Aurora James’s ask is reasonable: Black people make up 15 percent of the population, so Black brands and designers should represent 15 percent of retailers’ shelf space. Why is it so difficult to get stores to commit?
On June 1, as anti-racist protests erupted in all 50 states and many international cities, the Brother Vellies founder and designer launched a campaign urging retailers to commit to proportionate representation in their merchandising. The 15 Percent Pledge, as it’s called, has drawn over 27,000 followers to its Instagram page in just seven days and inspired hundreds of posts to the #15percentpledge hashtag.
“I had the idea of the 15 Percent Pledge last week,” James tells InStyle. “As a business owner, and during this pandemic, I am especially torn up by how much Black businesses were suffering. I believe this pledge is ONE way major retailers can work on beginning to take steps towards financial equality.”
James outlines her proposal to retailers in three parts:
Take stock. Assess the state of your merchandise mix supplier by supplier and audit the racial representation of executives at your company.
Take ownership. Publicly release findings; transparency and accountability are critical to remedying institutional shortfallings.
Take action. This phase demands not only striving to meet 15 percent Black-owned brand inclusivity, but actually doing it.
The pledge, she hopes, will help recirculate spending power back into Black communities. “Black people spend trillions of dollars in this country every year but yet represent an insignificant fraction of how these companies allocate their purchasing power. I am asking these huge corporations to rethink their business strategy as well as rethink business relationships in order to fairly represent the Black community on their shelves.”
21% of black-owned businesses say they don’t think they’ll survive the pandemic. 5% of white-owned businesses say the same. Major retailers have the power to help black-owned businesses to thrive. graphic: @monachalabi . . . #shopblack #blackbusiness #blacklivesmatter #blackentrepreneurs
A post shared by 15 Percent Pledge (@15percentpledge) on Jun 1, 2020 at 12:51pm PDT
In the days since James launched the campaign from her personal Instagram page and the dedicated Instagram account that shortly followed, only a handful of brands have explicitly come forward to commit to the pledge. James is hopeful that this is just the beginning, though. “We have seen an incredibly positive response from supporters all over the country, but we're just getting started on conversations with the bigger businesses to ask them to sign and make this a reality.”
Beyond the intended target audience of mega-retailers, individuals are taking it upon themselves to adopt 15 percent policies into their own lives as consumers. James says she’s hearing from a lot of people who intend to make the pledge by committing to buying at least 15 percent Black — a few clicks through the movement’s hashtag uncovers influencers and private individuals alike making public statements on the matter. That same energy, though, seems to be faltering on the commercial end.
In preparation for this article, InStyle reached out to a dozen top retailers inquiring whether their current merchandising mix met the pledge’s threshold, or if they would be willing to publicly commit to meeting it within the next year. While many of them are showing their support for the movement with substantial donations and efforts toward transparency, most fell short of divulging the ratio of Black-owned brands stocked or agreeing to the pledge outright.
While a predominantly white industry may need to be called out in order to move in the right direction, Black-owned multi-brand retailers don’t require a pledge to stock Black-owned brands. As we wait for the industry at large to catch up, a surefire way to support Black creators and businesses is to buy directly from Black-owned shops.
Below, find a list of retailers who have committed to Aurora James’s 15 Percent Pledge, plus Black-owned shops, boutiques, and platforms to support today. If you want to support the movement yourself — and demand the attention of the major retailers who’ve yet to comment on the campaign — you can sign the pledge at 15percentpledge.org or by texting PLEDGE to (917) 540-8148.
Retailers who have pledged:
A post shared by Sephora (@sephora) on Jun 10, 2020 at 10:02am PDT
As a direct result of James's efforts, Sephora has agreed to sign on to the 15 Percent Pledge, making the announcement on Instagram this Wednesday. Sephora was one of the four brands originally mentioned in the campaign's petition. "We recognize how important it is to represent Black businesses and communities, and we must do better. So, we’re starting now."
In response to the announcement, the 15 Percent Pledge wrote, "We commend their early leadership and look forward to working with them on their accountability and commitment as we join together in the mission to put billions back into the Black community."
