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Business of HYPE: Aurora James

Business of HYPE is a weekly series brought to you by HYPEBEAST Radio and hosted by jeffstaple. It’s a show about creatives, brand-builders, entrepreneurs and the realities behind the dreams they’ve built. Jeff sits down with Founder and Creative Director of Brother Vellies, Aurora James.

The New York based designer, by way of Toronto, created her cult label Brother Vellies in 2013 after discovering her love for Veldskoen (known as vellies or “desert boots”) during a trip to Africa. Worn by numerous celebrities from Beyonce and Solange to Zendaya, Brother Vellies garnered a cult following, having won the CFDA Fashion Fund in 2015.

Rather than a one-to-one model, Aurora created Brother Vellies in hopes to give jobs to local artisans in Africa by collaborating with their workshops to commission shoes and sell them back in the U.S. She emphasizes that America’s constant need for “fixing” overseas countries — via large donations, for example — has caused a depletion of jobs in Africa.

“The idea of fixing is really difficult. What we think their infrastructure needs to be and what their infrastructure probably needs are going to be very different things. Americans in Africa have done a lot of fixing. Even when you look at Ethiopia 70% of their manufacturing has been killed by American-donated clothing. The goal was never to fix, the goal was to listen. You can empower people instead of continuing to just give handouts.”

Brother Vellies has managed to create roughly 2,000 jobs overseas whilst maintaining an ethos of sustainable practices—utilizing vegetable tanned leathers, recycled tires and locally sourced materials from farmers worldwide. Producing thousands of shoes year-round, the brand runs a tight ship with a team of four women. While this wasn’t intentional, Aurora reminds us how imperative to hire without discrimination, having faced it herself as a woman of color in the industry.

Six years into the business, Aurora still feels there is more to go and that Brother Vellies “won’t be blossomed til year 10.” She later discusses the importance of making sacrifices as an entrepreneur, going with your gut, the common misconceptions in fashion and much more.

This episode features references to the following:

1:53 – Aurora James / Brother Vellies
2:15 – Veldskoen or “Fellies”
2:35 – Clarks
3:55 – Hester Street Fair
4:04 – Early life
6:25 – United Nations & Clinton Foundation
6:55 – Problem with “fixing”
7:45 – Super Bowl
8:30 – Toms
9:00 – Mission of company
12:40 – WhatsApp
13:20 – Creating sandals
17:51 – Business model
22:33 – Wholesale accounts
23:28 – Direct to Consumer model
24:23 – Fulfillment model
25:30 – The team behind Brother Vellies
23:59 – Gender discrimination
31:26 – Shoes produced in a year
31:33 – Turn around time
33:41 – Pain points in business
37:09 – Pros/Cons of business
38:50 – CFDA Fashion Fund
41:20 – Goal of the company
49:11 – Diane von Furstenberg
51:40 – Advice