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15 Percent Pledge calls on retailers to support black-owned businesses

By Danielle Wightman-Stone


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Over the past week, following the senseless killing of George Floyd by police in the US, the fashion industry alongside the wider public not only in America but across the world have been asking how they can help to amplify the Black Lives Matter human rights movement to take a stand against racial injustice and police violence.

Well, fashion accessories designer Aurora James, creative director and founder of shoe and handbag brand Brother Vellies, says it starts with supporting black businesses and is spearheading a new initiative, the 15 Percent Pledge, which is calling on major retailer’s like Net-a-Porter, Sephora, Target, Saks and Whole Foods to pledge a commitment to buy 15 percent of its products from black-owned businesses.

On the 15 Percent Pledge website it states: “You asked how you can help. This is your opportunity to collectively put 14.5 billion US dollars back into black communities.

"Black businesses need your support today, tomorrow, always.”

In an Instagram post, James made an appeal to retailers, saying: “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 percent of the population [in the US] and we need to represent 15 percent 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.”

Aurora James campaigns to get Net-a-Porter, Saks and Target to pledge 15 percent of their shelf space to black-owned businesses

15 Percent Pledge states that black-owned businesses are less likely to be represented on shelves and e-commerce and that has to change, especially as the coronavirus pandemic has also hit black-owned businesses particularly hard, with new research stating that 40 percent of black-owned businesses in the US had gone bust due to Covid-19 between February and April 2020.

In addition, the initiative is stating that 21 percent of black-owned businesses are saying they don’t think they’ll survive the pandemic, while only 5 percent of white-owned businesses say the same.

With that in mind, the 15 Percent Pledge is stating that major retailers have the power to help black-owned businesses to thrive, as there are close to 9,000 black-owned retail firms that could be helped.

James added on Instagram: “Don’t get me wrong, I understand the complexities of this request. I am a businesswoman. I have sold millions of dollars of product over the years at a business I started with 3,500 US dollars at a flea market. So I am telling you we can get this figured out. This is an opportunity. It is your opportunity to get in the right side of this.

“Black-owned businesses are the heart and soul of our communities and they are closing right before our eyes at a rapid pace. They are the most vulnerable and have received the least amount of economic support. Economic equality means enacting real change. Taking the 15 Percent Pledge is one thing retailers can do to help.”

James also shared advice to retailers to look at this economic pledge in three parts - auditing, ownership and commitment to growth.

With regards auditing, James is asking all retailers to “take stock” of where they are by looking at how many black-owned businesses they are buying, how much shelves space do black-owned businesses account for, as well as how many black women are on your executive board.

Done the audit, now “take ownership of where you are at - ideally publicly,” added James. “Maybe only 2 percent of your staff is black, 1 percent of your content, whatever it is just own it. Accept it. Take accountability.”

The third part is to “commit to growth” and to put a strategy into place to get a minimum of 15 percent. Importantly, James adds - all businesses also need to put a plan into place to “be held accountable”.

James notes: “I am not saying this is easy. I’m saying this is necessary.”

While retailers are being asked to pledge, 15 Percent Pledge is also calling on consumers to sign their online petition to demand change and to make it harder for those companies not willing to commit to it.

With the response to the recent Black Lives Matter protests, consumers are demanding change to systemic racism, they want to see brands actively looking within their own companies to see what more they can do to achieve equal representation as well as supporting black-owned businesses.

Graphic: via 15percentpledge.org by Mona Chalabi

15 Percent Pledge
Aurora James