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The Activist Muse Every Fashion Girl Is Following on Instagram

What does it take to be the next big thing? Whether you say innovation, irreverence, or lots of flash, it’s undeniably the elusive It factor—that can’t-look-away but also can’t-quite-put-your-finger-on-it instinct. And we’re doubling down for It Girl, It Brand, our latest series, speaking to who and what is on the edge of being huge.

This time around, we have a powerful pairing befitting our August editorial theme, #WeAreWomen: activist and Female Collective founder Candace Reels and sustainable accessories label Brother Vellies. Both set on spotlighting the work and stories of women around the globe, these changemakers are a fashion match made in heaven.

Not even five minutes into my interview with Candace Reels, I learn a valuable lesson: Life is too short to do anything other than what you love. The Los Angeles native was 26 when she had her what-am-I-doing-with-my-life existential moment. Unhappy with her job at the time and lacking any kind of inspiration, she knew it was time to hit the refresh button. Enter the Female Collective, a platform born out of Reels’ passion for activism and intersectional feminism. More than just a blog, Female Collective is a digital community empowering women to come together, tell their stories, and bring awareness to the issues that matter to them most. “We are so much better working together than separately,” says Reels of the driving force behind FC. “There are so many things that separate us, but if we can use all of those things and work to equalize all playing fields for all women, it’s just much better for the world and all of us.”

When Reels isn’t advocating for women’s rights, curating her feed with motivational messages, or working on exciting products and collaborations for FC (you can catch her at Create and Cultivate’s Chicago conference August 25!), she is inspiring us in a different way: with her spirited approach to fashion. Never one to shy away from bold color combos, a statement-making chapeau, or intriguing layers, Reels has a personal style as refreshing as her stance on feminism.

Below, see Reels in some of Brother Vellies’s most exciting pieces and get to know the activist as she talks about the biggest lessons she’s learned from her FC community, her fashion idols, and the Target purchase she can’t stop wearing.

Photo:

Paley Fairman; On Candace Reels: Brother Vellies 2020 Leather Beret ($465); Alexander Wang sweater; Re/Done High Rise Stovepipe Jeans ($250); Brother Vellies Blush Palms Pumps ($525)

Can you recall that “lightbulb” moment or the trigger that motivated you to start Female Collective?

It happened three years ago. I was going through a weird transition in my life. I was no longer 25 where I could be like, Oh, I can do whatever. Now I’m like, I hate my job and I don’t feel inspired, so I need to fix that. So, being a millennial, I went onto Instagram to see if I could find anything that inspired me, and nothing clicked, so I decided to start my own Instagram. I didn’t tell anyone. I would just post daily inspiring stuff that would motivate me to move forward in my life, and next thing you know, people are commenting: “Oh, I needed that” or “I’m in the same situation” or “I love going to your page and being inspired daily.” So that is pretty much how it started.

Where did the idea of the FC community come from?

I think unconsciously, I always knew I wanted it to be a community because I always felt that women together are powerful. We are so much better working together than separately. There are so many things that separate us, but if we can use all of those things and work to equalize all playing fields for all women, it’s just much better for the world and all of us. So that’s where the Female Collective comes from because collectively, we are better than separately.

How do you shake off any fears or doubts when pursuing your dreams?

I think the fear never really goes away. When you start your own thing, you’re just like, I’m just going to do it! And throughout the journey, you do get fearful about things, but you can’t let that stop you. So I would say that I used that fear as inspiration to continue to just do what I’m doing and keep it going no matter what.

What have you learned from the Female Collective community?

It has taught me that the world is a very small place. The wonderful thing about social media is that you get to meet people around the world and you find out what they are dealing with, and with that you can be like, we’re dealing with the same things as well. It’s not just [connecting with people] in our community, which is important, but also to connect with people around the world and what they are dealing with and have empathy for those people as well.

Photo:

Pailey Fairman; On Candace Reels: Frame Cotton Linen Boyfriend Double Breasted Blazer ($450); Isabel Marant Nyree Cotton Blend Flared Pants ($590); Brother Vellies Sahara Belt Bag ($619) and Holiday Glass Pumps ($515)

What are the current social and/or political issues you are focused on bringing more awareness to?

