aurora james of brother vellies speaks out about fast-fashion knockoffs
When a fast-fashion brand appeared to have copied one of her designs earlier this week, Aurora James, the designer behind sustainable brand Brother Vellies, decided to take a stand.
photography jason eric hardwick
One of the first ways I fell in love with Africa was through pen pals. My grandmother would send in charitable contributions to sponsorship programs, and I would get to write to kids in Africa that, in the early 90s in Canada, I would otherwise have no way of interacting with. The world was much less globalized, the internet was not a household thing, and these letters were my entrée into becoming involved in a continent that has since become a part of my heart.
Now, with the help of the internet and social media, consumers have an unprecedented level of access to the world. Information about supply chains and the footprint of each brand you invest in is readily available, and whenever it's not, the inference of that lack of transparency is meaningful on its own. And, especially over the last decade, we consumers have begun in earnest to hold brands accountable for their actions. The fashion community is doubtlessly one of the closest-knit, informed communities on the planet. We are interested in information, integrity, and longevity.
An artisan weaving fabric for Brother Vellies sandals in Burkino Faso.
Brother Vellies is an incredibly challenging company to run, and a lot of that is due to the transparency of our supply chain. We work with five workshops across Africa to create our entire collection, and each of these partners is like our family. We work with people that we know pay fair wages, maintain clean, safe facilities and support the families and communities of the individuals that work for them. We examine their wastage, their processing techniques, and how their workshops support and impact the communities they are based in.
Their investment in learning the skills to create luxury footwear and accessories represents their eagerness to participate in the global fashion market. As Africa grows exponentially in population and becomes a larger part of the global supply and demand chain, empowering the artisans in each of their communities is integral to the sustainability of their success.
A shoe currently for sale at Zara.
And while we are still small, Brother Vellies' steady growth comes from capturing the attention of an audience that cares deeply about the message behind their purchases in addition to the creative value. The number of women (and men!) that I hear from every day who tell me they are saving their money to buy a pair of our shoes — rather than investing in poorly made, wasteful fast-fashion — is proof enough that there is a growing base of educated consumers that hold their brands and themselves accountable for the direction this world moves.
Paying fair wages and investing in innovation to reduce the carbon footprint of your creations is expensive. If you are holding a constructed high-heeled shoe in your hand and it costs $60, that shoe did not make it to your hands without having a severe impact on the environment it came from and the community that produced it. The materials in that shoe probably did significant damage to the water supply and air quality, and the construction of that shoe was handled by someone who may or may not be able to afford to buy school supplies for their children. This is how small developing-world communities become trapped in a poverty cycle, and how the world as a whole accelerates the environmental effects of global warming.
The purchase that you choose to make from a brand that is not putting back into the world what it is taking may seem like a trendy cheap thrill, but I can tell you now it is one of the most expensive decisions you can make.
For the first time, we have real information and real power. The way we choose to spend our money will be what signals change to the rest of the world, and we have a real chance in the fashion community to lead the way.
Text Aurora James
Photography Jason Eric Hardwick