minority businesses to big box
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For months, the national conversation was focused on the coronavirus pandemic. But the death of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer has caused outrage across the United States, shifting the conversation to police brutality and racial justice and sparking protests and demonstrations across the nation. In response, corporations have taken to their various platforms to voice their support for the Black community and pledge their commitment to fighting racial injustice. But a new movement is challenging corporate America to go beyond words, social media posts, and one time donations and, instead, to take action to continually support Black customers, consumers, and business owners—and it’s called the 15% Pledge. The 15% Pledge aims to diversify shelf space in retailers across the US—and get more products created by Black-owned businesses on the shelves and into the hands of consumers. But what, exactly, is the 15% Pledge? How does it aim to support Black communities—and, more specifically, Black-owned brands and companies? And which retailers have signed on the pledge and committed to supporting Black business owners in a real, concrete, and sustainable way—by putting more of their products onto shelves?

What is the 15% Pledge?

Founded by Aurora James, Founder and Creative Director of Brother Vellies, a sustainable luxury fashion and accessories brand based in Brooklyn, New York, the 15% Pledge is a new initiative that is challenging major retailers to dedicate more shelf space in their stores to products created by Black-owned brands. According to the data from the Census Bureau, Black people make up nearly 15 percent of the population in the US—but despite representing such a large portion of the population, there is a serious lack of visibility and representation for Black-owned brands and products on the shelves of big box retailers. The 15% Pledge is working to increase representation for Black entrepreneurs, business owners, and brand creators by asking large retailers to dedicate at least 15% of their shelf space to products created by Black-owned businesses. In addition to launching a website and an online petition (with a goal of 1 million signatures), in her original Instagram post, James specifically called on a number of the country’s largest retailers—including Target, Amazon-owned Whole Foods, Walmart, Sephora, and Home Depot—to take the 15% Pledge, take action, and make more room on their shelves for Black-owned brands.

Who has signed on for the 15% Pledge?

Of the companies James originally called on to take the pledge, beauty retailer Sephora is the first to officially sign on, accepting the pledge, committing to increasing representation on their shelves for Black-owned brands, and putting together an advisory board (including James) to help oversee the implementation. The retailer will also shift the efforts of Accelerate, their internal incubation program for female founders, to focus on women of color. “We were inspired to make the 15% Pledge because we believe it’s the right thing to do, for our clients, our industry and for our community,” says Artemis Patrick, executive vice president and chief merchandising officer at Sephora, in a statement featured in The New York Times. “Ultimately, this commitment is about more than the prestige products on our shelves, it starts with a long-term plan diversifying our supply chain and building a system that creates a better platform for Black-owned brands to grow, while ensuring Black voices help shape our industry. We recognize we can do better and this pledge builds on our ongoing work to use our resources to drive meaningful and long-term change for Sephora and our industry.” Fashion retailer Rent the Runway soon followed suit, with co-founder and CEO Jennifer Hyman saying (also featured in the aforementioned New York Times article) “We’re collectively reckoning with the fact that for far too long, fashion has co-opted the style, inspiration and ideas of Black culture without ensuring that the people behind the work are properly compensated.”

The potential impact of the 15% Pledge

In an interview with Yahoo Finance, James stated that if Whole Foods, Target, and ShopBop (also owned by Amazon) committed to the 15% Pledge, it could generate $15 billion in revenue for Black-owned businesses. That kind of increase would not only help increase visibility for Black-owned brands, but could also help African American-owned businesses secure the funding necessary to expand their operations (according to the Yahoo Finance article, only 1% of venture capital dollars go to Black startup founders and, in 2018, Black VC dealmakers fell to 1%). And while it’s certainly not the focus on the initiative, it’s worth noting that dedicating more shelf space to Black-owned businesses is a win for retailers, as well; Black spending power makes up a huge part of the market, and by showing their commitment to racial justice and offering more products by Black-owned brands, retailers may attract more Black consumers.

How you can support the 15% Pledge

While the 15% Pledge is targeted at large, national, big box retailers, you certainly don’t have to be a major player to support the cause; as a business owner you have the power to increase representation for Black-owned brands and get more products from Black business owners on shelves. If you own a retail business, take the 15% Pledge yourself—and make a commitment to dedicating at least 15 percent of your shelf space to products from Black-owned brands. If you don’t own a retail business, look for other ways to support Black-owned businesses, like partnering with more Black-owned vendor partners, purchasing supplies from Black-owned brands for your office, and using your platforms (like social media) to support Black-owned businesses.

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