Big Beauty Tuesday: How Brother Vellies' Aurora James Is Helping Retailers Make a Giant Step for Black Businesses

As a new year dawned in January, so did a staggering statistic: 140,000 jobs had been lost in December, all of them by women.

Actually, it was worse, reported Fortune magazine: “Technically, women accounted for more than 111% of jobs lost...the U.S. economy lost a net 140,000 jobs in December...But women lost 156,000 jobs overall during the month, while men gained 16,000 jobs, according to an analysis by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC).”


That same analysis confirmed that approximately 2 in 5 (44.4%) of the over 22.1 million jobs lost last spring at the onset of the COVID crisis have yet to return—or never will—a circumstance which resulted in 2.1 million fewer women in the labor force as of December than ahead of the pandemic in February. But NWLC shared another grim statistic: 154,000 Black women left the labor force in December, “marking the largest one-month drop in their labor force size since March and April 2020.”

As a Black woman lucky enough to still be employed at the moment, these numbers are terrifying. For Brother Vellies founder and Creative Director Aurora James, it posed yet another opportunity to wedge open the doors of her industry to BIPOC talent. Memorably, James called the retail industry to task last June with the formation of the 15 Percent Pledge, challenging American retailers to reflect the country’s demographics by dedicating 15 percent of their shelf space to Black entrepreneurs and vendors. The call-to-action instantly netted results, with Sephora becoming the first retailer to sign on and several others—including Macy’s, West Elm, Gap and American Vogue—soon followed, setting an example of what accountability to effect structural change can look like.


Ever the entrepreneurial mind, following January’s revelations, James had another bright idea: She would do her part to address the beauty and fashion industry’s pipeline problem by establishing a career board on the 15 Percent Pledge site. The board, launched in February, already features plum postings from some of the industry’s most covetable brands, including Pyer Moss, Carolina Herrera, West Elm and more—and we’re not talking jobs, but career opportunities (if you know, you know).

As the brand told us via email, the responsibility doesn’t just fall on retailers: “The Pledge has also created a Consumer Commitment for shoppers looking to diversify their own spending power, by encouraging people to redirect at least 15% of their monthly budget to Black-owned businesses,” they announced, adding: “Consumers can also donate to the organization to support their work for Black-owned businesses, and holding large retailers accountable to their commitments.”

James tells us all about it—and what the retail industry really owes Black creators and consumers—in this week’s Big Beauty Tuesday. And of course, it’s not all work and no play—after all, she still has her own business to run! On Friday, James teamed up with 15 Percent Pledge partner Sephora to drop a Sephora Collection accessories collaboration. Brother Vellies x Sephora is a trio of well-made, travel-ready cosmetics bags (because we will travel again—and until then, we still want to be cute) in playful print and texture combinations evocative of James’ celebrity-favorite label—but at a fraction of the price of her luxe line ($30-$48, to be exact). Given the economic challenges we’ve all been experiencing, we’d say the timing of this luxe-for-less collab couldn’t be better. (After the year we’ve had? We deserve.)

Illustration for article titled Big Beauty Tuesday: How Brother Vellies' Aurora James Is Helping Retailers Make a Giant Step for Black Businesses
Photo: Sephora

Want to hear more from Aurora about why we should all be on board with the 15 Percent Pledge? Watch this week’s video, above.

Maiysha Kai is managing editor of The Glow Up, host of The Root Presents: It's Lit! podcast and Big Beauty Tuesdays, and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door. May I borrow some sugar?