Handcrafted skincare products from Motherland Essentials.
Photo courtesy of Andrea Davis
Amid a week of protests, as Americans grapple with systemic racism across many industries, a new economic initiative urges major retailers to support Black-owned businesses. 15 Percent Pledge calls for major retailers to pledge 15% of their shelf space to Black-owned businesses, beginning with calls for reform at Target, Sephora, Whole Foods, and Shopbop.
The new initiative is led by Aurora James, founder of Brother Vellies, an artisan-made accessories brand. In an Instagram post on May 29th, James called for large retailers to commit to buying 15% of their products from Black-owned businesses. “So many of your businesses are built on Black spending power,” said James. “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.” Sephora publicly committed to the 15 percent pledge on Wednesday.
New Opportunities for Black-Owned Businesses
Andrea Davis, owner of artisan skincare company Motherland Essentials believes the initiative is a step in the right direction for major retailers, who she says are largely out of touch with the communities they inhabit. “Black people are not represented in these major stores, yet we spend billions of dollars with them every year. None of that money goes to the black community, which is a huge problem because we are giving our money to places that don’t even try to include us. Most of my wholesale accounts have come from independent retailers and boutiques because they understand the importance of not only stimulating the economy of small businesses but also including the people, black people, that purchase from them,” she said.
For Davis, the 15 Percent Pledge represents an opportunity for her handcrafted products to reach a new audience. “I would have an opportunity to grow my company into a business that can affect some big change in my community by creating job opportunities, skill development, and mentorship opportunities,” she said.
Andrea Davis of Motherland Essentials
Taking the 15 Percent Pledge
The 15 Percent Pledge has three components:
- Take stock of the existing roster of suppliers and audit diversity in the business
- Take ownership of the company’s current status, ideally asking for public accountability
- Take action to get to 15% Black brand representation within the business
James’ hope: purchase orders from big box stores could help Black businesses gain access to investment from banks and other investors. “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,” she said.
James looks at the current imbalance in wholesale business as an opportunity for retailers to show material support for Black communities beyond a one-time donation. “Don’t get me wrong, I understand the complexities of this request,” she said. “I have sold millions of dollars of product over the years from a business I started with $3500 at a flea market. So I am telling you we can get this figured out.”
“I am not saying this is easy. I’m saying this is necessary,” said James.
Faire’s Black Owned Business category features accessories designed by Adele Jackson.
Photo courtesy of Adele Jackson
If retailers answer this call to action, handcrafted fashion and accessories designer Adele Jackson believes it could make a real impact in her bottom line. “A 15% initiative to be on the shelves would mean that I would be able to have a more sustainable and profitable business,” said Jackson. “Currently, I am only able to have my business as a part-time side hobby. I have not been able to reach the point in my business where I am given the same opportunity or the amount of eyes needed to take things to the next level. With the past few weeks, I have started to see an influx of eyes which has been amazing and helped me out tremendously. I am hoping to see more growth from here, and hopefully, there is more of a diverse selection for people to showcase their work to all.”
This week, Trinity Mouzon Wofford, the co-founder of beauty and wellness brand Golde, shared her thoughts about the sudden increase in interest in her products. “This is a very strange time to be a Black-owned business. I’m seeing lots of folks who never showed any enthusiasm for my brand suddenly singing my praises from the rooftops, which I guess is a form of repent for them,” she said. “We’re also getting a lot of retail inquiries from stores this week whom we had unsuccessfully pitched in the past [that] suddenly want to carry our products. It’s hard to react,” Wofford said.
Sourcing Wholesale Products from Black-Owned Businesses
Retail store buyers have more resources than ever to source products from Black-owned businesses. BIPOC in Fiber, a directory of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color working in the fiber community, includes some craft business owners who offer wholesale pricing to retail shops. The online wholesale marketplace Faire has also created a new section dedicated to Black-owned businesses. Businesses that sell on Faire must tag their profiles as Black-owned to appear in the section.
Will craft industry leaders rise to this challenge? The CEOs of Michaels and JOANN released statements of support for the fight against racial inequality this week. The call for greater diversity at all levels is coming from many creative industries. An open letter from 600 Black advertising professionals addresses additional issues of representation, demanding a specific, measurable, and public commitment to improve Black representation at all levels of agency staffing, especially senior and leadership positions.
Michaels, JOANN, Hobby Lobby, and WalMart did not immediately return requests for comment on whether they would consider taking the 15 Percent Pledge.
Erin is the textile designer and artist behind the home décor company, Cotton & Flax. She licenses her surface designs for fabric, home décor, stationery, and other clients. She’s also a teacher, writer, and enthusiastic advocate for small creative business owners. She lives in San Diego, California.
So just black owned businesses? Unbelievable.
Why is it unbelievable? You don’t believe that shelves in major stores should attempt to fill 15% of their space from Black-owned businesses even though 15% of consumers in the US are Black?
Do you have another proposal for lifting up and supporting black business owners that you’d like to propose?
