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.