Rent the Runway
We want our actions as a business to be substantive and systematic, so we are doing the slow work to build a clear and sustained long-term strategy to fight systemic racism and make Rent the Runway, and the wider fashion industry, more diverse and anti-racist. Today, we are donating $100,000 to immediately support organizations combating racial injustice, including @NAACP and @blackvisionscollective. We will also be allocating an additional $1,000,000 to support Black designers through our wholesale, platform and co-manufacturing initiatives, which includes providing design resources, data, mentorship and financial support to create collections for RTR. It is critically important to us that a significant portion of our $1M goes towards launching fashion brands from Black designers who have not had the investment capital to launch on their own. For too long, the fashion industry has co-opted the style, inspiration and ideas of Black culture without ensuring that Black people are economically compensated for this. Therefore, we will also support @aurorajames’ #15PercentPledge. We are committing today that at least 15% of the fashion talent that we feature and support moving forward are from the Black community, inclusive of the models in our marketing, the ambassadors we use, and the styling talent, photographers, videographers and crews behind the camera. We know that the Black community is tired of the long-standing racism and violence. We also acknowledge the cyclical nature of society’s attention to moments of such injustice, so we vow to take systematic actions as a business that will last beyond this current moment in time. This is just the start, and we look forward to sharing further details on other plans soon. Our work has just begun.
A post shared by Rent the Runway (@renttherunway) on Jun 1, 2020 at 7:15pm PDT
Rent the Runway announced a $100,000 donation to anti-racist organizations and its intent to allocate $1 million to supporting Black designers at its company. “We are committing today that at least 15 percent of the fashion talent that we feature and support moving forward are from the Black community, inclusive of the models in our marketing, the ambassadors we use, and the styling talent, photographers, videographers and crews behind the camera,” a statement on Rent the Runway’s Instagram read.
Shop now: renttherunway.com
Undoubtedly and unequivocally, Black Lives Matter. We are outraged and heartbroken by the murders of George Floyd, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and far too many more going back far too many years. We stand in solidarity with the fight against the centuries of white supremacy, institutional racism, and systemic oppression of the Black community. However, we know that this Instagram post alone does not make for tangible action, and there is so much work to be done. As a team, we pledge to continuously examine, challenge, and expand the ways in which we use our platform to create positive change in our communities and in the skincare industry as a whole. Specifically, within our industry, we are inspired by @aurorajames’ #15PercentPledge. We are committed to (1) working towards stocking at least 15% of our shelves with Black-owned brands and (2) launching a program that donates both funding and consulting to Black entrepreneurs in the skincare industry who would benefit from additional resources. We have to start somewhere. More details to come by July. We must make an individual and collective commitment to be actively anti-racist on a daily basis. If you feel overwhelmed and not sure where to start, we’re collecting a number of resources for action and education in our Stories which will be stored under “Resources” in our Highlights. We are also here to learn and to listen. How are you feeling? Who are you learning from right now? What are your ideas? Let us know. ⬇️
A post shared by Heyday (@heydayskincare) on Jun 1, 2020 at 8:08am PDT
Skincare company Heyday also released a statement on Instagram: “We are committed to (1) working towards stocking at least 15% of our shelves with Black-owned brands and (2) launching a program that donates both funding and consulting to Black entrepreneurs in the skincare industry who would benefit from additional resources. We have to start somewhere.”
Shop now: heydayskincare.com
Like so many, I have followed recent events with mounting horror. I believe what counts right now is tangible and lasting action. As our new CEO, I am determined to do all I can to make our business more inclusive, and today I can announce the first three steps: First, we will raise our consciousness and accountability by listening harder. I have started to consult with a number of our Black colleagues, and I was distressed to hear them share some of their experiences. At the suggestion of one of our colleagues, a Black Employees Forum is being established. The forum will enable us to continue to consult with our communities and work with them to put into action a racial equality learning programme across the business over the next few weeks. Second, we will step up our efforts to achieve greater diversity among the designers we retail. Designers from minority backgrounds have been under-represented in the fashion industry for decades so righting this wrong won’t happen overnight, but we can and will do more to address the imbalance. One small step we at MATCHESFASHION can take is to publish an annual breakdown of the designers we support by ethnic background. We commit to make our first disclosure by the end of August. Third, we will work harder to get better representation of different communities at every level in our business. We are setting ourselves new goals and measures to speed up our progress and, again, we commit to publishing an annual breakdown of colleagues at different levels of seniority by ethnic background. These are modest measures but I believe they will make us more conscious as a colleague community, more accountable as a management team, and ultimately a better business. Ajay Kavan, CEO MATCHESFASHION
A post shared by MATCHESFASHION Woman (@matchesfashion) on Jun 3, 2020 at 2:31pm PDT
While it neither referred to James’s campaign specifically nor pointed to a concrete rate of inclusion, MatchesFashion shared an action plan that aligns loosely with the 15 Percent Pledge, including the commitment to publish “an annual breakdown of the designers we support by ethnic background,” which will become available at the end of August.
