The pandemic has dealt a crushing blow to businesses across industries. Black-owned businesses, in particular, have been hit harder by COVID-19 than many of their white-owned counterparts. The mission of the 15 Percent Pledge, founded by Aurora James of sustainable accessories label Brother Vellies, is for major retailers to dedicate a minimum of 15 percent of their shelf space to Black-owned businesses to put billions (with a “b”) back into Black communities. James is applying the necessary pressure to retailers like Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Target, who can bring about the drastic and much-needed change in the industry if they join.
Why Did Aurora James Create the Pledge?
The luxury brand founder has faced her struggles with being accepted by the fashion community. She faced pushback when trying to get a business loan and establishing her brand as a subscription model back in 2013 when it wasn’t considered a luxury to have a website. These challenges, in addition to the murder of George Floyd and renewed Black Lives Matter protests, were the driving forces behind creating the 15 Percent Pledge. The pledge is a way retailers can make more concrete changes to support the Black community that speaks louder than Instagram posts aligning themselves with the movement.
Why is This Necessary?
The 15 Percent Pledge addresses the issue of underrepresentation of Black-owned businesses in nationwide chains. It establishes a three-step plan for brands to enact change.
- Take Stock: Review the present number of Black-owned businesses and suppliers given shelf-space or contracts within your company.
- Take Ownership: Use the findings to take responsibility for gaps or unconscious bias in your business model and how this may have contributed to the larger issue of representation. Take the necessary steps to address these problems with concrete strategies and publish them.
- Take Action: Detail and publish how your company plans to grow the number of Black businesses to at least 15 percent and how you plan to stay accountable and inclusive long-term.
Black entrepreneurs are twice as likely to be rejected for a business loan according to a recent study by the U.S. Federal Reserve and face an even greater challenge being accepted into the luxury market, both of which James has experienced (I mean, Rihanna became the first woman of color to head a brand under LVMH just last year in the conglomerate’s 33-year history). It is also no secret Black professionals are underrepresented in the c-suite of major corporations even though so many of those businesses are built on Black spending power. The 15 Percent Pledge is a chance for brands to take responsibility for lack of representation and break down barriers that may have unintentionally been built. If companies have pledged to stand with Black Lives Matter and be allies in the fight against racism, they should be willing to make pragmatic changes to combat the lack of representation for Black-owned businesses in nationwide stores.
Why 15 Percent?
Fifteen percent shelf space reflects the U.S. demographics—Black people make up 15 percent of the population in this country. Note: this is the bare minimum retailers can work toward. The point is to endeavor to support the Black community in a meaningful way and ensure moving forward that every effort is made to diversify their product lines, campaigns, and workforce. Now is not the time for the fashion industry to be silent or neutral on issues that affect all Americans.
Who Has Joined the Pledge?
Already, fashion and beauty brands have taken the pledge, including Sephora, Rent the Runway, WeWoreWhat, and Josie Maran Cosmetics, but so many more are needed.
How Can I Support This Initiative?
Follow the link here to sign the petition and join the mission!
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