Special to Times
Beacon Hill Books at 71 Charles St. welcomes activist and fashion pioneer Aurora James, founder of Brother Vellies, in conversation with MFA Boston Curator of Fashion Arts theo tyson, on Thursday, Sept. 14, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. The conversation will be followed by an audience Q&A and book signing for James’ memoir, ‘Wildflower.
James’s life is a great American “success story”—precisely because it looks so different from others we’ve seen.
Born in Canada to a counterculture mother, James was raised to question everything—specifically the very institutions that have shaped so many of us. When James was 7, her mother married a man who would move them to Jamaica, where James would learn harsh lessons about control, power, abuse, and belonging. Eventually she would find her way back home to Toronto, where her blue-eyed and fair-haired grandmother welcomed her with unconditional love—and inadvertently showed her that racism is the water in which we are all submerged.
Scouted as a model in eighth grade, James struggled with body image and became disenchanted by the industry’s objectification of women and commodification of race and culture. After she dropped out of high school, a flirtation with street racing led to her eventual arrest. She’d hit rock bottom, but as a visionary and optimist, she allowed that experience to become one of many that reshaped her way of thinking about the world. A slew of fashion-related jobs led James to discover the real power in creating for the runway, and she started her own business in a flea market: a sustainable fashion line showcasing traditional African designs that would become an award-winning international brand. But none of this came from a drive to “succeed.” It came from a desire to forge a new creative path—and to lift others up alongside her.
Already a rising star in fashion and the first Black female designer to win a Council of Fashion Designers of America Award, James posted a revolutionary idea in the wake of George Floyd’s murder that connected economics to racial justice in a way that has forever changed the American economic landscape. With that Instagram post, she founded the Fifteen Percent Pledge, which challenges retailers to commit 15 percent of their shelf space and spending power to Black businesses and is one of the fastest-growing social justice nonprofits. To date, more than two dozen of the world’s most recognized retailers have taken the pledge, redirecting $10 billion in annual revenue to Black and BIPOC brands.
Additionally, James is the Creative Director and Founder of luxury accessories brand Brother Vellies. Founded in 2013 with the goal of keeping traditional African design practices and techniques alive, while also creating and sustaining artisanal jobs, Brother Vellies is now handmade across the globe.
In praise of James’ memoir, Rupi Kaur, New York Times bestselling author of ‘milk and honey,’ wrote: “With community and sisterhood at its center, ‘Wildflower’ teaches us that against all odds, we can overcome.”
Tickets for the Sept. 14 event include a signed, personalized copy of the book. Admission is $30 per guest, and capacity is limited. Visit https://bhbooks.gatherlearning.com/events/author-talks-wildflower-by-aurora-james-in-conversation-with-theo-tyson to register for the event.