Why the 15 Percent Pledge Is So Important

Lauren Adhav
Photo credit: SOPA Images - Getty Images
Photo credit: SOPA Images - Getty Images

From Seventeen

Racism, racial bias, and discrimination is nothing new when it comes to being Black. Since George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police officers on May 25, the Black Lives Matter movement has completely transformed our society and launched a wave of national and global protests to hold individuals, governments, and entire institutions accountable.

Fashion and beauty might feel like meaningless topics to focus on right now, but since these industries are also part of the problem, it’s just as important to do the research there and seek out and support Black-owned brands. And Aurora James, founder of the Brooklyn-based label Brother Vellies, is taking it even further with her 15 Percent Pledge, urging small and major retailers alike to dedicate at least 15 percent of their shelf space to Black-owned businesses.

Why the 15 Percent Pledge is important:

According to a recent study from the U.S. Federal Reserve, Black business owners are twice as likely to be rejected for a loan, yet Black spending power is projected to reach $1.5 trillion by 2021, according to Nielsen. In an Instagram post announcing James’ initiative, she called out companies like Walmart, Saks Fifth Avenue, Barnes and Noble, Net-a-Porter, and more:

“So many of your businesses are built on Black spending power. So many of your stores are set up in Black communities. So many of your sponsored posts are seen on Black feeds. This is the least you can do for us. We represent 15% of the population and we need to represent 15% of your shelf space.

“Whole Foods, if you were to sign on to this pledge, it could immediately drive much-needed support to Black farmers. Banks will be forced to take them seriously because they will be walking in with major purchase orders from Whole Foods. Investors for the very first time will start actively seeking them out. Small businesses can turn into bigger ones. Real investment will start happening in Black businesses, which will subsequently be paid forward into our Black communities.”

Eventually, the pledge narrowed in on four big retailers: Target, Shopbop, Whole Foods, and Sephora. On Wednesday, the beauty giant said it would join; however, the others have remained silent—at least for now. Sephora also announced that in addition to the pledge, it would focus its Accelerate program, which is dedicated to fostering and empowering female beauty founders, on women of color.

What happens after companies take the pledge:

James breaks her plan into three stages, detailed on 15PercentPledge.org, so retailers can address their lack of representation and do better.

  1. Take stock of the percentage of business, shelf space, and contacts given to Black-owned business and suppliers at present.

  2. Take ownership of your findings, thoroughly interrogating how existing blind spots and biases within your company and society at large have led to the disparities—and what concrete steps you can take to address them. Publish your findings internally and externally, and use them to inform a brand-new vision for “business as usual.”

  3. Take action. Define and publish a plan for growing the share of Black businesses you empower to at least 15 percent, alongside a concrete strategy by which you plan to stay accountable to and transparent around your commitment. Execute your plan.

Who has already pledged 15 percent?

Other than Sephora, a few major players have also signed on, including WeWoreWhat and Rent the Runway, but the pressure’s still on for more brands to get on board.

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