Representation on all fields. Feminism, I guess it started being just about men and women being equal, but there are so many different people around the world now that it’s important we break down it with class and gender and sexuality and race. There is a wide spectrum of feminism. That’s what I’m focusing on, just saying let’s represent everyone and talk about what they are going through and have empathy for them. Even if we are not going through those same issues, it’s important for us to care and find out what they are dealing with and use our privilege to find out what we can do to help these other people.

Our August editorial theme is #WeAreWomen. Who are the empowering women who inspire you?

My mom is a continuous one who has always inspired me. She is probably the reason I unconsciously started Female Collective and why I am in this route in my life because she has always been about establishing yourself as a woman no matter what and just focusing on that. And people like Sarah Sophie, she is an amazing woman and she inspires me. And Angela Davis, just classics. And people who are no longer here, like Maya Angelou. I read a lot of her books and poetry. It just resonates. No matter what you are going through you can always find a quote from her or something from her poetry that just gets you in that moment.

What advice do you have for women looking to make a difference but are not sure where to start?

I would say to focus on what you are passionate about. If it’s environmental issues, if it’s Black Lives Matter, if it’s just strictly women’s issues, whatever it is, find out what you are passionate about, and from there, there are so many organizations fighting these issues, so search these organizations, see what they need help with. You can’t join anything if you are not passionate about it. It’s a daily struggle. It’s not easy to know about these issues, because it really gets to you mentally. You have to know that it’s just not going to get fixed tomorrow; it’s a long journey ahead, so make sure you are passionate about whatever it is you are trying to activate.

Your hat game is very strong. Where do you source your hats? Is there a style you are really loving right now?

I get a lot of Brixton hats. I love berets. I think I started wearing [berets] like two years ago, and I just really liked the way they looked on my head, and then I started buying them in a lot of colors to go with my different outfits. That’s like my style that I’m sticking to. I mean it’s too hot out right now to wear hats, but I love to be able to put a beret on.

Do you have any hat dos or don’ts?

I feel like with hats, there are no dos or don’ts. Just do it! You can rock it with a strong pair of earrings or just some simple hoops. As long as you feel confident in it, you’ll be fine. It doesn’t matter what you pair with it.

Photo:

Paley Fairman; On Candace Reels: Brother Vellies 2020 Leather Beret ($465) and Peach Fox Wallflower Pouch ($785); Alexander Wang sweater

How do you keep your wardrobe feeling fresh in late summer, especially when it’s so hot?

I would say it’s very colorful. I add a lot of colors during the summertime, and I wear a lot more dresses and jumpsuits. I like to keep fewer layers in the summer and keep it colorful.

What is one piece on heavy rotation in your wardrobe right now?

Recently, I randomly bought these denim overalls from Target. They are amazing; I wear them all the time. The cut is great; they just fit perfectly. I’m constantly wearing them every week.

Who are the people in fashion who inspire you?

I would say Zoë Kravitz. I feel like she can wear anything and just look amazing in it. And Rihanna. I like those two because they are always different from the crowd. Like we’re on this trend, and they are already on a whole other trend. That’s why I really like those two.

Looking ahead, what are you excited to be wearing this fall?

Just layers. I love layers, so being able to throw on different jackets. And then the colors, too. I love burnt orange and emerald green and a burnt-ish yellow. And I get to wear a lot of hats!

What do you like about Aurora James as a designer and her brand, Brother Vellies?

I love the concept of the brand, that it’s these women in Africa who are making [the pieces] and she is paying them what they deserve. And that she announces that, she is saying this is who is making your stuff. A lot of companies don’t do that, but she is saying these are the people, they are getting paid right, and I want you to know about these women. She legit is a feminist who is supporting women. She didn’t just get on the trend of it; she’s been doing it since she started.

Photographer: Paley Fairman | Photography Assistant: Anthony Espino | Market Editor: Michelle Scanga