Aurora James and Kerby Jean-Raymond Are the Adults in the Room — Why the Fashion Industry Needs to Sit Up and Listen

They’ve got something in common — actually, this pair has many things in common.

Four years ago, Aurora James and Kerby Jean-Raymond met at the CFDA’s Incubator program for emerging fashion-industry talent: Both were minority designers whose brands were built on social-consciousness — championing issues such as sustainability and racial equality. The pair immediately bonded over their likemindedness.

“I came [into the CFDA program] and I was super happy that another Black person was there … At that point, I had grown tired of being the only one in the room,” Jean-Raymond said to James as they shared a conversation on the 14th floor terrace of Penske Media Corp.’s New York City HQ. “I was actually pleasantly surprised you were the type that spoke up, because so much of my experience in fashion with other Black people is that when I open up, I usually end up looking stupid because I’d be the only one who said something … [With you], I felt immediately protected and I felt camaraderie because we were not scared to ruffle feathers.”

The conversation, part of which aired this evening as part of the first-ever virtual Footwear News Achievement Awards, marked a full circle moment for James and Jean-Raymond, who this year added to their growing list of similarities: They’re both now recipients of the FNAA Person of the Year honor. Jean-Raymond, who founded Pyer Moss in 2013, took home the award at the 2019 FNAAs, for the brand’s unwavering focus on inclusion and authenticity — with nods to the Black Lives Matter movement and themes like mental health awareness in its fashion week shows.

James, who challenged major retailers to dedicate 15% of their shelf space to Black brands following the police killing of George Floyd, took home the honor tonight.

“2020 has been hard but I think that I’ve definitely used this time to be more self reflective. You know, a lot of [what] was going on in the past, like with the red carpets and the Met Gala — God knows I love a Met Gala — but it’s distracting a lot of times from who you are as a creative and who you want to be in the world,” James said to Jean-Raymond of the driving forces behind her bold moves this year.  “So I think for me, I’ve been really introspective about how do I want to spend my time on this planet, what I want to be and what I want people to remember me for…”

She added, “[And it’s] probably not a handbag.”

So far, major companies such as Sephora, Rent the Runway and, most recently, Macy’s Inc. have signed The 15 Percent Pledge.

As James and Jean-Raymond chart the path forward for their businesses as well as their expanding social impact, they both have recognized that a huge and ongoing responsibility rests on their shoulders.

“You know, [2020] was the year that I really realized that I was the adult in the room,” James told Jean-Raymond. “For so long, I’ve just been waiting for the adults to do the thing … and  sitting here with you and you getting this award last year, and me getting this year — we’re the adults in the room … You can’t wait for anyone else to come along and make the change that you want. You really have to do it yourself.”

For 34 years, the annual FN Achievement Awards ­— often called the “Shoe Oscars” — have celebrated the style stars, best brand stories, ardent philanthropists, emerging talents and industry veterans. The first virtual FNAAs are presented in partnership with The Style Room Powered by Zappos, and sponsors FDRA, Deckers Brands, Soles4Souls and Foot Locker.

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