The “15 Percent Pledge” Has Retailers Promising to Carry More Black Owned Brands

Photo: Stephane Cardinale/Corbis via Getty Images

( ENSPIRE Feature ) Fashion Retailer Aurora James Created the 15 Percent Pledge on Social Media to Challenge Major Retailers to Pledge 15% of their Shelf Space to Black-Owned Businesses

ENSPIRE Contributor: Re’Dreyona Walker

When Aurora James, founder, and designer of the Brooklyn-based label Brother Vellies, decided to post on Instagram on May 29, asking major retailers like Whole Foods, Target, Barnes and Noble, and Sephora to commit to buying 15% of their products from Black-owned businesses, she probably didn’t realize her challenge would go viral. 

James captioned her Instagram post 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% of the population and we need to represent 15% of your shelf space.”

Photo: Instagram at @aurorajames

“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.”

The following day, she created an Instagram handle and the hashtag #15PercentPledge dedicated to the initiative, and on June 10, Sephora committed to pledging 15% of their shelf space to Black-owned brands.

“We’re joining @15percentpledge and @aurorajames. We recognize how important it is to represent Black businesses and communities, and we must do better. So, we’re starting now.”, Sephora posted to Instagram.

Photo: Instagram at @sephora

In addition to accepting the 15 Percent Pledge, Sephora announced they will also focus its Accelerate program, which is dedicated to uplifting and empowering female beauty founders and owners, on women of color.

The initiative created by Aurora James is so important due to recent events, and particularly because black-owned businesses are suffering amid the COVID-19 pandemic. According to, 21 percent of black-owned businesses say they don’t think they’ll survive the pandemic and 40 percent of black-owned businesses have been forced to close due to the outbreak.

In addition, black-owned businesses have seemingly been excluded from coronavirus relief efforts. In a graphic created by @monachalabi for the site, she highlights the disproportionate effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on Black and brown business compared to white.

Photo: Instagram at @monachalabi

“BUY BLACK. Your protests and donations are crucial right now but so is long-term economic change,” said @monachalabi on Instagram.

Racism, racial bias, and discrimination have played a part in many industries, including the fashion and beauty industry. The Black Lives Matter movement has completely transformed and opened the eyes of our society and has created a wave of protests all over the world to hold individuals, industries, and institutions accountable. With Aurora James creating this initiative, she is bringing attention to the discrimination many black-owned businesses and brands face with representation in major retailer spaces.

Photo: 15 Percent Pledge at

According to, The 15 Percent Pledge has three steps that retailers should commit to address their lack of representation:

  1. Take Stock of the percentage of shelf-space and contracts given to Black-owned businesses and suppliers at present.
  2. Take Ownership of your findings, thoroughly interrogating how existing blind spots and biases within your company and society at large have led to the disparities—and what concrete steps you can take to address them. Publish your findings internally and externally, and use them to inform a brand new vision for “business as usual.”
  3. Take Action Define and publish a plan for growing the share of Black businesses you empower to at least 15 percent, alongside a concrete strategy by which you plan to stay accountable to and transparent around your commitment. Execute your plan.

To learn more about the 15 Percent Pledge, please visit, and follow @15percentpledge on Instagram.

You can also follow Aurora James on Instagram at @aurorajames, and her brand Brother Vellies at @brothervellies.