BY SHELTON BOYD-GRIFFITH
PHOTOGRAPHER MENELIK PURYEAR
HAIR MICHAEL DAVID
MAKEUP CHRISTYNA KAY
PROP STYLING SHANE KLEIN
Aurora James wants no introduction. (However, right here we go anyhow.) Actually, maybe it’s extra correct to say that capturing the enormity of her presence in a pithy intro is much less superfluous than it’s unimaginable. A real multi-hyphenate, James wears many hats: together with, inventive director, innovator, footwear designer, activist, neighborhood organizer, product designer, and extra.
Since launching moral footwear model Brother Vellies in 2013—a favourite of such stars as Beyoncé, Zendaya, Elaine Welteroth, and Andra Day—James has been disrupting the style trade season after season, bringing artisanal craftsmanship to the lots, and shattering the proverbial glass ceiling alongside the way in which. A CFDA/Vogue Trend Fund winner (James is now a decide for the revered trend incubator program), a Fortune journal’s World’s Biggest Chief, and the spark behind the ever-important 15 % Pledge, James is altering the sport and leaving an enormous (however sustainable) footprint.
Grazia Gazette: NYFW caught up with James on a usually busy day, because the design aesthete was overseeing the set up of artisanal terracotta tiles outdoors her beautiful Los Angeles house. (See, she actually does all of it!) We chatted about her dedication to neighborhood and the 15 % Pledge, her need for each lady in America to have a pair of Brother Vellies of their closet—and the key recipe for her well-known banana bread.
Banana bread? Sure, James expresses her inventive potential in myriad methods. Nonetheless, on the core of her ardour is an enduring concentrate on trend. Her signature, natural, worldly aesthetic has been charming the trade over the previous eight years. With Brother Vellies, impressed by Aurora’s travels throughout Africa, James has carved out a distinct segment that honors each conventional, artisanal shoe-making practices (from Nairobi to Milan) whereas blazing a path on the forefront of sustainable design.
“My earliest reminiscences of trend come from being a toddler and rising up with the mom that I had, who actually all the time defined to me that trend was a device for girls to speak with one another about how they had been feeling and in addition about their tradition,” she says, breaking down the origins of her ardour for the trade. “Trend has all the time been very tied to historical past, tradition, and communication for me.” This perspective is suffused by way of the design ethos of her model, in that all of it stems from one thing far better than simply aesthetics. Trend “additionally appeared and felt like a feminist system,” she explains.
By no means has that intentionality been extra very important. Final summer season, after the mindless killing of George Floyd and the ensuing nationwide civil unrest—a maelstrom compounded by the financial hurt inflicted on Black-owned companies because of the pandemic—James considered what she may do to assist. The end result: She launched the 15 % Pledge, calling on main retailers to decide to stocking at the least 15 % of their shelf house with merchandise from Black-owned companies. (The quantity 15 comes from the truth that Black folks account for about 15 % of the U.S. inhabitants).
“Once I launched the 15 % Pledge, the identical proposition, proper? It’s that, you already know, Brother Vellies, is bought at quite a lot of the main retailers throughout the nation, however there’s quite a lot of Black-owned companies clearly that haven’t obtained that chance,” she says. “So, what does it seem like to convey them into the combo as effectively?”
With the 15 % Pledge, James needs to not solely enhance the visibility of those companies; but in addition, to set them up for ongoing, long-term success. Constructing and supporting neighborhood in that means—on each a international and native stage—is on the core of her private ethos. Whether or not it’s by holding company America accountable for creating actual, tangible fairness and inclusion, or by working with smaller, artisanal, and family-operated companies to craft sneakers, luggage, and homeware gadgets, this work is vital to James.
“I believe one vital function that I’ve—since I’ve been granted the platform that I’ve—is simply to proceed advocating for folks,” the Toronto-native turned L.A. transplant (by the use of NYC) explains. “Oftentimes once we take into consideration our communities, we consider the those that we’re mostly sitting shoulder to shoulder with at a desk. It’s additionally vital to consider the individuals who haven’t but had entry to that room.”
Tapping into that international neighborhood was essential to James—and it’s not simply lip-service.
“I believe, for me, that was kind of the explanation why I needed to construction Brother Vellies in the way in which that we did,” she says. “You recognize, the artisans in Africa and involving them within the dialog—and even in Italy—and actually specializing in these communities which have conventional talent units and integrating them into that trend dialog.”
As we’ve spent the final yr and change at house, our appreciation for our house base and the necessity to create secure areas has develop into ever extra vital. We’re curating our environment with thought and intention—changing into acutely aware of the gadgets we purchase. On the identical time, James’s trend aesthetic has naturally translated into homeware and decor, effortlessly. From her trendy L.A. pad—full with a Togo chair and an Ingo Maurer fan sconce—to the Brother Vellies brick and mortar, it solely is sensible that she would increase into the house. “I’ve all the time been actually in love with the thought of merchandise for the house,” she admits.
For many who want extra curatorial steerage, Brother Vellies presents a subscription service, The One thing Particular Subscription, a month-to-month made-to-order membership, that usually consists of artisanal house decor gadgets (from ceramic vases to Oaxacan mugs).
“My house is extremely vital to me, and I actually have all the time been intentional about solely bringing issues into the house that I really like and cherish,” James explains. “Throughout the pandemic I needed to discover a technique to join with our prospects whereas they had been at house, and it was a house order. I didn’t actually really feel prefer it was acceptable to, you already know, attempt to push folks to purchase sneakers, so I assumed it might be good to make the most of components of our personal artisan neighborhood and components of their prolonged community to create small merchandise for house. That was the emphasis behind launching One thing Particular.”
Inspiration and creativity like that may be onerous to muster when the world appears to be falling down round us. Though James has all the time been solutions-oriented, she admits to discovering the latest previous difficult.
“It’s a little bit of a wrestle,” she admits. “Loads is happening: at house, in Afghanistan. There’s a lot occurring on the planet. So, I don’t know that proper now I’m extremely impressed to create, like, you already know, these over-the-top issues. I believe it’s actually about ensuring that the model and that myself, as a founder, are persevering with to do what I can to advocate for our shoppers in a significant means, to guarantee that their existence can keep it, and that we will even have fantastic, stunning lives.”
As with the very basis of the Brother Vellies/Aurora James universe, materiality stays key. “I wish to make stunning issues alongside the way in which, however I believe for me, it’s actually about actually pure supplies and ensuring that we’re sourcing in a means that feels vital, particular, and useful to the planet,” she says. “It’s been an enormous materials exploration for me…Wanting into our personal very temporary archive, and actually simply homing in on the basic ideas of the model, I believe, is admittedly what’s been inspiring me, truthfully.”
As we wrap up our name, I ask James a query that’s maybe surprising: “What do you love to do for enjoyable?” We’ve talked about enterprise fashions, initiatives, trend, and the heaviness on the planet right this moment, however certainly all of that should be balanced by one thing lighter? Maybe unsurprisingly, James reveals she is about to bake a scrumptious loaf of banana bread: one more iteration of her scrumptious creativity. “I completely like to prepare dinner dinner at house with pals and go over to different buddy’s homes for dinner events,” she says. Socially acutely aware, extraordinarily trendy, moral trend pioneer, a coronary heart of gold and a consummate hostess and chef—what can’t she do?