Shop now: matchesfashion.com
As we take the first steps in a long-term commitment to living the values of equality, diversity and inclusivity, we welcome your feedback, thoughts and ideas. Comment below or DM us. We are listening. #15PercentPledge
A post shared by VIOLET GREY (@violetgrey) on Jun 5, 2020 at 5:01pm PDT
Beauty retailer Violet Grey committed to carrying at least 15 percent Black-owned brands, pointing specifically to James’s campaign in an Instagram post this weekend. It additionally pledged to stock complete shade ranges in its makeup buys and establish an Emerging Artists Initiative to further amplify Black voices.
Shop now: violetgrey.com
Lisa Says Gah
#BLACKLIVESMATTER organizations you can support & follow @colorofchange @blklivesmatter @theconsciouskid @blackmamasmatter @aclu_nationwide @showingupforracialjustice - art @stuffgracemade today we donated to @blklivesmatter & @blackmamasmatter
A post shared by LISA SAYS GAH (@lisasaysgah) on May 29, 2020 at 3:18pm PDT
San Francisco-based boutique Lisa Says Gah announced in a press release and via Instagram their commitment to purchasing a minimum of $10,000 of stock from Black-owned businesses for the month. It’s unclear whether that figure constitutes 15 percent of the company’s buying power or whether the effort will be replicated in coming months.
Shop now: lisasaysgah.com
@15PercentPledge is an organisation calling on major retailers to pledge 15% of their shelf space to Black-owned businesses. We’ve committed to the pledge, and we’re calling on the rest of the industry to join us.
A post shared by THREADS (@threadsstyling) on Jun 5, 2020 at 10:09pm PDT
Personal shopping platform Threads Styling announced in an Instagram post that it would be committing to the pledge.
Shop now: threadsstyling.org
Good On You
Year-round, we can all do more to support black livelihoods and creativity. In the USA, @15percentpledge is calling on major retailers to pledge 15% of their shelf space to black-owned businesses. This initiative was started by @aurorajames. This year I’d love to work with my partners at @goodonyou_app to ensure a greater percentage of the sustainable brands they feature are founded or led by black people. Please do tag any beautiful black-helmed brands here so we can collectively support them. I love buying vintage as it’s such a sustainable way to shop and @cheshirevintage has compiled an amazing list of black-owned vintage shops.
A post shared by Emma Watson (@emmawatson) on Jun 5, 2020 at 1:25am PDT
Actress Emma Watson called on sustainability-focused app Good On You to “ensure a greater percentage of the sustainable brands they feature are founded or led by black people,” while referring specifically to James’s 15 Percent Pledge.
Shop now: goodonyou.eco
Please visit our journal for the details of each Action and a more legible version of the posted text ❤️ Firstly we’d like to thank all of you for participating in last week’s fundraising. We are so proud that you’ve raised over $40K for organizations both in the United States and here in Montreal. But now, we want to talk about what’s next ⭐️ There’s a lot of talk about taking time to listen and learn and we’d like to be transparent about what we’ve been talking about during this time. While we may be a very small business, that doesn’t mean we can’t take action in big ways. From the beginning, Nox has always aimed to be an inclusive space: we are pro-queer, pro-Black, and pro-sex work and trauma-informed. As a natural extension of our politics and support of these groups, we are anti-police, we believe in defunding the police and deeply support the right to protest for these aims. This also means, as a white-owned business, that we are aware that we need to be constantly working to learn, to lend our support, and acknowledge our privilege. Our learning includes acknowledging the mistakes we’ve made and the ways we must improve. ❤️ Action 1: Donating 10% of Monthly Sales (starting immediately and in perpetuity) 💸 Action 2: A $5K Annual Grant 💰 Action 3: Taking The @15percentpledge at @nox_lounge 🛒 Action 4: Hiring More Marginalized Voices for Freelance 💻 Please find more details on the Journal ❤️ xo Team Nox
A post shared by nox (@noxshop) on Jun 8, 2020 at 8:54am PDT
Montreal-based luxury sex toy boutique Nox Shop joined the pledge on Monday, adding that it would also be donating 10 percent of monthly sales and committing a $5,000 grant annually.
Shop now: shopnox.com
#BLACKLIVESMATTER #15PERCENTPLEDGE :: We’ve been looking inwards on how we can make lasting changes within our business and we ask that everyone with the privilege of doing so does the same. This is one of a few initiatives that were working on and we pledge to continue the work personally, as a team, and as part of an industry that has a lot of inequalities in need of immediate action. No Justice, No Peace. In Solidarity, Team LOHO
A post shared by LOHO BRIDE (@loho_bride) on Jun 8, 2020 at 9:11am PDT
Wedding dress brand Loho Bride committed to the pledge on Monday. It also committed to donating 100 percent of proceeds from “Bridal boxes” that showcase Black designers directly back to Black-owned businesses, and offering a 10 percent discount to customers who can prove they voted in the Democratic presidential primary.
