Market Share: Fashion Designer Launches Campaign To Support Black-Owned Businesses

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Businesses in all industries took a hit from the coronavirus pandemic, but Black-owned businesses were particularly hard hit. According to the Washington Post, the number of Black-owned businesses in the U.S. dropped by nearly half (40 percent) between February and April, and 21 percent of remaining Black-owned businesses don’t anticipate surviving the pandemic compared with only five percent of white-owned businesses. 

Seeing how the recent pandemic was affecting the Black community, Aurora James, a Brooklyn-based Canadian fashion designer and founder and creative director of Brother Vellies—a retailer of handmade shoes and handbags from South Africa, Ethiopia, Kenya and Morocco—wanted to find a way to support Black-owned businesses, not only during this difficult period, but moving forward. Most especially, however, she wanted to call attention to racial inequalities and offer the opportunity to create lasting change.

To do so, James launched a social media initiative called the 15 Percent Pledge, a campaign calling on major retailers to commit 15 percent of their shelf space to Black-owned businesses. The 15 percent represents the percent of the U.S. population who are Black. She first announced the campaign on social media, and four days later, she founded a nonprofit and launched a website featuring an infographic by data journalist Moni Chalabi, and a petition. Not only designed to help Black entrepreneurs and business owners grow and thrive by encouraging new partnerships, 15 Percent Pledge is focusing on continuing these partnerships, even after the economy has recovered from the pandemic. To take the pledge, she is asking retailers to take three steps:

Step 1. Take stock of the percentage of shelf space and contracts given to Black-owned businesses and suppliers.

Step 2. Take ownership of the percentage, investigate potential areas of oversight and biases, and determine steps to address them. Share this information both internally and externally and use it to create a new vision of normalcy.

Step 3. Take action. Create and share a plan for increasing, to at least 15 percent, the percentage of shelf space dedicated to merchandise generated by Black-owned businesses, alongside a strategy for remaining accountable and transparent. 

As of early July, James’s petition had received nearly 80,000 signatures, which include individual followers and supporters as well as participating businesses. She is mostly calling on larger retailers to sign the petition, like Walmart, Target, Whole Foods, Saks, Home Depot and Barnes & Noble. Sephora is the first and largest major retailer to sign the pledge so far—a major step forward on Sephora’s behalf, as it has more than 400 stores nationwide and works with about 290 U.S. brands, but only seven are Black-owned, according to the New York Times.  


Danielle Renda is associate editor of PPB.

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