Sephora and Brother Vellies have had a long, under-the-radar history together. The beauty retailer was an early supporter of the young, artisan-driven brand — and its founder, Aurora James — sponsoring its first-ever fashion week presentation, and two more after that. They made bold headlines together in 2020, when Sephora became the first retailer to sign onto to the 15 Percent Pledge, an initiative founded by James to secure a minimum of 15 percent shelf space for Black-owned brands across industries. And now, the two have joined forces to create something you can actually buy.
On Friday, February 12, Sephora Collection and Brother Vellies unveiled a limited-edition collection of makeup bags over two years in the making, designed by James herself, inspired by the different albeit effortlessly cool Brother Vellies customer aesthetics. Ranging in price from $30 to $48, the collaboration has allowed Brother Vellies' luxury accessories — rooted in traditional artisan design practices and techniques — to be available at their most accessible price points yet.
"Very early on [Sephora] was an ally of Brother Vellies, I don't know what they saw in me, but they obviously saw something," James shared with NYLON over the phone. "We always talked about doing something together, and I'm glad it's finally [come] to life."
The bags vary in size and design: the Traincase ($30), a soft top-handle case featuring an angled zipper, separating a pink faux alligator finish from a cheetah print canvas exterior; the Large Bag ($38), a three-in-one set including a large clear bag housing two smaller pouches, one in a beautiful, faux alligator finish and the other in a cheetah-print canvas; and the Doodle Bag ($48), the most visibly Brother Vellies, inspired by the brand's Mexican-made Doodle Boots. "They're different girls," James jokes over the phone.
According to Brooke Banwart, vice president and general manager of Sephora Collection North America, the aspect of supporting and creating with local artisans that's intrinsic to the Brother Vellies brand was kept consistent for the collaboration.
"Aurora is super passionate about working with the local artisans, and this is something she wanted to protect, so we did make sure that the product was created and produced in local areas," said Banwart over the phone, noting that the Doodle Bag was created in Mexico and inspired by Mexican heritage. "She really wanted to celebrate the power of this collaboration even beyond borders, and wanted to stay true to the inspiration."
"Collaborations and working with founders can have different levels of involvement, and Aurora has been intimately involved with all aspects of the development from the concept to the zipper detail, to every minute detail of the product. She's an incredible artistic mind, she's innovative, and really keeps the client in mind at the forefront, so she's been a really great partner and collaborator."
While the partnership and synergy between James and the Sephora team couldn't be more level — with a collection and message that doesn't seem to have been compromised on either side in the end result — James was initially worried about how her public call to action during 2020's summer of uprising for Black lives would impact her working relationship with Sephora.
"It's a little bit of a tearjerker for me to see these bags make it to market because we have worked on them for so long, and when I launched the idea for 15 Percent Pledge, I was so upset at the time. I wasn't upset at anyone in particular, I was upset at the world," she shared, reflecting on the initiative's first days, tagging big industry players — including Sephora — in her posts.
"When I thought that I had probably cancelled this collaboration inadvertently, it turned out that we ended up collaborating in an even bigger, more impressive — albeit less tactile — way," James shared. "So, this collaboration kind of represents a lot for me because it was something that I kind of put on the line. Sometimes you still have to jeopardize some of what you have in order to make space for other people, and I'm so lucky that Sephora was not ever going to let our relationship be jeopardized by a collective desire for the world to be a little bit more equitable."
You can shop the Sephora Collection x Brother Vellies collaboration bags now, for a limited time only, at Sephora and on Sephora.com.