Cool Girl Life Advice from Brother Vellies’ Aurora James
“I’m sorry if there’s Luther Vandross playing – I’m in a café and I’m about to step outside.” So begins my interview with Aurora James, the mastermind behind Brookyn-based sustainable label Brother Vellies and inimitable cool girl whose eclectic style runs between a mix of Prairie Goddess and Studio 54 glam. A native of Mississauga, Ont., James studied journalism at Ryerson University before working a bevy of jobs in fashion as a model agent, a production assistant, and a consultant – she even briefly flirted with leaving fashion for the horticulture biz.
James is the kind of woman who leads an enviable life, not only because of her successful brand, her amazing apartment and her singular style, but because she radiates authenticity. From her commitment to running an ethical fashion brand to her joyful attitude, James is just the kind of girl we want to be for 2018. We speak with her on finding your life’s purpose, why she loves Toronto’s Kensington Market and living your best life in 2018.
You’ve had a lot of roles, what drew you to becoming a designer?
It was a place that drew me in and then wouldn’t let me run away from it. I fell in love with Africa and all of the artisanal skills they have there, the natural materials and that’s what I build the collection on every season. So to create a company from that, I feel like gave [the business] more of a purpose that I wasn’t easily able to walk away from. I’m inspired to continue doing every day.
What challenges have you faced building the brand?
Obviously some of the countries we work in have a really tough time politically and also environmentally. We’re making some bags for Spring right now in Bali and the volcano eruptions have been crazy there, so that has caused some problems with our production. There’s little things you don’t think about as a consumer that are struggles for me as a designer and our artisan partners on a day-to-day basis that are very real. It’s definitely a moment of triumph for us when we are able to bring these products to market because people don’t know the types of adversities people have faced in order to get to work every day in order to make these products possible.
Do you have any hidden shopping gems you’d like to share?
Actually I was just in Toronto and I found some really good shirts at Bungalow in Kensington Market. My mom’s favourite store is Courage My Love in Kensington Market because she always finds beads and buttons and stuff there. Her love of beads and buttons has definitely translated into some of my designs. When I’m there I always take a look at different things and figure out if we can acquire something like this in Africa, or melt down brass pieces in Kenya and make something that speaks to this that has more intuitive African feel to this.
One of my favourite stores in New York is called Oroboro. I think it’s such a cute place to find different things from home wares to clothing. But [the owner] really just curates an aesthetic that is so specific to her, I really relate to. Sometimes its nice to walk into a world you wish was your own and take a piece of that home with you and build off that idea.
Where do you plan to take Brother Vellies in 2018?
Hopefully 2018 will be a year of creating action. I want to bring Brother Vellies alive in more places and spaces. To find ways to have women wearing the product but also living the idea of what the product represents. It’s about social empowerment and women supporting each other.
What kind of advice can you give on how to go forth and live your best life, Oprah-style, in 2018?
It’s easier for me to have perspective because I spend so much time in Africa so I know that even a horrible day here is still better than a lot of people’s best days in a lot of countries. I think having that perspective it incredibly important. It doesn’t cost anythig to be kind to another person and ultimately an act of kindness is going to make another person feel great but its also going to make you feel great. I think that in our lowest moments, when we have nothing left to give… an act of giving in those moments is actually what is going to heal us the most.