Indigo Is the First Major Canadian Retailer Committed to Selling More Black Brands
The 15 Percent Pledge guarantees at least 15% of shelf space will be dedicated to Black-owned brands
This spring, as anti-racism demonstrations erupted in all 50 states in the U.S., and in many cities around the world, fashion designer Aurora James, founder of popular shoe brand Brother Vellies, launched a campaign on Instagram called the 15 Percent Pledge, aimed toward amplifying Black-owned businesses and putting money back into Black communities. The premise of the campaign is simple: Since Black people make up 15% of the American population, James began calling on retail stores to pledge 15% of their shelf space to Black-owned brands. It quickly went viral.
“So many of your businesses are built on Black spending power,” wrote James on Instagram. “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.” Currently, the pledge’s accompanying petition has almost 85,000 signatures.
James’s first order of business was calling on major retailers like Home Depot, Walmart, Saks Fifth Avenue, Sephora and Whole Foods to join the 15 Percent Pledge. Less than two weeks later, Sephora became the first brand to sign on.
The beauty giant officially and publicly pledged that going forward, it would allocate at least 15% of its shelf space to Black-owned brands. Sephora also wrote that it would use Accelerate, its “internal incubation program dedicated to cultivating female founders, to now focus on women of colour.”
Since then, James has called out brands like Nordstrom, which allegedly only carries less than 1% Black-owned brands, to sign the pledge, as well as Target, whose involvement would “direct over $10 billion dollars into the Black community.” According to Vogue Business, retailers Net-a-Porter and Browns are “working internally to solidify plans.” James, who is based in New York but originally from Toronto, also reached out to Canadian retailers like Hudson’s Bay, Indigo, SSENSE and Holt Renfrew, to sign the 15 Percent Pledge. She revealed that as of July 1, Hudson’s Bay and Indigo had reached out to discuss signing the pledge, calling Holt Renfrew’s and SSENSE’s silence “deafening.” On October 21, it was announced that Indigo had pledged to dedicate 15% of their shelf space to Black-owned brands, making it the only major Canadian brand to publicly commit to the pledge.
Below are some of the retailers that have stepped up and signed Aurora James’ 15 Percent Pledge, ensuring that a minimum of 15% of the brands they carry will be Black-owned going forward. We’ll continue to update this story as the list of retailers (hopefully!) grows.
On October 21, Indigo became the first Canadian retailer to take the pledge. As Canada’s largest book retailer (not to mention a female-founded company), this announcement is big, with the book giant pledging to carry a minimum of 15% books by BIPOC authors as well as 15% BIPOC brands in their other product assortment (which, if you’ve shopped at Indigo, you know includes fitness gear, fashion accessories, baby products and tech, among other things).
Rent The Runway
The apparel rental company signed the pledge on June 23. CEO and co-founder Jennifer Hyman was the first female founder to have her business valued at over $1 billion and since its launch, Hyman has grown Rent The Runway into one of the top five apparel purchasers in the U.S. James wrote that along with pledging to carry at least 15% Black-owned brands, “Rent The Runway has committed to doing the work internally and has also ensured that a minimum of 15% of their freelance creative talent will be Black from here on out. This includes stylists, photographers, models, influencers, etc.”
Last week, West Elm became the first retailer in the home goods category to sign the 15 Percent Pledge. “In addition to their 15% benchmark commitment, the brand will be making a multi-year donation pledge to the 15 Percent Pledge Foundation,” wrote James. You can read the brand’s full statement here, which outlines the brand’s plan and commitment strategy, including a promise to “increase the share of Black employees within West Elm’s corporate workforce to a minimum of 15%, as well as strengthening the retail to corporate pipeline.”
Beauty retailer Violet Grey signed the 15 Percent Pledge one week after its launch, and also committed to “stocking all colour complexion shades from our current brand partners and will focus on securing wider makeup shade ranges going forward.” Love! To! See! It!
Heyday Skincare, the popular NYC salon that puts an emphasis on personalized skincare regimens and products, signed the 15 Percent Pledge, committing to not only stocking their shelves with at least 15% Black-owned brands, but also “launching a program that donates both funding and consulting to Black entrepreneurs in the skincare industry who would benefit from additional resources,” according to an Instagram post by the brand.
Nox Shop, a Montreal-based luxury sex toy boutique, has recently signed the 15 Percent Pledge, committing to not only stocking a minimum of 15% Black-owned brands, but also donating 10% of their monthly sales going forward, starting immediately. If smaller brands like this can do it, we need to expect more from the giant retailers.
Retailer ban.do signed the 15 Percent Pledge on June 5, pledging that “at least 15% of incoming third party products sold on bando.com will be purchased from Black-owned brands and celebrated within our marketing.” The company’s commitment came amidst accusations of racism and dicrimination in the workplace, and days later founder Jen Gotch stepped down.
Who What Wear
On June 4, Who What Wear signed the pledge, promising that the company will be “dedicating at least 15% of our monthly editorial and social content to featuring and highlighting Black brands, designers, companies, creatives, talent, artists, and entrepreneurs as an ongoing effort to create and promote more diverse and inclusive content. We want to use our platform to amplify Black voices and brands to drive meaningful business. We will be transparent about how the process is going and will share our progress with you. This will be an ongoing initiative.”
The luxury personal shopping company announced on June 6 that it had signed Aurora James’s 15 Percent Pledge, committing to allocating at least 15% of its virtual shelf space to Black-owned brands and designers, and called on “the rest of the industry” to join them.
The Goods Mart
New York-based The Goods Mart, an elevated “convenience store,” signed the 15 Percent Pledge in July, writing, “on June 1st, we stocked three Black-owned brands in our store. Today, we carry 17 with our minimum goal to showcase 30 Black founded brands out of the 200 brands that fill our store. We want our consumers to shop their values, which means we must lead by example. We will do better at actively researching and looking for emerging brands that we know you will love.”
While this is certainly an inspiring start, we can’t wait to see the list of brands and retailers signing the 15 Percent Pledge grow. It’s especially promising that massive retailers like Sephora and West Elm, who not only have the funds but the visibility to make a significant (albeit long overdue) difference in their industries when it comes to supporting Black-owned businesses. Like Aurora James has said, “15% is the least you can do.”