When it comes to sustainable fashion, knowing where to start can be difficult. With an endless flurry of information, tons of new and established brands to research, and a ton of confusing terminology, it’s understandable that everyone could feel a little overwhelmed.
With that in mind, each month we will be focusing on a brand that knows exactly what it means to be a sustainable force for the good in fashion today. From debunking inaccuracies to advice for emerging brands to tips for consumers on how to be greener for the planet, we’re cutting the noise so you don’t have to. This month we meet Aurora James, designer and founder of the shoe and accessories brand Brother Vellies and creator of the 15 percent promise.
Born in Toronto to a Canadian mother and a Ghanaian father, James founded Brother Vellies in 2013 with the aim of celebrating traditional African design practices and techniques while creating and maintaining craft jobs. The label specializes in luxury accessories that pay homage to African cultural history and timeless design through unique pieces that will forever remain part of your wardrobe.
This is a real example of appreciation, not appropriation: James’ brand honors the people and places behind their pieces, and the team treats every part of the process with respect and care for their artisans, customers, and the planet. You will find by-products like vegetable-tanned leather stained from recycled tires, hand-carved wood, or flower-dyed feathers – all carefully sourced from farmers around the world.
The label also works to lessen the impact of manufacturing practices by constantly questioning itself and making changes every season – leading to a conscious fashion brand in every way.
Courtesy Brother Vellies
In your opinion, what makes a truly sustainable brand?
“I think brands need to look at every element of their business. Some of the companies that claim to be sustainable were also the first to lay off all their workforce at the start of the pandemic – and that’s not sustainable. If you have employees, that If you can’t afford that, it wasn’t a sustainable business model.
“It’s about looking at your entire business model in 360 degrees and questioning what it means. When we talk about corporate sustainability, it’s not just about the materials you use. So it’s important to think about it too Some brands use vegan leather and they think it’s sustainable, but a lot of it is plastic that isn’t even recyclable and has a bad carbon footprint so it’s not sustainable. It’s all about thinking critically about all of the elements .
“I think we all try and as long as we can take small steps it’s better than not moving forward, so I firmly believe in it.”
What would you personally like to achieve with your brand in terms of sustainability?
“Beyond Brother Vellies, I hope that we as an industry continue to move in the direction of progress and evaluate what sustainability looks like and how we as consumers value this in a brand. We should think more about our supply chain and how we actually treat the people we work with and what images we post there to inspire people to shop. Much of this is because women feel less than, and I think we should try to focus on making women feel like the best versions of themselves instead. “
What advice would you give to those looking to make their business sustainable?
“I think brands really need to find out what sustainability means to them. This could be reflected in the amount of product they make, the way they operate their supply chains, or even the materials they choose. You have to start with one thing and continue from there. “
What’s the smallest change a consumer could make to become more environmentally conscious?
“I don’t want to tell anyone how to consume, I know that all means are different. Investing in a solid, well-made piece that will last for years is one way to get more environmentally conscious. That doesn’t mean buying expensive items, just investing in well-made items. “
Joan Smalls models for Brother Vellies
What are the most common inaccurate sustainability “facts” that you see advertised?
“I just think it’s important that people realize that sustainability is not just about our impact on the planet, but also about our impact on society. You can be the most “sustainable” brand out there, but if your workforce is not treated well and with respect, you are not really doing your job. “
What should consumers pay attention to when shopping sustainably?
“I think customers should do some research first and find out what is important to them when buying from a brand. Then discover the brands that represent and support these ideas. “
What’s the biggest misconception about sustainable clothing and what would you say to counter it?
“At Brother Vellies we don’t design for seasons or trends, which is why we never offer our products for sale. We believe in assigning the value of our products based on materials and fair labor practices, which is not influenced by the traditional consumption cycle. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun with our styles.
“I think another common misconception is that sustainability is more expensive. Some of that is yes, but there are some great brands out there making more affordable, sustainably powered products. You might just have to dig a little. “
If you are confused about sustainability and need more details, who do you turn to?
“I think there is a lot of vague and incorrect information out there. So I try to shop or design with the ideas that are important to me, and I look for brands that promote those ideals. “
What’s next for you
“I’m really looking forward to growing and working on the Brother Vellies brand by designing and creating niche stuff. So we’re going to do more. I love our Something Special that people can participate in, so just keep telling stories and creating products that women can keep in their closets forever. That’s the most important thing for me: building that eternal wardrobe. “
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