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Spotlight On: Aurora James

Featured, Influencers, Persons of Interest  /   /  By Nina Louie

Recently, we ducked behind the scenes for a quick conversation with each of the women starring in our new Find Your Perfect campaign. Tune in as we talk closets and careers, brunch spots and beauty secrets, and more. 

With her CFDA/Vogue-award winning line of shoes and handbags, Aurora James is setting the bar for fashion brands today. Not just in the sense of gorgeous design (we’ve never coveted fuzzy sandals, pony-haired chukka boots, and blue-mohawked handbags more), but also in terms of ethical, sustainable, small-scale production in Africa. Part of the impetus to launch her own line came from the desire to create safe, comfortable jobs for women in Kenya and Namibia where they hand-make her fashion-forward takes on traditional Moroccan desert boots and sandals.

Amazed by her passionate, hands-on approach to her charitable vision, we sat down with Aurora to talk movies, Marant, and more.

SS: Tell us about your line, Brother Vellies.

AJ: I started Brother Vellies in January 2013. I started with the goal of introducing the world to my favorite traditional African footwear. So we use a lot of Moroccan babouche and tire sandals that are inspired by the people of the Maasai Mara, and then we work with those local communities to have them make all of the shoes as well. I’ve partnered with the United Nations ethical fashion initiative to make sure everyone has living wages, safe working conditions, and proper childcare.

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This past November, you won the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund award for emerging designers in an unprecedented three-way tie with Jonathan Simkhai and Gypsy Sport. How did that feel?

I never saw that coming—I was blown away. It was such a huge honor. I still sort of pinch myself every day.

What are your plans for the next evolution of Brother Vellies?

I’ve hired more people—before, we were just a two-woman operation. We’ve been growing really rapidly, and the more shoes we sell, the more jobs we’re creating in Africa, which is a major plus for me. So from here, it’s about expanding to other categories, telling more stories about Africa to contribute and help that area. Right now we have shoes and handbags. I also really love beauty, so there’s a couple of things I would like to do in that category.

Do you think you’ll expand into clothes?

I don’t think so. A lot of people ask me that, because I make clothes for the accessories presentation. For example, for a presentation last week, I used a lot of scraps from Spring/Summer ’16, and had them woven into a really beautiful poncho, mostly because I don’t like leaving garbage behind, I like to recycle. But in terms of making full ready-to-wear, I don’t think I will.

Where do you seek style inspiration for your line?

I read a lot of old books; I like to look at Peter Beards’ photography. But for the most part I spend a lot of time traveling. I just spent two weeks in Ethiopia. For me, it’s about going to places to seek inspiration.

Do you find design inspiration in films?

Yes, definitely. The Talented Mr. Ripley. Also that movie Carol—I took a lot of style inspiration from that for Spring 2016.

Are there movies that you come back to again and again?

I really love Match PointVicki Cristina Barcelona, and The Talented Mr. Ripley. I’ve been watching that a lot lately, it’s so beautiful. I love Gwyneth. It’s pure love for me—Brad and Gwyneth, those were the days.

Do you have a favorite song right now?

I love Tupac’s “Do for Love,” an oldie but goodie.

Are there any Instagram accounts that you love?

I’m really into National Geographic. Otherwise, I mostly follow friends. A lot of them are designers, so they keep me inspired.

What was your first major fashion purchase?

I bought a pair of bizarre Dior Rasta moonboots from Holt Renfrew in Canada when I was 17. Before I was designing shoes, I would buy crazy shoes all the time. I wouldn’t always wear them, but I was just really fascinated by them.

What do you think are the best brands to shop vintage on eBay?

I love to look at vintage Krizia. Then there’s a really good interior designer, Milo Baughman. I have a lot of their furniture in my store.

How did you choose the clothes you wore for this shoot?

I think this blouse is really great; it’s Isabel Marant. I like the patterns: It’s psychedelic and just free-flowy, really comfortable. I don’t like things to be clinging to me, everything has to be really easy.

And the Etro dress is a fantastic piece that I wore to an award show. I love prints. And I love color. It helps brighten your day, and I think because a lot of people in New York wear black so often, it’s fun to stand out, to inject a little color in your day, especially in winter.

Who made your coat? It looked gorgeous with your dress.

That was vintage: Vintage army blankets were sewn together to make that coat. I found it at a flea market.

Do you have any go-to designers?

I get all my swimwear from Chromat, and then I wear a lot of Caron CallahanAce & Jig, and Ulla Johnson. They’re all friends of mine, so it’s nice to support your friends. We’re all Brooklyn chicks.

If someone were dressing as you for Halloween, what else would they wear?

Clyde or Ryan Roche hats, layers, furry shoes, unbrushed hair.

Is there something you wear every day? Like a talisman or a piece of jewelry?

Not really. Except maybe this diamond ear cuff. It’s rose gold, by Repossi.

What about socks? We notice your sock game is strong!

I go to Cos for socks. And Todd Selby and I collaborated on a limited-edition line of socks and slippers.

What’s your favorite shopping city?

Brooklyn for sure. Oroboro store is one of my favorites.

Do you have any saved searches on eBay?

I think “hanging rattan” is a saved search of mine. That’s where I found my living room chair, and a few other chairs I have in my store. I get a lot of furniture from eBay.

What did you love to wear as a child?

I used to wear small fur coats. My mom I had them made for me. I’m also named after a Disney princess, so I wore a lot of intense dresses because I really believed I was a princess.

Speaking of Disney princesses, the idea behind eBay’s new fashion campaign is that everyone’s version of “perfect” is different. What do you think about that?

I think perfection is a construct. It’s not really possible to find it. What you can find is happiness, and I think the goal ultimately is to be happy every day, and so if you can find your own happiness inside yourself that’s not determined by anyone else, then that’s as close to perfection as you’ll get.

Love Aurora’s look? Browse bold prints and vintage-inspired styles here.

Next up, we talk London shops and antique ribbon with Stephanie Cooper. Stay tuned.

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