“I have a couple hundred pairs of shoes,” a claim that most fashion fans dream of one day sharing, is just another part of the life and work of Aurora James. As the founder and creative director of Brother Vellies, James not only has an enviable footwear collection but actually designs many of the shoes herself. Her initial inspiration, she notes, came after traveling through Africa. “I met a lot of artisans along the way and wanted to find a way to keep them employed,” she says, “so I began creating collections that utilized their unique skills.”
Since starting the company in 2013, James has earned the notice of peers, editors, and industry insiders alike. She won the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund in 2015 and is currently a member of the CFDA Fashion Incubator, but it still feels like James and Brother Vellies are just getting started, like there’s much more ahead.
As for any woman who owns and runs her own business, James has no defined 9-to-5 schedule, no two days are alike, and there’s a certain unavoidable blurring of personal and work life that occurs. Luckily, James’s sense of style lends itself to a world constantly in flux. “I don’t see a difference between on- and off-duty style,” she says. “I think there is so much about Brother Vellies that I have rooted in my own actual lifestyle that everything sort of blends.”
Of course, it’s impossible to work in the fashion industry without being acutely aware of the way women choose (and want) to dress. For James, this proximity has come to inform both her own way of dressing and her design choices. “I am more interested in personal style than trends and more interested in shoes you will own for a lifetime instead of just one season,” she notes, adding that working in the industry has encouraged her to build her own closet slowly instead of shopping fast fashion. “The best dressed people in the industry,” she says, “are those who are very aware of their own style and build on that.”
There’s a common thread between the way James dresses every day and the shoes and bags she creates for others. When asked to describe her personal style, James offers a response that could easily carry over as a descriptor of the Brother Vellies aesthetic. She views how she dresses as a reflection of how she sees the world: “romantic and whimsical and bold and full of texture and color.” Read on to see James’s weekday wardrobe in full.
“I wear a lot of long dresses with our Unity boots. It’s a bit of a ‘pretty punk’ vibe, I guess. But more so, it’s just comfortable and girly, which is an ongoing theme with a lot of how I dress and design.” While Mondays may qualify as a stressful, uninspired day for many, James uses the start of the week as an opportunity to make a statement. Pairing unexpected pieces like a flowy maxi dress with rough-and-tumble boots starts things off on a fresh foot.
Working in a creative industry has allowed her to build a fairly fluid wardrobe, and her footwear designs reflect the same flexibility. Her boots could just as easily be worn with jeans as they could with a bohemian dress, and other styles follow the same rule. “The Holiday Bow Pump is really great for the office with a linen or navy pinstripe or polka dot dress,” she notes. “On the weekends, though, you could pair it with athletic socks, jeans, and a sweatshirt. I like shoes that have a duality to them like that.”
Winter in New York can leave even the boldest dresser uninspired, but the Toronto native manages to bring texture and a sense of playfulness into her wardrobe even on a practically frigid shoot day. “I have had these plaid McQueen pants for six years,” she notes about her Tuesday outfit. “I love wool pants in the winter; they’re the best way to stay warm. A shearling crossbody is like a little heater also. This is definitely a very winter look.”
James has a unique ability to take her shoes, in this case denim loafers with crystal embellishments, and build an outfit around them that is unexpected but inspired. The key takeaway: Don’t be afraid to mix and match the standout styles you love.
While it’s not uncommon for James to travel for work—“Los Angeles, Paris, Morocco, Italy, and Ethiopia are the typical destinations”—when she’s working in NYC, jeans are in heavy rotation. “You can usually find me in jeans a vintage shirt at least three times a week,” she says.
But James has a knack for knowing how to pair casual and more formal pieces together in a way that feels neither sloppy nor stuffy. “You have to take luxe and pare it down sometimes. These Black Palms Pumps have been glued to my feet since the day I designed them,” she says. Styled with eye-catching shoes, jeans are anything but average.
If there’s anything close to a uniform in James’s closet, her Thursday look would be it. “This is my basic go-to for years,” she says, “an easy skirt with a statement shoe and bag with some vintage on top.” The addition of more trend-forward accessories, like a leather beret and statement earrings, give even the most worn items an instant refresh.
Notes James, “I always start with the accessories and build from there. What shoes do I want to wear today? If you have great accessories, they will completely transform jeans and a white T-shirt even. The world is your oyster with a Palms Pump and Beret!”
While James notes that athleisure is the one thing she’d never wear while working, some sporty elements have become staples. “My boyfriend works with athletes, so I have this weird habit of integrating gratuitous sportswear into my outfits,” she says. But, despite her ability to easily pull off a jersey, you probably won’t catch her watching a game on the weekends. “I’m that girl on the street that gives a blank, confused look when someone says something like ‘I love the Chicago Bulls’ and I’ve totally forgotten A) what that is and B) that I’m wearing a Chicago Bulls vintage T-shirt.”
While James has already seen success as a businesswoman in the fashion industry, she notes that she’s looking to the future, not her past accomplishments. “I get inspired by thinking about different things women will do and accomplish while wearing Brother Vellies—running for office, being a mom, just kicking butt in general,” she says.
If her own trajectory is any evidence, Brother Vellies’s shoes aren’t simply made for walking, sitting, or even dancing—they’re made to change the world.