Last June, after the wake of many racial injustices, Toronto-born Aurora James, founder of shoe brand Brother Vellies, started a campaign called the 15 Per Cent Pledge. The initiative called on US businesses to diversify their shelves through amplifying Black-owned businesses and aligning their product ranges with more racially diverse brands. “So many of your stores are set up in Black communities,” James wrote on Instagram at the time. “This is the least you can do for us.”
As Black people make up roughly 15 per cent of the US population, James encouraged major retailers like Whole Foods, Saks Fifth Avenue and Sephora to pledge 15 per cent of their shelf space to Black-owned businesses and products. Very quickly, Sephora became the first company to take the pledge, committing to put at least 15 per cent of Black-owned beauty brands on their shelves, if not more.
A couple of weeks later, the pledge launched in Canada, and James asked retailers like Holt Renfrew, SSENSE, Hudson’s Bay and Indigo to start carrying 15 per cent of BIPOC-owned brands. So far, the latter two have taken the pledge, while their counterparts have remained silent — and their silence is blaring.
Below are some of the brands who have taken the pledge a year after the initiative launched — and here’s hoping many more companies will take a stand in the future.
This book and lifestyle chain was the first Canadian brand to take the pledge in October 2021. The retailer plans to carry a minimum of 15 per cent of books written by BIPOC authors and 15 per cent of BIPOC brands in its lifestyle products (including wellness goods, fashion accessories, tech and more).
The iconic Canadian retailer is promising that 15 per cent of its new brands will be BIPOC-designed or -owned by fall 2021. By 2022, the company will ensure that 15 per cent or more of its designers for in-house brands will be a part of the BIPOC community as well. They’re also launching Hudson’s Bay Charter for Change — a social platform that will invest $30 million over 10 years to work with organizations to achieve equal opportunities for Canadian BIPOC communities.
In May 2021, the Canadian branch of the beauty giant announced they were going to devote 25 per cent of their shelf space to BIPOC-owned brands by 2026. This differs from the pledge made by Sephora US last June, which is committed to selling 15 per cent of Black-owned brands while also developing its internal incubation program, Accelerate, geared towards fostering women-of-colour-owned beauty brands.
The small Montreal-based luxury sex toy boutique has committed to stocking a minimum of 15 per cent of Black-owned brands. They’ve also been donating 10 per cent of their monthly sales to Black-owned organizations since June 2020.
As the first houseware retailer to get behind the pledge, West Elm is committed to diversifying their shelves by 15 per cent and will also integrate the 15 per cent into their hiring processes. They’ve also announced a multi-year donation plan for organizations focused on BIPOC communities.
Crate & Barrel and CB2
The joint home decor and furniture brand joined the pledge in May 2021 and plan to allocate 15 per cent of its future collaborations and products to Black-owned artists, businesses and designers.
The Gap and its sister brands, including Athleta, Banana Republic and Old Navy, have recently joined the initiative. Gap. Inc has become an “advocacy partner” which will ensure Black representation throughout the company and they plan to release an Equality & Belonging Annual Report, showcasing the internal company’s commitment to creating equitable and diverse spaces.
You may also like: Beauty products that will prepare you for your 30s.
The high-end luxury website is the first UK-based retailer, that ships worldwide, to take the pledge. With plans to develop a unique strategy for reaching company goals and create profitable market structures for Black business owners, the retailer is committing 15 per cent of its brand portfolio to Black-owned brands.
As a premium lifestyle brand, Madewell plans to reach at least 15 per cent representation across the brands they work with by late 2021. This will be achieved through prioritizing BIPOC business owners in their brand outreach, and through initiatives like Labels We Love where they will highlight more Black-owned businesses. They also aim to work with more Black designers and artists in their future design collaborations.
In September 2020, Vogue put Aurora James on one of their covers. Being one of the most prominent voices in fashion, having Vogue commit to the pledge is a big deal. The magazine has firmly agreed to have at least 15 per cent of Black freelance creatives, photographers and writers in their hires throughout the year, intending to grow the percentage of work they commission from Black individuals.
As we move forward, we’ll be watching these brands, keeping them on our radar as their range of products and work expands to be more inclusive and diverse.