Aurora James refuses to be quiet in the wake of tragedy and disappointment. In the September issue of Vogue, the Brother Vellies designer made it clear: Black lives do, and always have, mattered. For the 'Hope Issue', Vogue enlisted two contemporary artists to make paintings for the infamous September cover, Jordan Casteel and Kerry Marshall. Casteel, known for her works centered around families in the Harlem community, chose Aurora James as her real-life subject. But, this isn't James' brightest moment by far.
"I'm always going to fight for my company and for people that haven't had the same opportunities."
Aurora rose to mainstream airwaves after she won the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Award in 2015, signaling to the wave of awareness developing amongst consumers at the time. Aurora was ahead of the curve with establishing a brand with important core concerns: racial injustice, sustainability, and equality. Brother Vellies is founded on artisanal craftsmanship and centuries-old techniques, inspired after traveling to African countries in 2011. The veldskoene, or vellies, is a rawhide design originated by the Khoisan people of Africa, and implemented in the founding of Clarks after the British invasion. There are few workshops in the world that continue this process of apparel manufacturing, with over 40 percent dying out due to used-clothing imports.
With workshops in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Morocco, the brand provides for the real lives of indigenous black artists. Through Brother Vellies, Aurora is normalizing luxury by black designers. Every season and every collection for Brother Vellies has a mission and way of giving back to black artists.
"[It's] the idea that you can have his Black-owned luxury product made by indigenous Black artists on the African continent. And to know that by buying into this brand you're also investing in a micro-economy that is going to enable Black women to provide for their families and become financially independent -"
The Brooklynite designer pivoted quickly and wasted little time putting together an action plan to capitalize on rally cries and corporate outpouring for #BlackoutTuesday. From a wicker chair in her Brooklyn brownstone, Aurora launched the 15 Percent Pledge, an initiative calling the world's biggest retailers to pledge 15% of their shelf space to Black-owned businesses. Since her viral message on May 29, Aurora has stopped at nothing to advance this message.
"I saw all of these people and companies saying how they stood with me and supported Black women and then as a businessperson. I was reading it but not feeling it - there was an emotional disconnect."
Above all else, Aurora has learned to invest in herself. With Brother Vellies and the 15 Percent Pledge, they came from a serious void in the real world. Through building her brand, becoming a well-known (and celebrity-endorsed) designer, and starting an equality initiative from the ground up, she continues to go back to one thing: you have to learn what works for you.
For the full Vogue cover story, click here.
Featured image by Ovidiu Hrubaru / Shutterstock.com
Courtney is a contributing writer, based in Puerto Rico by way of Tennessee. Interested in the intersection of fashion and culture, she has an affinity for fashion, empowerment, and really good tacos. Keep up with her on Instagram (@hautecourtxo).
How We Met is a series where xoNecole talks love and relationships with real-life couples. We learn how they met, how like turned into love, and how they make their love work.
I’m willing to bet that this is not the first time you’ve seen this couple. Dalen Spratt is a television producer, owner of a tailored men's suit line, and creator of Ghost Brothers: Haunted Houseguests, which is currently streaming on Destination America. Stacey Spratt is also a serial entrepreneur, focusing mostly on events and the nonprofit world, and she is the owner of two award-winning craft beer bars called Harlem Hops. But their accolades are not what united them.
The couple met years ago at their alma mater, Clark Atlanta University, when they were still working to create the life they have now, and if you had told them then that they’d eventually tie the knot, the pair probably would’ve laughed in your face.
Today, they’re new parents, flourishing in their careers, and each others’ “teammates.” When desiring love, Dalen recommends not looking to other couples for advice. And Stacey advises staying true to what you want. “Don’t put age or limitations on love and children. If God could do it for me, why can’t he do it for you?”
Here's How We Met.
How did you meet?
Dalen: We met in 2005 when she was advising the Greek sororities and fraternities in college. She was old as hell in college, and I was a young buck (laughs). Everybody had a crush on her, but I didn’t think much of it. Then, in 2007, we were in the same grad school class, but she still wasn’t trying to see me then either. I had to catch her five years ago; I was very patient.
Stacey: Yeah, everybody in our grad school class called him Young, Fresh to Death because he was always dressed in B-school (what CAU affectionately refers to as business major classes), and we’d just wear sweatpants (laughs).
So, I know Dalen was always attracted to you. But what about you? Did your attraction to him develop over time?
