Aurora James has a plan. As well-meaning citizens and brands alike ask what they can do to support black lives, the black female founder of luxury footwear and accessories brand Brother Vellies has issued a challenge to major retailers—including Whole Foods, Target, Walmart, Saks Fifth Avenue, Sephora, Net a Porter, Barnes and Noble, Home Depot and national cannabis retailer Med Men—to commit to buying 15 percent of their products from black-owned businesses.
James first posed the challenge via social media on Sunday, May 29, writing, “for all of the ‘what can we do to help?’ questions out there, this is my personal answer. #15PercentPledge”
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.
As an example, James called out Whole Foods, explaining exactly how much of an impact a 15 percent commitment could make to a black small business owner, manufacturer or farmer.
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.
“I am telling you we can get this figured out,” she urged, both acknowledging the “complexities” of her request and pointing her own inspiring trajectory from a flea market vendor with a $3500 investment to the owner of a label that has sold millions in merchandise and is a celebrity favorite. “This is an opportunity,’ she wrote. “It is your opportunity to get [on] the right side of this.”
On Tuesday, while Instagram feeds were filling with black boxes and platitudes, James ramped up her plea, launching a website and petition, as well as a post illustrated by artist Mona Chalabi providing statistics about the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic upon black businesses, as well as research about the range of industries in which 124,000 black businesses exist.
This time, James’ proposal read:
Black-Owned Businesses are the heart and soul of our communities and they are closing right before our eyes at a rapid pace. They are the most vulnerable and have received the least amount of economic support. All while businesses like Whole Foods, Target [and] Walmart thrive. Economic Equality means enacting real change...
And as the businesswoman she is, James also laid out a three-part plan for retailers and consumers alike to consider how and where their money is spent.
1) Auditing and taking stock of where you are at. 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.
2) Take ownership of where you’re at - ideally publicly. Maybe only 2% of your staff is black, 1% of your content, whatever it is just own it. Accept it. Take accountability.
3) Commit to growth. What is your strategy to get to a minimum of 15% and how do you plan to be held accountable?
“I am not saying this is easy. I’m saying this is necessary,” she concluded, once again urging businesses to make good on their promises of support and solidarity by taking the 15 Percent Pledge.
“I will get texts that this is crazy,” she wrote. “I will get phone calls that this is too direct, too big of an ask, too this, too that. But I don’t think it’s too anything, in fact I think it’s just a start. You want to be an ally? This is what I’m asking for.”
And though black women like James are well accustomed to doing the work of trying to save the world (even from itself), she is well aware of her worth, and made sure to let her followers know, too.
“And yet again this is information and education brought to you free of charge,” she wrote. “You’re welcome.”
To learn more and sign a petition in urging businesses to offer more than lip service, visit the 15 Percent Pledge site.