The Story Behind Aurora James’s Stars-and-Stripes Boots: ‘We Need To Reclaim the American Flag’

Designer Aurora James was out of the country on Election Night, taking a well-deserved vacation after working to get retailers like Sephora, West Elm and Rent the Runway to sign her 15 Percent Pledge. She created the initiative back in June, and it calls on brands to dedicate 15% of their total purchasing power to support Black-owned businesses.

While James was away in November, news that now-President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris were about to win the U.S. election brought the designer and 2020 FNAA person of the Year back to reality. She set out to create a pair of boots to mark a momentous time, both for herself and for the U.S.

Aurora james, fnaa, person of the year, brother vellies, 15 percent pledge
“They do feel like a celebration. I wouldn’t have been able to wear those boots and feel fab about it a year ago,” said James of her stars-and-stripes footwear, shown here with a dress by Azeeza.
CREDIT: Sage East

“I concepted the boots in my head when I was away. One big element of it is that I really feel that we need to make sure that we can, to some degree, reclaim and claim the American flag,” James said of the latex, over-the-knee stars-and-stripes boots that she wore for her FN cover shoot. “There are certain situations where it’s almost felt like it’s this partisan symbol, and it shouldn’t be that way. Because I think America at its best is a country that can work for everyone, if we are willing to actively do the work to make sure that it stays and is equitable for everyone.”

James is Canadian, having grown up Toronto — but she doesn’t see that as a deterrent to showing patriotism to the country where she now lives and operates her Brother Vellies brand. “I think it’s an even bolder statement,” she said of the boots. “I don’t have to embrace this country as my own. I’m not originally from here. But I do feel, because I have created my business here, and in many ways have come of age here, that I have a responsibility also to this country. I genuinely love America. I love Canada, too. They’re very different, even though we compare the two so much. I want to see it do really well and I think that that also means I have to be willing to put in that work. And I think I am.”

aurora james, 15 percent pledge
Aurora James photographed in New York on November 18, 2020.
CREDIT: Sage East

While the 15 Percent Pledge focuses its efforts primarily towards American companies (and recently signed retailers like Macy’s and Bloomingdales), James also launched an arm of the initiative in Canada in July, shifting the structure to represent 15 percent BIPOC-owned brands to reflect different demographics in her home country.

“Four years ago I had posted on social media about how let down I was by this country,” said James, referring to the 2016 U.S. election. “I’m still let down by this country sometimes, don’t get me wrong, it’s really been a tough go of it over the past few years — but I’m definitely feeling really hopeful. And hope isn’t just about setting good intentions, it has to be coupled with doing the work.”

To James, the boots are a symbol of both hope and celebration. “I wouldn’t have been able to wear those boots and feel fab about it a year ago. I think what we’ve done this year is we really have made it through a difficult time. I don’t know that there’s anyone I know that isn’t looking forward to next year and the change that is on the horizon,” she said.

The designer will be producing a limited edition of the stars-and-stripes boots, which plan to ship out just before the presidential inauguration in January.

“They were supposed to be a one-off,” she said. “But plans change in 2020.”

Watch James receive her FN Person of the Year award tonight at Footwearnews.com and on You Tube at 6 p.m. Don’t miss her special conversation with close friend Kerby Jean-Raymond (and last year’s Person of the Year) winner.

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