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Retailers Announce Commitments to Diversify the Brands They Carry [Updated]

Some have taken Aurora James's 15 Percent Pledge; others have set aside funds to buy specifically from Black-owned businesses.
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Sephora Storefront Getty Images

This story has been updated.

When Aurora James first shared her idea for what would officially become the 15 Percent Pledge — a 501(c)(3) non-profit that calls on major retailers to ensure that at least 15% of the products on their shelves are from Black-owned businesses — she specifically turned her attention (and tags) to a handful of retailers, including Whole Foods, Target, Walmart, Saks Fifth Avenue, Net-a-Porter and Sephora. Less than two weeks later, one of them has officially signed on. 

On Wednesday, Sephora announced a commitment to the 15 Percent Pledge. "We recognize how important it is to represent Black businesses and communities, and we must do better," an Instagram caption announcing the news read. "So, we're starting now." 

According to its post on social media, the beauty retailer begins with the three stages outlined by the 15 Percent Pledge: Take stock of how many Black-owned businesses it currently works with, take ownership of those findings and take action by publicly sharing its next steps. (The New York Times reports that Sephora currently carries 290 brands in the U.S., and that only seven of those are Black-owned.)   

To start, Sephora will open up its connections and resources, such as access to potential funders and venture capitalists, to aspiring founders and aid in the launch and development of their businesses, the company said on Instagram. It will also tap into its existing Accelerate incubator program to focus on projects from women of color. (Alums include Mented, Thrive Causemetics and Kaia Naturals.)

In a statement, Artemis Patrick, Sephora's EVP and Chief Marketing Officer, said that the company took the 15 Percent Pledge "because we believe it’s the right thing to do, for our clients, our industry and for our community. 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.”

Though its the first of the major companies that James called out in her initial post about the 15 Percent Pledge, Sephora isn't the only multi-brand retailer to support it publicly or commit to diversifying their offerings. 

Earlier this month, Rent the Runway said it would earmark $1,000,000 to support Black-owned fashion businesses through both wholesale and co-manufacturing initiatives. "It is critically important to us that a significant portion of our [$1,000,000] goes towards launching fashion brands from Black designers who have not had the investment capital to launch on their own," an Instagram post announcing the effort read

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The rental company went on to express support for the 15 Percent Pledge and commit to having "at least 15% of the fashion talent that we feature and support moving forward are from the Black community, inclusive of the models in our marketing, the ambassadors we use and the styling talent, photographers, videographers and crews behind the camera." 

Though it didn't explicitly reference the 15 Percent Pledge, Lisa Says Gah — an independent boutique based out of San Francisco beloved by many in the fashion industry — also posted on social media about needing more Black-owned brands on its racks. In order to do so, "we are setting aside [$10,000] to purchase from Black-owned brands [and] designers this month for you to shop and support on LSG," it wrote on Instagram. "We will make sure to update you as we add to the shop."

James told Fashionista that the 15 Percent Pledge isn't "asking these companies to buy random products just because they're Black-owned." Rather, it's meant to encourage corporations with capital "to invest in the future of the Black community." 

"Many Black people choose to spend money with these businesses. Their stores are set up in our communities. Their sponsored posts are targeted to us," she said. "If they value our money, then value us as well and show us that we are represented."

In the months since the 15 Percent Pledge was founded, more retailers across various categories have announced their commitment to it, from West Elm in the home space to Macy's Inc. in fashion. (Meanwhile, in Canada, the bookstore Indigo became the first to adopt the Pledge.) 

"We believe in this work and know we have more to do," Durand Guion, Vice President of Macy's Fashion Office, said, in a statement. "Bringing more diverse-owned brands into our assortments is a key component of our D&I strategy and we will hold ourselves accountable for continued progress in driving sustainable change internally and within our industry."

Other brands, like Vogue, Yelp and InStyle, have also publicly signed on since June. 

We will continue to update this story as more retailers announce their efforts. 

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