Growing up we spent a lot of time traveling. My Mother managed to curate a collection of vibrant, culturally infused fashion pieces along the way â€“ silk kimonos, Danish clogs, elaborate hats. Hours would be spent in her closet imagining the glamorous women who would wear these traditional pieces. As I got older those imaginations came to life while reading fashion magazines, through the work of Steven Meisel, Richard Avedon and their cast of muses.
My first internship was age 15 at Next Models in Toronto. After high-school, I studied Fashion for a year at Ryerson University, before switching my major to Journalism and taking a job with Jeanne Beker at Fashion Television. Spending a full summer in our tape library watching hundreds of hours of behind the scenes video footage of interviews and fashion shows was my first real glimpse at how fashion operated and what people really thought and felt. There was a candidness that Jeanne got out of people, in those moments off the record, while the camera still rolled that was really life changing for me in affirming my desire to be a designer and tell stories.
Some years later I found myself in Los Angeles, where I started working as a freelance creative consultant for Elite, Gen Art, Woolly Pocket and Thomas Wylde. While I was never designing, my work always related to growing and developing ideas and identities. I spent a lot of my spare time trying to find a larger way to explore my own creativity and still give back in some capacity.
My first trip to Africa was Morocco in 2011, after which I spent a couple of years experimenting with design and different artisans. I founded Brother Vellies in January 2013 with the goal of preserving the shoemaking craft in Africa and creating new jobs for the artisans in our workshops. I launched the first official collection, Spring 2014, working with shoemakers in South Africa. Not long after we expanded to working in Kenya and Morocco, to continue producing authentic, modern-day desert boots, shoes, slippers and sandals.
Presently I travel to Africa every 2-3 months to work on the ground with our artisans and further develop our collections. While I may not have the most design experience, I can tell you all first hand that Iâ€™ve learned a lot â€” about collaboration, tradition, struggle and personal development. Together with our artisans every day is a new lesson and a challenge, weâ€™ve built and grown so much together I am really so incredibly proud to be sharing our story with you today.