MY DAY OFF

Aurora James’ Day Off in the Lower East Side Is All About Supporting Women-Owned and Black-Owned Small Businesses

Aurora James gets a mani, visits an art gallery and drizzles hot honey on her pepperoni pizza.

By Morgan Fowler and Aurora James

Published on 5/09/2023 at 12:00 PM

Aurora James, Founder of Brother Vellies & 15 Percent Pledge | Photo by Jutharat Pinyodoonyachet for Thrillist


Activist and fashion industry disruptor Aurora James launched her sustainable luxury accessories brand Brother Vellies out of a market in Brooklyn in 2013. Since then, she’s taken the world by storm, founding the 15 Percent Pledge – an initiative which encourages retailers to dedicate 15% of their shelf space to Black-owned businesses – dressing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for the Met Gala, and leading the CFDA as vice chair. You can read all about her wild journey to success in her new memoir, Wildflower. On Aurora’s day off she’s staying true to her ethos, supporting friends, women and Black-owned businesses on the Lower East Side.

When I wake up, I drink a bunch of water and take a moment to meditate and find gratitude. I think that's really important, especially during super busy times. Oftentimes, when the calendar is busy or you're going through your work day, you tend to put meditation on the back burner. But on my days off, I make a point of starting the day that way.


Then I usually head out for coffee at Aujla's Coffee Shop. Aaron Aujla is a dear friend of mine, and I feel like any space or environment that he creates is so special and cute and thoughtful and magical and flavor-filled. It's an Indian coffee house, which sort of reminds me of home in Canada, where there's just a lot more Indian cuisine and culture around day-to-day life than what I normally find in New York. So it's a really great way to kick things off with some cardamom coffee.

“Aaron Aujla is a dear friend of mine, and I feel like any space or environment that he creates is so special and cute and thoughtful and magical and flavor-filled.”

Stopping by the Bode store is a must for everyone, obviously. It’s directly next door to Aujla’s. I'm obsessed with the fact that owner Emily Adam Bode has launched womenswear. And her use of textiles and the way she sources items has always been so fascinating to me. Textiles are also a big part of the Brother Vellies story. We work with artisans in Burkina Faso and Mali, so just seeing the textiles that she finds, mostly all vintage, is really inspiring to me. I usually like to pick up something from that store, and maybe a gift for someone else as well.


After that, it’s nice to walk over to the Hannah Traore Gallery. She is really lovely. I like her a lot. There was an artist the last time I was there, Anya Paintsil. I've been eyeing a piece of hers from the gallery ever since. I love the way that Hannah Traore, the curator, really thinks about art and Black art and female artists and bringing their voices forward and allowing the base to really communicate their power. We definitely need a lot more Black gallerists and Black curators that have that specific point of view. And she is a very brilliant and accomplished woman, and I just love visiting her space and seeing what she's up to.

“We definitely need a lot more Black gallerists and Black curators that have that specific point of view.”

From there, go to Chillhouse and get a little mani done. It’s founded by a woman of color, Cyndi Ramirez. She also just launched press-on nails as a CPG product that's available on shelves. I've known her for a long time, and the space is really relaxed. All of the nail art inspo that they have there is super cool. I'm more of a neutral nail person, but it's still so fun to be in that space.


Then I’m off to Scarr’s Pizza. It’s a Black-owned pizza shop. I’m a little bit basic in regard to my slices, so I’ll get pepperoni. Sometimes, I like to put the hot honey on there as well. I just love people watching in the Lower East Side, it's one of the areas of New York that still feels creative. There's people who are just rolling out of bed and dressing themselves however they feel without a lot of pressure to fit into whatever corporate standards they have. It's just very enchanting.

“I really love creative spaces like this that allow people to break out of their regular box and do something with their hands and with their hearts.”

Finally, I’m ending my day at Happy Medium. I like to paint. I really love creative spaces like this that allow people to break out of their regular box and do something with their hands and with their hearts. I think that's really wonderful. And this space is kind of fun and quirky too, which makes me really happy. They used to do a Build a Chair workshop that created these Donald Judd-inspired chairs that I think were super cool. So much of New York is intellectual, that sometimes it's really nice just to make things.


Morgan Fowler is the senior project manager and a contributor for Thrillist. She’s a St. Johns University alum based in Harlem. Lover of Japanese food and sweets, passionate about small businesses and community. You can find her on Instagram @IzumiFowler.

Places to Eat & Drink

Aujla's Coffee Shop

56 Hester Street, New York City


Scarr’s Pizza

22 Orchard Street, New York City

Things to See & Do

Bode

58 Hester Street, New York City


Hannah Traore Gallery

150 Orchard Street, New York City


Chillhouse

75 Varick Street, New York City


Happy Medium

49 Market Street, New York City