Stacey: So 2006-2008 – all the years went by. I don’t think we were really thinking about each other at all back then. Years later, I had an event in Dallas, and I booked him to be a speaker. Then, a few years ago, Dalen posted a photo of him on Instagram, and I slid in his DMs. I remembered him being so young and handsome, and I’m like, I should hook him up with my younger cousin. His response was: "If you’re not hooking me up with you, no thank you." But I still thought he was too young at the time, and he started pulling receipts. Taraji P. Henson was dating someone young at the time, Gabrielle Union–
Dalen: First of all, I didn’t do that. You did that.
Stacey: Okay, I did. I thought he was a cutie pie, but that age thing was on my mind!
"Dalen posted a photo of him on Instagram, and I slid in his DMs. I remembered him being so young and handsome, and I’m like, I should hook him up with my younger cousin. His response was: 'If you’re not hooking me up with you, no thank you.'"
Talk to me about the first date. How did he change your mind?
Stacey: Our first date was at Tin Lizzy's in Atlanta. During that time, he was living in Dallas, so it was long-distance. But he came into town, and we just had a good time. We talked a lot, which we still do. It wasn’t anything fantastic.
Dalen: Don’t downplay our first date.
Then, walk me through your courtship. How did you get to the next level? What was that conversation like?
Stacey: I think he knew at age 43 or 44 I wasn’t playing around. But also, I think it just naturally progressed.
Dalen: Yeah, it just happened naturally. And I’m going to be honest, I don’t think initially either one of us thought it would be as serious as it was. She thought I was too young and I wasn’t ready for marriage, kids, and all that. I think we both thought we were just hanging out. But after spending so much time together, a lot of stuff started happening. Like, she had to have surgery early on. It wasn’t just time together; it was intimate time. Next thing we know, we just never left each other. That’s why we still don’t have an anniversary date because we never really asked.
"It wasn't just time together; it was intimate time. Next thing we know, we just never left each other. That's why we still don't have an anniversary date because we never really asked."
What made you want to commit to each other?
Dalen: The moment I knew Stacey was for me was from a phone call. I don’t really like talking on the phone, and I can be really blunt sometimes. But we were talking, and I said, ‘I don’t really feel like talking anymore.’ And she was just like, okay, and hung up. I wasn’t trying to be rude, and she understood that. It sounds bad, but that’s how I knew she just got me. I felt like she could get my random awkward moments, and she does to this day.
Stacey: For me, I liked him as a person. Even when times get rough and tough, I could still like him as a human. He is my best friend. We have time. We laugh until we cry, and it’s just always like that. Even when we get pissed at each other, something happens, and we fix it. Also, how he treats his mother. That’s a momma’s boy, but I’m a daddy’s girl – so I get it. I know how I want to be treated, and I see how he is with her and that’s beautiful.
What are some important lessons you’ve learned about yourself through loving your partner in this relationship?
Dalen: I grew up an only child and she grew up with siblings. So, when you have someone who is used to doing things by themselves, there is definitely a learning curve when you get into a serious relationship. It’s funny now, but it was definitely a process.
Stacey: I agree – definitely the only child thing. There’s times I look at him like, did you ever live with anyone else? That comes from being momma's baby, too. I have to say, my “mother-in-love” spoiled him. But also with Axel (their daughter), that brings another level of patience.
Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images
What was the biggest challenge that you had to overcome together?
Dalen: We’ve gone through a lot within the years we’ve been together. We suffered two miscarriages – I’d say that’s the biggest.
Stacey: Having those miscarriages and trying to understand what’s next and what our options are was a lot. I had two myomectomies (fibroid surgeries), and he supported me through that time. Also, still, it was on my mind that he’s eight years younger than me. I was wondering if I can’t carry [a child] what that looks like for us. We had very real conversations pretty early in our relationship.
"Having those miscarriages and trying to understand what’s next and what our options are was a lot. I had two myomectomies (fibroid surgeries), and he supported me through that time. Also, still, it was on my mind that he’s eight years younger than me."
What do you fight the most about?
Dalen: Nagging. Stacey nags; she’s a complainer. She’s that momma that will look in a room and just hunt for something to complain about. Like, I’m worried for Axel when she's in high school.
Stacey: It’s because I like things to be in place. He leaves stuff all over the place. I can tell where he’s been in the house because something is left around. So he says I’m nagging – but it’s like, just get your stuff.
What are your love languages?
Dalen: Stacey is gifts all day.
Dalen: We’ve talked about this. xoNecole is about to cause problems in our home (laughs).
Stacey: Obviously I love you. *thinks again* It’s words of affirmation.
Dalen: That’s it.
What’s your favorite thing about each other?
