What’s the 15 Percent Pledge, and How Can You Help? An Explainer

published Jun 15, 2020
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Credit: Lucas Ottone/Stocksy

After the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police, protesters have taken to the streets, social media, and their wallets to show support for the Black community and demand equality. Aurora James, designer and creative director of Brother Vellies, has joined the fight and is asking big box stores to take the 15 Percent Pledge—a vow to dedicate 15 percent of their retail space, both in-store and online, to Black-owned businesses and brands.

The 15 Percent Pledge, according to the organization’s website, operates under the mindset that if 15 percent of Americans are Black, then at least 15 percent of major retailers’ shelves should be filled with products from Black-owned brands and businesses. It follow that if that’s not currently the case, then retailers are literally buying into, and propagating, systemic racism.

“We need major retailers that have a big economic influence to seek out and invest in brands they may have previously turned a blind eye to,” James tells Apartment Therapy. “The support from these major retailers will help these brands grow when they are seeking outside investment or when they are walking into a bank. If these major retailers take the Pledge, we can funnel almost $15 billion back into Black communities.”

She continues, “Black people spend trillions of dollars in this country every year, but yet represent an insignificant fraction of how these companies allocate their purchasing power.”

“I had the idea of the 15 Percent Pledge about two weeks ago on a Friday night and launched it the next day,” James says. “As a business owner, I am especially torn up by how much Black businesses are suffering during the global health crisis. I believe this Pledge is one way major retailers can begin to take steps towards financial equality for the Black community.” 

James called on both big and small retailers, as well as consumers, to look at the pledge in three parts. First is “auditing and taking stock of where you are at,” James wrote in her Instagram post. “Look at your existing shelves, hangers, boardrooms and receipts. How many Black-owned businesses are you buying? How many Black Women are in your C-Suite? Do that work.”

Second is for retailers to “take ownership of where you’re at,” and to do so publicly. ”Maybe only 2 percent of your staff is black, 1 percent of your content, whatever it is, just own it. Accept it. Take accountability,” James continued.

For example, as the 15 Percent Pledge Instagram account points out, there is a disparity in average hourly wage depending on a person’s skin color, with light-skinned people making almost $4 more than dark-skinned people. It’s time for employers to recognize this, own that they’re letting this happen, and pledge to balance out the inconsistency.

And finally, James asked retailers to “commit to growth” and take action. She asked, “What is your strategy to get to a minimum of 15% and how do you plan to be held accountable?”

The 15 Percent Pledge Instagram account adds that this step must include a defined and published plan for “growing the share of Black businesses [retailers] empower to at least 15%,” as well as a “concrete strategy” to stay accountable and transparent about this commitment. Then, the plan and strategy must be executed.

As of June 10, less than a week after the 15 Percent Pledge went live, Sephora became the first major retailer to take 15 Percent Pledge. The makeup and beauty company uploaded a post that reads “Today we’re taking the 15% Pledge to dedicate 15% of our shelf space to Black-owned companies.”

“Sephora is taking a real stand against systemic racism and discrimination and will work with us at the 15 Percent Pledge in our mission put $14.5 billion back into Black communities,” James says.

To start, Sephora aims to make their current stock status public information, “provide connections to and support from funders and the venture capitalist community,” as well as help launch and develop Black-owned businesses and set them up for long-term success.

If you’d like to help those behind the 15 Percent Pledge on their mission to spread awareness about their cause and get your favorite big box stores to take the pledge, sign the petition on the 15 Percent Pledge website. Furthermore, you can text PLEDGE to (917) 540-8148 to sign the petition and receive text updates when more retailers take the pledge.

And while you’re waiting for more stores to take the pledge, you can support Black business owners by shopping from their stores and doing a little research before hitting “buy”.

“Consumers can actively do diligence and research the brands they are choosing to purchase from,” James tells AT. “They should buy from brands that hold values they believe and also be loyal to those brands.”

Some questions to ask when opening up your wallet might include: Which brands are Black-owned? Does your favorite store offer products from Black-owned brands, and if so, how much of their stock is Black-created? To whom and what have major corporations given to in the past? Have they donated to political campaigns or organizations that aim to help the Black community?

“I am not saying this is easy,” James added. “I’m saying this is necessary.”