so they didn’t really get to see that there were all kinds of girls who liked sneakers that didn’t have to be pink. 

At the time of its release, brands at that point didn’t realize how big it could have been. Over time it’s really shown and it’s obvious now with ladies like Melody Ehsani, who’s killing it, and it’s great that they’re now finally understanding and embracing that women love sneakers and that we have different styles. We’re not all one monolith. We’re all doing our own thing.

SS: Yeah, one of the questions I was going to ask was what you think about the representation, or lack thereof, of women of color in the sneaker world?

VK: There’s definitely a lack of representation in the sneaker world for women of color and Black women. They definitely exist, but it’s slow. It’s definitely something that can move faster. I feel like we don’t get the same recognition, the same opportunities. Even now, you have to have a certain amount of following and certain this and that to get those opportunities, whereas there are a lot of incredible people who are doing their thing that don’t have the profile or the stats or followers that should also be given opportunities. I know that it’s taken time and I’m really excited for the growth that we’ve had, but I’m definitely eager for much more growth. 

SS: You’ve collaborated with a lot of NYC artists, like Jadakiss and Joey Bada$$. Is there something about New York City that brings out something in you? 

VK: New York is such a huge inspiration, and it’s something I hold very dear to me because I’m not from NYC. I’m actually from Albany, New York, but for people who were born and raised in NYC, I feel like there’s this special element that you can’t just recreate if you just moved here. When people who just moved here call themselves New Yorkers, I feel offended. New York is such a special place. It’s a rare place. I’ve traveled a lot and I’ve never found a city like New York. And I really want to keep what I love about New York very special and dear. So being able to recreate that in clothing or music, just to keep that spirit of New York alive is really important to me. And I think because I’m an outsider, I have that much more of an obsession with it. It’s a huge part of my heart. 

SS: What was it like directing Justin Bieber’s first-ever music video for “One Time” back in 2009, that has more than 730 million views on YouTube?

VK: Directing a young Justin Bieber for his music video was actually fascinating, because when I came in for the job, I didn’t know much about him. If you weren’t part of his fan base, you didn’t really know much about him at that time. So I wasn’t sure what to expect. I thought maybe this was a Disney show kid who had this incredible opportunity. And when I met him, he was like a regular kid. He was into skateboarding and loved just hanging out with his friends. He was such a regular kid, and I loved that about him. Also what I loved about him was that going through the styling of trying to figure out what piece he should wear for the video, he had a very specific tone of the way he wanted to dress, and he wasn’t going to be kind of pushed around by stylists or managers. He really had an eye for what he wanted to wear and what he was comfortable with. And his mom was on set, which was really sweet. It was incredible because you could see that he was on the cusp of being this young, delicate kid becoming his own self.

SS: And then you worked with Drake in 2015 for “Hotline Bling,” when he was more fully formed as an artist. 

VK: Working with Drake was incredible. He’s such a huge, powerful, incredible star and he’s really dedicated to his craft, which is amazing. It’s always inspiring to meet people who are these forces that are really committed to their craft and themselves. It always inspires me. 

SS: How were you able to transition from a DJ and designer into more of a front-facing talent type?

VK: It’s weird because coming from the art side, having worked on set and DJ’ed in holes in the wall, I’m used to working with nothing and figuring it out. That’s my strong suit. So now being on the other side of things as talent is nice. The treatment is better, the food is better, the drinks are better. But it’s definitely still a shock for me and not something that I fully feel comfortable in. 

SS: At the Knicks game, you see the black and orange court, the City Edition jerseys and another Kith Night with Ronnie Fieg as the team’s creative director. As someone immersed in the city’s street style, what does that mean to see him in that role?

VK: I’m so excited for Ronnie. I feel like as someone who’s been in the business and in the scene for as long as he has, he deserves it. It’s incredible that they’ve tapped someone who’s really involved in the worlds that we’re in, who’s bringing the life and energy that this incredible institution deserves. 

SS: If you’re getting in the zone on game day, what artists or songs would be on your playlist? 

VK: Nas, Jay-Z, really going into the classics of New York. That’s really my aesthetic, especially going to a game.

SS: Lastly, who are either musical artists or creatives in general that are coming up that we should look out for?

VK: I could name some, but they’re not in the vein of hip-hop. There’s this girl who I really like. Her name is Eartheater, really talented. She’s also produced, going by Lolahall. And I really love PinkPantheress. She’s so fun.

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