Aurora James was at home in Brooklyn last summer, following the widespread Black Lives Matter protests filling streets nationwide. Simultaneously, she was trying to keep her shoe brand, Brother Vellies, afloat during a time that everyone was working from home, shoeless. “I started to think about what actions we could take,” she said.
Friends were calling, asking for advice on how to handle the situation, either “from a PR perspective, or [in regard to] what their employer was doing — and none of it really seemed like enough,” James said. On a call with a friend, she wondered what the impact might be if big retailers committed to allocating 15% of their shelf space to Black-owned brands. “All these Black-owned businesses would have purchase orders from major retailers, which would help them get loans they’re normally not approved for. Venture capital would start paying attention to them.”
On Saturday, May 29, she wrote a call to action and posted it on Instagram. Things moved quickly from there. “Sunday night, I stayed up overnight with my web designer, and we launched the petition and website on Monday at noon. By Wednesday, we became a nonprofit, and by day 10, Sephora became the first major company to commit to the 15 Percent Pledge.” Since then, 27 retailers have taken the pledge.
Taking the pledge, however, is more complicated than a retailer simply posting an Instagram. It is, in fact, a formal contract. “A lot of people don’t realize…