Aurora James spent a lot of time traveling as kids. Along the way, my Mother curated a collection of colorful, culturally inspired fashion accessories, including silk kimonos, Danish clogs, and ornate hats. She’d spend hours in her closet, daydreaming about the lovely people who would wear these classic items.
Those fantasies came to life as I grew older, thanks to the work photographers Steven Meisel, Richard Avedon, and their cast of muses in fashion publications.
My first internship was at Next Models in Toronto when I was 15 years old. After high school, I went to Ryerson University to study Fashion for a year before altering my degree to Journalism and working at Fashion Television with Jeanne Beker. My first true sight of how fashion worked and what people truly thought and felt came from spending an entire summer in our tape library studying hundreds of hours of behind-the-scenes film footage of interviews and fashion shows. I moved to Los Angeles a few years later and began working as a freelance creative consultant for Elite, Gen Art, Woolly Pocket, and Thomas Wylde. Despite the fact that I never designed anything, my job was always about building and expanding ideas and identities. I spent a lot of my free time trying to come up with a bigger method to express my creativity while also giving back in some manner. My first journey to Africa was to Morocco in 2011, following which I experimented with design and different craftspeople for a few years. In January 2013, I launched Brother Vellies with the objective of conserving the African shoemaking trade and providing new opportunities for the craftsmen in our workshops. Working with South African shoemakers, I released the first formal collection in Spring 2014. We soon extended to Kenya and Morocco to continue manufacturing real, modern-day desert boots, shoes, slippers, and sandals. I currently travel to Africa every 2-3 months to work with our craftspeople on the ground and continue to expand our lines. Every day is a new lesson and a challenge with our craftsmen, and we’ve developed and developed so much together that I’m immensely thrilled to be sharing our story with you today.
As a result, each month we will highlight a business that exemplifies what it means to be a sustainable force for good in the fashion industry today. We cut through the noise so you don’t have to, from debunking errors to offering advise to budding firms and consumer recommendations on how to be more environmentally conscious. This month, we’re getting to know Aurora James, the designer and founder of Brother Vellies, a shoe and accessories brand, as well as the inventor of the 15% pledge, a movement encouraging shops to dedicate 15% of their shelf space to Black-owned businesses.
James launched Brother Vellies in 2013 with the objective of showcasing traditional African design processes and skills while creating and sustaining artisanal jobs. He was born in Toronto to a Canadian mother and a Ghanaian father. The label specializes in high-end accessories that pay attention to African cultural history and timeless style in one-of-a-kind pieces that will last a lifetime.
“I hope that, beyond Brother Vellies, we as an industry continue to evolve and review what sustainability looks like and how we, as customers, value it in a business.” We need to start thinking more about our supply chain and how we treat the people with whom we work, as well as the imagery we use to encourage people to shop. Much of it has been motivated by a desire to make women feel inferior, and I believe we should instead strive to make women feel like the finest versions of themselves.”
A tiny group of men and women work at the company’s facility in Kenya, hand-assembling a few dozen pairs of shoes per day using techniques that have been passed down through generations. All of the Brother Vellies workshops are open to people of all genders, sexual orientations, backgrounds, and tribes.
Every couple of months, James travels around Africa to collaborate with local craftspeople, learn about the continent’s unique culture, and find new inspiration for her brand.