Perhaps you’re worried about other ethnic minorities not being also promoted. Do you have data that other ethnic minorities are underrepresented when it comes to shelf space in big box stores? I don’t actually have that data, but I have read that 7% of small businesses are Asian-owned, which is larger than the Asian representation in the general population, so I think it’s a legitimate question whether Asian businesses are under-represented on the shelf. They may be, but they also may not be.
It is also okay (in my opinion) to work on one problem at a time. Yes, perhaps women business owners aren’t equally represented on store shelves, either. But that’s a bit like responding to a proposal about how to manage the COVID-19 crisis by saying, “but we have lots of people who are sick from other things too! How can you talk about COVID-19?”. There are a lot of problems happening, and it’s impossible to solve them all at once. So we put forth proposals that tackle one small issue and work hard on implementing it. We can work on multiple issues simultaneously, but each idea needs development, implementation and effort.
I think that if you have other ideas for how to help, the community is receptive to hearing great solutions!
Thank you for your well written and kind, yet firm reply. I am white, but my family is a rainbow through birth, foster care, inter- country adoption, marriage, and just bringing those without a family into our circle of love and support. We have felt the sting of racism against our black, Hispanic, Asian, and Gay family members. Everyone deserves all the opportunities that come with being an American citizen, and where the balance isn’t right, it needs to be corrected. I once wrote a letter to Mattel back in the 70’s asking them to make an Asian Barbie doll for my sister who was adopted from Korea. They replied that they didn’t have immediate plans to produce an Asian Barbie but that they were working on it. It was disappointing. 6 years later, after moving to a different part of the state, I received a letter from Mattel letting me know that an Asian Barbie doll was in production and would be released soon. Mattel actually found me after having their letters returned! My sister was a teenager by that time, but she got that Asian Barbie anyway, and her own daughter grew up with a doll that looked like her. Change took a long time back then. It doesn’t have to be that way anymore.
You’re ignoring that Black-owned businesses haven’t been shut out of the market for centuries or that Black consumers are interested in buying products that represent their experiences. You’re presuming that white culture is the baseline for every American and that Black children aren’t interested in playing with toys that represent the people they live with or that Black Americans aren’t interested in watching TV shows that represent their lived experiences.
Doing a quick and dirty google search, 6-7% of ALL businesses in America are Black- owned while 71% are white owned; 14% are Hispanic or Latino and 6% are Asian. I can’t find specifics on how many retail business are Black owned and since this is a reply and not a term paper, we’re going to extrapolate from this data. 13% of Americans are Black but they own only 6-7% of all businesses (and 30% of Black owned businesses are in healthcare), it’s safe to say that they are very under represented in retail markets. Why? Because of discrimination, racism, and systemic racism to name a few. 51% of Black Americans own a home compared to 70% of white. Home ownership is the largest component to generational wealth and home ownership is a large asset that banks look for in securing loans. Without a home, it’s harder for Black business owners to accrue savings and qualify for bank loans to start their businesses. Women and Black Americans make less on the dollar than white men making it harder to save investment capital.
Try reframing how you look at the 15% goal, taking into consideration the systemic systems that give white-owned business profound advantages. The concept of favoring one race over another for businesses quotas isn’t new, it’s just that it’s always been favored toward white-owned businesses and specifically, white men. In 2022, people are saying “enough” it’s time to level the playing field and one way to do that is to work toward improving the number of Black-owned businesses to be more in line with the makeup of the country. You’re presumption upon hearing such a goal is that to increase Black owned businesses we have to hurt white-owned businesses or that more qualified and better white-owned businesses will be closed or never started in favor of bad Black businesses and that isn’t true. It’s the same presumption being made by Ted Cruz, Mitch McConnell, Sarah Palin and Ben Shapiro who have all made similar comments in response to the news that Biden will be nominating a Black woman to SCOTUS. First, inferior white-owned businesses have opened and white male SCOTUS nominees have been put forward since the birth of the country. More qualified, and better suited Black judges have been passed over in order for those interior white men to be confirmed to the SCOTUS. The same systems have ensured that Black-owned businesses never open allowed Harvey Weinstein to thrive at Miramax and Travis Kalanick to build Uber while women were raped. If Black Americans excel, all of our lives will improve. The same can be said about poor people- when they are lifted out of poverty- whether by social programs or work initiatives, America will thrive and that will improve everyone’s lives. This isn’t a zero sum game. While republicans work so hard to make 100% sure that poor American’s aren’t given any kind of social relief to improve their health, ensure that everyone has food on the table, or lift children out of poverty because 1 “lazy” person might scam the system instead of working hard, they have created the most unequal distribution of wealth we’ve every seen. They have created a zero-sum game by routing money toward a handful of billionaires and away from the middle class. And let’s be very clear, the billionaires are playing “trickle down economics”, oh, no they are spending gobs of money on themselves and their stupid trips to “space” aka flying to the edge of space and returning several minute later and the press has eaten it up as a great accomplishment. It isn’t.