Women's Empowerment + Ending Modern Day Slavery = Vele's Core Mission

this is vele interview

This month’s featured interview with Vele comes at time when both women’s empowerment and sense of belonging is something we can all relate to in one way or another. 

Pairing these ideals with the creation of beautifully hand-crafted leather goods, while also striving to end modern day slavery, Vele is on a mission to conquer both of these injustices and remind you that “You are worthy. You are wanted.” 

Derived from the latin root “wanted”, Vele’s core mission is to empower women not only through their brand messaging - each piece even has its own hand stitched message inside - but also by working with non-profit Not For Sale, in which 10% of their sales goes towards this great organization whose goal is to human trafficking and labor exploitation by preventing this from happening in the first place. 

tiffany wong and lauren belfor of vele

Co-founders Tiffany and Lauren’s story goes way back to middle school, where they first met in sewing class. They started a fashion club, they played soccer together, and ultimately many years later decided to start a fashion brand based on giving women a sense of belonging and supporting ethical production. 

Lauren, a marketing professional who has dabbled in everything from blogging, to digital marketing, and even working with influencers, and Tiffany who’s background lies within fashion, marketing, and production launched the brand last July and are truly on a mission to succeed. 

“Up until February I was a marketing director for an ethical brand, and my co-founder Lauren is also working for a marketing agency.  We were working 7am to 11pm, and it was really intense.  But now I’m currently doing freelance marketing and consulting which is giving me a little bit of my life back.”

When asked about how they went about finding their factory (a question that gets brought up many times when it comes to ethical fashion), Tiffany’s answer was both surprising and refreshing. 

“It was literally just through google searching. We knew the town that we wanted to produce in, (this tiny town in the mountains) and basically we reached out to the top factories that we wanted to work with, and they all told us no.  After a bunch of 30-minute skype calls, and a whole series of rejections we finally connected with our current factory. It’s pretty incredible that they were able to take a bet on us, and we love what they’re all about. They’re a family run factory, like - traditional leather work that has been passed down for generations.” 

How did you go about funding? 
“We crowdfunded our first production, about half through social media and half through Go Fund Me. I think that for a lot of small ethical brands, unless you want to take on a lot of capital early on, it’s more of a long trek.  But it’s really rewarding - the people you meet - and who all believe in something very passionately..”

this is vele factory in spain

Why an ethical fashion company? 
Tiffany: "I was working with an Italian handbag brand and fell in love with craftsmanship. They pour their soul into their products, compared to Americans fast paced and pragmatic approach. It was nice to see more romanticism in the creative process. So I realized there’s so much opportunity for more of a positive impact, and how can I expand that impact."

Lauren: "I always had an interested in fashion and as soon as I became aware of the effects of the fashion industry and how it can be preventable I immediately began to pursue learning how brands and consumers stand for change and vote with their practices and purchases."

How did the relationship with Not For Sale come about? 
“We believe that everyone is of worth, and so we wanted to exhibit that in our supply chain by making sure everyone was being paid a fair living wage and being treated with dignity, and so wanted to support a non-profit that was eliciting positive change in a sustainable manner. So Not for Sale builds social enterprises in communities at risk for human trafficking and labor exploitation. What they found is that if they rescue people at the top of the river rather than the bottom, and make sure that they never even make it into the cycle of human trafficking." 

Are there any brands/companies you admire? 
Tiffany: One brand is The Giving Keys, because of their message of empowerment and the fact that they have a very clear impact with empowering homeless with their job training.  
Lauren: I admire Lonely Lingerie's vulnerability, and Maiyet’s commitment to global artisans.

What are your biggest challenges?
"Competing online as an indie brand. The internet is made for larger brands who have a huge ad budgets. So we have to create really organic campaigns through social media, and very content oriented. We really focus on our blog, because if we run a bunch of paid ads, it really is a drop in the bucket compared to what other big brands can do."

this is vele interview

What’s been your biggest wins thus far? 
"We’ve created a community of women called Vele muses, and they are women who really inspire us and we’ve interviewed them on what it means to be worthy and wanted. That has been very meaningful and exciting to see how their words are encouraging and resonating with other women."

What’s the biggest piece of advice you would give to someone building a brand? 
Tiffany: Start with your overall mission statement, and if you can shorten it to 1-2 sentences and build off of that, or start with your target and see how you can best meet their needs. 
In terms of production, find someone with low minimums. Even if it’s more expensive it’s better than being stuck with a lot of inventory. 

Lauren: I recently heard that the average overnight success is actually 7 yrs, this reminded of the importance of celebrating every win along the way and to zoom out of the gritty everyday stuff to enjoy the journey. 

This interview has been edited and condensed.