Dalen: I’ve always respected her business-mindedness. That may sound superficial, but it’s not because I’ve never been with someone who thinks like me. It’s one of my most treasured things about her. I remember one day, I was just running through ideas with her, and each time Stacey had a suggestion on how I could make it better. It’s just very comforting. She takes whatever I’m doing and elevates it – including me.
Stacey: I love Dalen’s hustle and creativity. He’s been on multiple shows, and he continues to create, produce, and reinvent himself and the product he’s putting out. I love that we can create together and bounce things off each other. Even though we may be in different arenas, there’s nothing he can’t offer me great advice about. I love that drive.
Finally, how did you know it was love?
Dalen: Well – she said it – first. (laughs)
Stacey: And he looked at me and smiled! He didn’t say it back. We were on a trip, out of the country.
Dalen: We were arguing when she said it, and she just threw it out.
Stacey: But we continue to do that. We’ve spent holidays and everything outside of the country.
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I'm a wellness founder who currently has no therapist. Now, don't judge me; I'm being vulnerable with you.
A few years back, I felt like my life was shifting and that I wanted to find a new therapist to help me get to the root of what I was experiencing but didn't exactly have the language for it. Almost a decade ago, I was a depressed, socially anxious Black girl in an abusive relationship with practically no friends in college. Fast-forward to now and I'm a grown woman thriving and the founder of one of the largest wellness organizations for Black women.
The shy girl I once was (and still am at times, if I'm being honest) has now led meditations at Coachella, worked with Taraji P. Henson's brand, and produced her own content on mental health and Black women's healing with Foot Locker Women! But can I tell you that deep down, there are days when I still felt like that girl who thought she was broken and unloved?
That realization made me angry; I felt like I had done so much self-work and work in therapy that feeling like that girl again as a grown-ass woman made no sense.
It felt like I was going backward, and I didn't understand why, so I figured the best thing to do was discuss this in therapy. After switching insurance, I was on the search for a new therapist, and I specified to her what I was experiencing and asked if we could work through it together. She seemed kind and supportive, and she was a Black woman, something I wanted in this next chapter of therapy and womanhood as I started therapy in my early twenties and I was now approaching my thirties.
A few weeks into our sessions, she flat-out asked me, "Why are you here?" She couldn't understand why someone as successful as me needed therapy and said to me multiple times during the sessions to follow in so many words, "You don't need to be there, I think you're fine."
Yvonne Orji Therapy GIF by Insecure on HBOGiphy
Her words immediately triggered me because I felt like it was her way of saying as a Black woman, seeing me doing well made her wonder why I needed this support. I left and never went back following that session.
That was almost two years ago. There have been times when I wanted to go back, but I'd tensed up at the thought given the traumatic experience, life will always send us experiences the way that challenge us, and I don't think that never returning to therapy is the answer. Before I even began searching for a new therapist, I processed my sessions with the former therapist and, as best as I could, sent empathy her way.
We can often think that our therapists are going to be perfect and not misstep, but they're human and flawed just as we are. Whether we admit it or not, we all walk have our own biases and ways that we see the world. Perhaps she looked at me and thought, This woman is thriving; what problems could she have? She could have gone through life with no one supporting her once she began to succeed.
As I go back into therapy, I've sat with myself, and I feel confident enough to express myself again and share what I need from them in this season as I interview new therapists. There are many articles to support how to find a therapist, but I want to support you if you're heading back to therapy after taking a much-needed break.
Figure Out Your "Why"
You want to know why you're going back and ask yourself if there is something you may need from therapy now that you didn't need before. Your needs could be the same, but as time goes by, we change along with our needs. It helps to prepare a script as you approach therapists to share, for example: "Hi, my name is ______, and I'm looking for support in ______ in therapy at this point of my life."
In this post-pandemic era, Black therapists and therapists overall are overwhelmed and overworked. I can't even begin to tell you how many therapists I know personally that have stopped seeing clients due to burnout. You might not find the therapist you're looking for overnight, and you could very well be scrolling through potential therapists, getting excited at the idea of a conversation with them, and then discovering they are no longer accepting new clients. Do not be discouraged; your therapist is out there.
Don't Be Afraid To Be Vulnerable
I like to look at therapy in many ways like I look at love. And what I mean by that is much like dating; you are not going to get the experience you're looking for without vulnerability. I challenge you to be transparent with your therapist, they will only be able to help you get to the root of what you need support with if they get to know who you really are, and what you need.
I am rooting for you as you head back to therapy. Know that I am supporting you and cheering you on from the sidelines as we go back and do this healing work together.
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