Footwear designer Aurora James, the founder and creative director of Brother Vellies, remembers the shoes that set her life’s path.

Inuit women in traditional dress, photograph courtesy of the Vancouver Maritime Museum

My mom has ethnic ties to the Inuit community in Canada, and, when I was growing up there, she had a huge collection of traditional clothing and shoes.

That was my first exposure to apparel specific to a native group of people. There was one pair in her collection that she wore all the time: moccasins covered in fur with big pom poms.

I remember being six years old and freaking out because I wanted them so badly.

To highlight the significance of owning something built to last, my mom explained how her shoes, which she had owned for 15 years, were hand crafted with leather from animals the Inuits ate.

An Inuit woman in winter clothes ca. 1903-1915, photograph by the Lomen Brothers

One weekend, we visited a Native Canadian reservation and she let me pick out a pair of my own.

There were only a couple options for little kids, but I gravitated towards a cognac colored pair of fur mukluk boots with beading on the vamp and leg.

Whenever the weather was cold enough to justify it, I’d always put them on.

I loved those shoes, and they helped me realize early on the importance of preserving a native skill set and process.

— as told to The Thick

Did you see? Accessories designer Rupert Sanderson takes a road trip across Tuscany, inside the whimsical New York City office of Coral & Tusk founder Stephanie Housley.


An original halftone print of Inuit footwear ca. 1916