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.
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Featured image by John Edmonds, Vogue, September 2020