In June 2020, social media platforms were flooded with black squares and posts in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. But the month before, Aurora James called out a number of major brands and retailers with a request that would turn the already bubbling solidarity trend into real action: “I am asking you to commit to buying 15% of your products from Black owned businesses,” she wrote.
James called out brands like Whole Foods, Target, and Med Men in her original post, but her role in the fashion world makes it no surprise that the focus was placed squarely on fashion and beauty brands like Sephora, Saks, and Shopbop. The 15% Pledge gained momentum and legitimacy quickly; James created the Instagram post on a Saturday, launched a website and a petition on Sunday, and became a registered non-profit on Wednesday.
Ten days after James posted the idea, Sephora was the first to take the pledge. In the United States alone, Sephora has over 400 locations and works with almost 300 brands. James commended Sephora’s leadership and acknowledged the brand’s outsized power and influence in the beauty industry and the retail world.
“Ultimately, this commitment is about more than the prestige products on our shelves,” Artemis Patrick, Sephora’s chief merchandising officer, told The New York Times. “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.”
Since Sephora signed on, a number of major brands have followed suit. Sephora Canada made its own pledge, along with Bluemercury, Ulta Beauty, and retailers like Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, and Nordstrom. While James’ early research showed that Black-owned brands accounted for no more than 3% of retail shelf space, more than a year later, beauty brands sit at the forefront of the 15% Pledge. Some of these beauty retailers have gone on to create their own initiatives, like Ulta Beauty’s MUSE program (magnifying, uplifting, supporting, and empowering Black voices), and Sephora Accelerate, a brand incubator focused on founders of color.