The Dynamic Accessories Brand Celebrating African Craft

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Courtesy of Brother Vellies

We speak with Aurora James, the founder of Brother Vellies, an accessories brand empowering a new generation of African artisans

  1. Who is it? New York-based accessories brand Brother Vellies, founded by creative director Aurora James
  2. Why do I want it? Sustainable shoes and handbags that celebrate traditional African craft through a contemporary lens
  3. Where can I buy it? Online at Brother Vellies

Who is it? Falling at the nexus of design and sustainability, New York-based Brother Vellies has quickly become a fan favourite. Tying beautiful details with ethical production practices, they produce shoes and handbags in eco-conscious chrome-free leathers and the by-products of animal hides that are built to last. Founded in 2013 by creative director Aurora James, Brother Vellies began as an effort to preserve the shoemaking craft in Africa, while also creating employment opportunities and a stable income for local African artisans. It was James’ initial trip to Africa with William Okpo designers, Darlene and Lizzy, that sparked the idea behind the brand.

Soon after the trip, James, who grew up in Toronto, Jamaica and the Eastern Provinces, began working with pre-existing African workshops that, due to lack of economy there, were at risk of folding. “I grew up in Toronto, where I was exposed to many, many different cultures from the time I was born,” James says. “I think very early on this made me appreciate different forms of dressing and how those tied into culture and identity. Brother Vellies came about after traveling throughout Africa and coming across local workshops and artisans handcrafting beautiful things. I felt that I needed to share their skills and African traditions with the rest of the world”.

Why do I want it? There’s a down-to-earth luxury about Brother Vellies’ accessories, which have the ability to elevate any outfit – from marabou-topped sliders and handbags crafted from Mongolian shearling to lucite-heeled boots and clutches made from woven palms. In keeping with the brand’s dedication to reusing and repurposing materials items, such as beads, are sourced from ostrich egg fragments and seashells. Brass details are recycled from old padlocks, and sheepskin is sourced from local farmers in the mountains of Lake Nakaru in Kenya. Brother Vellies works with a local crocodile farm, where hides are only harvested when an animal passes away from old age.

James says she draws inspiration for her designs from her everyday life in New York City – riding the subway, perusing the city’s Flower District in Chelsea – as well as her travels abroad through Kenya, Morocco, Ethiopia, and beyond. She calls the current collection “a love story with colour,” using vegetable and flower dyes to bleed life into the pieces in a magical way. Her current shoe collaboration with the recent blockbuster hit Black Panther, which was released during New York Fashion Week, uses sisal hairs from Haiti to evoke thoughts on black women, hair and beauty.  

“I think as a brand the more you are connected to people and the planet,” James adds, “the more intuitive sustainability becomes.”

Where can I buy it? Online at Brother Vellies.