Shop now: lohobride.com
A post shared by ban.do (@shopbando) on Jun 5, 2020 at 8:24pm PDT
Aligning with the brand’s chief creative officer stepping down in the face of major social media accusations of a racist work environment, ban.do announced that it would be committing to the 15 Percent Pledge.
Shop now: bando.com
To say we are grateful is an understatement. You guys have showed up in support and in solidarity of black owned businesses. We will be replenishing our online stock next week! If we can show up like this to support black owned businesses imagine what else we could do! Thank you to our new customers and those who have been here!
A post shared by A Lifestyle Concept Store (@sincerelytommy_) on Jun 6, 2020 at 7:47am PDT
Bed Stuy, Brooklyn-based boutique Sincerely, Tommy is beloved in and far beyond the neighborhood. Owner Kai Avent-deLeon constantly stocks the brick-and-mortar and webshop with gorgeous, elevated pieces from a diverse group of brands.
Shop now: sincerelytommy.com
Shop the very talented @christopherjohnrogers collection at McMullen. Find pieces you love through our website, contact us to purchase. A portion of McMullen sales this month will benefit the @mnfreedomfund, @blklivesmatter, and @naacp. We encourage you to donate if you can. Photography by @tamumcpherson
A post shared by McMullen (@shopmcmullen) on Jun 2, 2020 at 2:52pm PDT
Bay Area-based boutique McMullen, launched by Sherri McMullen, carries dreamy luxury pieces from Black designers and other creatives at its Oakland and Palo Alto storefronts, as well as its webshop.
Shop now: shopmcmullen.com
The Avril Long Sleeve Top and Maude Lace-Up Pants by Lagos-based brand CLAN (@clanrtw) paired beautifully together in this bold look. The mustard yellow color blouse features a round chest cut with an unpadded-rounded shoulder design that adds volume to the arm hugging sleeves, and the black high-waisted pants showcase a pleated hip-hugging #corset shape design with lined, hoop detailing on the sides. Enjoy 50% off all CLAN items for a limited time only by using discount CLAN50 at checkout. #OurFolklore #Lagosbasedbrand #Africanfashion
A post shared by The Folklore (@thefolklore) on May 24, 2020 at 3:00pm PDT
NYC-based concept store Folklore centers its inventory around designers from the African diaspora; the collection is always fresh, inventive, and extremely covetable.
Shop now: shopthefolklore.com
While not a fashion or beauty boutique, Reparations Club is the literary resource any hip, style-minded person needs in their life. Plus, instead of bothering your Black friends to make you a woke reading list, you can just navigate here and buy everything instead.
Shop now: rep.club
BLK + GRN
Imagine a world where instead of heading to Amazon or making a quick run to your favorite big box store when you're out of things like toothpaste, cleaning supplies, and moisturizer, you looked at buying Black-owned, non-toxic products as your first choice instead of an alternative? - With our online marketplace of non-toxic, Black-owned products created and curated by Black women, we believe this is 100% possible. Not just because "Buying Black" is trending but because it's a sustainable practice that literally changes lives! - When you Buy Black, you're pushing against the colonization of the marketplace, making a statement by voting with your dollar and telling the powers that be, what's really important -- giving opportunities for Black businesses to soar and using products that won't disrupt the essence of who you are with harmful chemicals and fillers. - Join us by replacing household items with products made by Black artisans (here on the platform or with any Black brand) & if you're down for the cause use hashtag #BuyBlack365 and show your commitment to buy Black-owned BEFORE heading to your favorite shop -- while it's trending and every day after. - Drop a ✊🏾🌱 & tag a friend below who’s ready to join the Buy Black, Live Green movement by supporting Black women artisans at www.blkgrn.com 🌿#ShopBLKGRN
A post shared by BLK+GRN (@blkandgrn) on Jun 8, 2020 at 7:35am PDT
This health and wellness site has been called “the Black Sephora,” but its inventory actually expands well beyond the beauty category. Shoppers of all genetic backgrounds can discover clean beauty products for hair, skin, and menstrual needs, as well as items for the home, supplements and tonics, and baby needs, all from Black brands and creators.
Shop now: blkgrn.com
A post shared by The Black-Owned Market (™️) (@ourbomdotcom) on Apr 9, 2020 at 7:38am PDT
BOM, or Black-Owned Market, started as a pop-up in New York and has since grown into an online presence to be reckoned with. Shop top goods from Black-founded brands for the home, body, and mind.
Shop now: ourbom.com