Marvel at the humble vellie’s fashion feat

Getting ahead: Creative thinking has turned the icon of African footwear into a must-have item. (Jason Eric Hardwick)

Getting ahead: Creative thinking has turned the icon of African footwear into a must-have item. (Jason Eric Hardwick)

A shoe sits on a shelf in a store without saying much about how it was made or the many hands that brought it into being. There it rests, one among many, waiting to be chosen.

But enter the American concept store, Opening Ceremony, and you’ll find Brother Vellies shoes — unique and desirable, fashioned from kudu leather, with visible top-stitched seams or neon pink toe caps. The vellies’ genetic make-up carries the legends of desert nights, Namibian craftsmanship and African heritage.

The low suede boots were originally inspired by the traditional footwear of the Khoikhoi found their way into the wardrobes of Africans and travellers.

The original brand created by Schier has now morphed into Brother Vellies, with Brooklyn-based Aurora James as the creative director. The team includes eight Damara men from the original factory and is split among Namibia, South Africa and Kenya.

James grew up in Canada and Jamaica, worked for Fashion TV, where she lost track of time watching tapes from the Eighties — “countless hours of unedited interviews and backstage activity”.

From her first style crush on her mother’s floor-length snakeskin dress all the way to her designs for Brother Vellies, James’s take on fashion is eclectic and honest, something that translates into her collections.

She says: “It was important to show a positive image of Africa. For a long time, Americans were either seeing sad images of hungry children or glamorous images of Meryl Streep types in their African mansions. There is a big middle area that is actually way more interesting and honest.”

The brand’s ad campaigns (, shot by photographer Jason Eric Hardwick, from Swakopmund to Sossusvlei, reflect her thinking. The people portrayed are über-stylish, wearing their colourful vellies as if being trendy was nothing more than being yourself.

The shoes are handmade, the cuts sewn together. James is inspired by “plants, flowers, friends, history books, imagination, old music videos”, and the sandals of Masai men and South African history.

“Having spent time in South Africa, I did a lot of reading on apartheid. I’m a pretty big daydreamer so I think some of how I pictured that time is filtered through into this collection.”



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