The 15 Percent Pledge

Words by Keven Amfo

12 June 2020


Brother Vellies’ Aurora James has ignited a global movement inciting retailers to carry more Black-owned brands.

The death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police instigated a global uprising of the Black Lives Matter movement. This powerful moment struck a chord across the world and has led many of us to feel like we need to do something to remedy the racial inequalities that have existed for so long.

The CFDA award-winning Creative Director of Brother Vellies, Aurora James, felt the same way. As many brands and businesses were making statements on social media, she proposed a solution beyond verbal commitments or one-time donations: the 15 Percent Pledge. Calling upon major retailers in the US to carry 15% of product from Black-owned businesses, in reflection of the approximate percentage of African Americans in the US population, she mobilised a solution that would create lasting change within the community.

'I had the idea of the 15% Pledge at the end of May. As a business owner during this pandemic, I felt especially upset by how much Black businesses were suffering. I believe this Pledge is one way major retailers can work on beginning to take steps toward financial equality. Black people spend trillions of dollars in this country every year, yet represent an insignificant fraction of how these companies allocate their purchasing power. Many Black people choose to spend money with these businesses, their stores are set up in our communities, and their sponsored posts target us. If they value our money, then value us as well—and show us that we are represented,' Aurora says.

The thoughtful proposal quickly garnered traction on social media, gaining approximately 30K followers within a couple of days. Supporters began participating in calling out retailers such as Whole Foods, Target, Saks, Net-A-Porter and Sephora, asking them to commit to the Pledge. 'I'm asking these huge corporations to rethink their business strategy as well as their business relationships in order to represent the Black community on their shelves fairly. I am not asking these companies to randomly buy products just because they're Black-owned. We are just asking big business to invest in the future of the Black community. Take the Pledge. Sign the petition.'

As of publication, Sephora was the first major retailer to take the Pledge. Additionally, they created an advisory group consisting of Aurora and other CEOs and directors of brands owned by people of colour to ensure proper diversification. 'We are inspired to make the 15% Pledge because we believe it is the right thing to do,' a statement released by Sephora said.

'Longterm accountability is the goal. We are inviting these bigger companies to get in touch so that we can work on what that accountability structure might look like,' says Aurora. 'Once some of the larger brands start publishing the findings and strategies they're implementing to meet the Pledge, we are hoping they can serve as a larger compass to help the smaller brands.'

This suggestion can expand beyond the geographical confines of the US. Initiatives in the UK to 'Buy Black' can be elaborated upon in the same way—retailers can follow suit with the 15 Percent Pledge, as the demographics are largely similar. 'Immediate steps for anyone abroad include signing the petition and helping to spread the word. Tag businesses that you think should take the Pledge in social media posts. We need people everywhere to pressure them to take the Pledge to enact real change.'

We must all step up and do better. Quintessentially is committed to making changes, from the inside out—watch this space to see how we plan to participate and contribute.

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