FNAA Individual of the 12 months Aurora James is the vitamin complement of trend – why it takes her daring, good power each day
On December 8th, Aurora James will be named Person of the Year at the first FN Virtual Achievement Awards. Below is an article from the December 7th print edition of the magazine about her relentless drive to improve the playing field for minorities in fashion and beyond.
IIt’s a Wednesday afternoon in New York City at the Penske Media Corp. headquarters. Aurora James has been on set for her FN cover shoot since 8 a.m. and she is in her third look of the day.
Photographer Sage East has just knotted her own arms and body in a ballerina-on-contortionist position and proposed a pose for James that both highlights the bespoke Brother Vellies boots on her feet and personifies her strength and vision in 2020.
“Let’s try,” James replies after taking a quick look at the daring position.
That phrase easily became a subject for the shooting of the day – James said it no less than a dozen times – and a fitting descriptor of her attitudes towards business, leadership, and social justice. For example, this fearlessness forced James – three days after the police murder of George Floyd – to give major retailers a social media challenge: devote 15% of your shelf space to black-owned businesses.
“As a black woman who lived in America in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd and the mindless killings of many other people, I needed that to feel like corporations support black people,” she said. “So I wanted to ask a clear question and give people the opportunity to meet me where I am, or to be very disappointed.”
Her resulting nonprofit, The 15 Percent Pledge, made headlines for her brave mission, but James is quick to point out that the focus goes beyond arbitrary quotas.
“Black people get bank loans much less often and [most] do not have access to the [Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program]”James explained, emphasizing her focus on making companies more effective allies for black brands.” Also, how [a company] Structures of its funding terms can be inherently biased. Or [in areas such as] Customer service, people sometimes say racist things on the phone. With the 15 percent promise, we ask questions like, “What language did you use to enable your customer service team to talk about races?”
The story goes on
So far, big companies like Sephora, Rent the Runway and most recently Macy’s Inc. have signed the pledge. The latter is the largest retailer to take up James’ call to action – a great endorsement for the philanthropist who has become entrepreneur and carries out all of her organization’s major issues.
But James admits that hands-on participation sometimes takes a toll.
“There were seven or eight days in a row during the summer that I vomited every day,” James recalled. “The emotional work became too much for my body. It’s important that we address these moments as well – these lows can be very low – but that’s part of the process. When people think of work, they think of computers and possible tasks delegated. But there is an emotional work of Inspiring people to change the way they run their businesses. “
Additionally, James said she continues to hear a lot of “no” which can add to the weight of the job.
“When you try to explain your worth as a person and the value of your community to this country to people and they still say ‘no’ or try to twist themselves [what you’re saying] or tell yourself what they have already done – that puts an emotional strain on me, ”she said.
James’ will to refute naysayers led her to launch Brother Vellies in 2013 – their luxury shoe brand that inspired the fashion world with its unique focus on craftsmanship, sustainability and equality. And that is exactly what keeps them going now.
“People have told me with such confidence that I can’t do all sorts of things that have happened in my life now, like getting shoes for Brother Vellies in South Africa,” she said. “At the moment with [the COVID-19 crisis]I don’t have time to find out if the economy will return. Lots of people sit around speculating about what the move is. I took many steps while everyone was still speculating. “
James’ persistent determination to do the unsolvable is contagious to friends like the model and activist Bethann Hardison, who met James four years ago when both women were deeply involved in the CFDA.
“I’m glad to have them in my life – it’s almost like taking a vitamin supplement. It inspires me, ”said Hardison. “She recently told me that she wanted to become a venture capitalist so she could help [minorities] Receive funding to start your own business. The idea that she would even think of such a thing – she has the natural feeling that she is a lawyer. “
Hardison gave James the title of “daughter,” a label she only bestowed on one other person: supermodel Naomi Campbell. And for a good reason. “She’s young, she’s busy, and she’s from one different generation than me, ”said Hardison of James. “It means something that she takes the time to reach out to me [consistently] and check in. It is good for my heart. “
But while James cemented her ties with fashion industry veterans, it is her ability to speak for those of her own generation who brought her to the top of her class, according to Steven Kolb, CEO of the CFDA.
“Aurora combines their curiosity and creativity to create change,” he said, noting her participation in several CFDA programs, including the CFDA / Vogue Fashion Fund, the Fashion Incubator, the Investment Series and the Fashion Initiative on sustainability.
“Their determination to make beautiful products while investing in communities and empowering artisans is testament to their own sense of humanity,” added Kolb. “She’s the voice of a generation that doesn’t find it uncomfortable to have uncomfortable conversations with our industry, to advance fashion and hold them accountable for true diversity, justice and inclusion.”
And as she looks ahead, James said her plan is to continue to address the critical issues of fashion – sustainability and racial justice in particular.
“We all have to think about who we want to be in this world, what it means to design things, at what speed we want to produce things and what else is on our balance sheet that we don’t realize. [such as] Debt to women, to the world and to one another, ”said James. “If you’ve produced in a way that isn’t great, you have a debt on your balance sheet that hasn’t been written. And at some point it all comes due. “
She continued, “If you are still standing after this pandemic, if you still have room to take time to read this, what else do you have room and time to do?”
For 34 years, the annual FN Achievement Awards – often referred to as the “Shoe Oscars” – have celebrated style stars, the best brand stories, passionate philanthropists, emerging talent and industry veterans. The first virtual FNAAs will be broadcast online on December 8th at 6 p.m. ET and presented in collaboration with The Style Room Powered by Zappos and sponsors FDRA, Deckers Brands, Soles4Souls and Foot Locker.
RSVP here for the greatest night in shoes! [LINK: https://fnaa.splashthat.com]
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