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In 2020, after the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, “the entire world was talking about systemic racism, and how we could all be a part of a society that was equitable and fair,” remembers LaToya Williams-Belfort, executive director of the Fifteen Percent Pledge, which grew out of a part of that conversation: how to support Black-owned businesses.
“There were a lot of hashtags that say ‘shop Black,’ but some people don’t understand the power of that and what that means beyond social media,” Williams-Belfort said.
Aurora James, the organization’s founder, launched the Fifteen Percent Pledge as this conversation unfolded. She called on major retailers and corporations to commit a minimum of 15 percent of their annual spending to Black-owned businesses, as well as to support Black people in the workplace by evaluating hiring practices or increasing the representation of Black individuals in marketing campaigns, for example.
James decided on 15 percent because Black people make up about 15 percent of the total population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Over 13 percent of people living in the U.S. identify as Black and another estimated 2 percent identify as mixed race, totaling at around 15 percent.
Black products are not just for Black people. Black products are for everyone.
LaToya Williams-Belfort, executive director, the Fifteen Percent Pledge
Since 2020, the narrative has shifted. Previously, Black-owned businesses — which must be at least 51 percent Black-owned to be considered a Black-owned business, according to the Census Bureau — were historically excluded from large retailers and corporations, Williams-Belfort explained. But now, systems are being developed to create equitable opportunities for Black-businesses owners. And the Fifteen Percent Pledge is at the forefront, she said. We talked to Williams-Belfort about how shoppers can commit to the Fifteen Percent Pledge alongside retailers — and we rounded up all the brands and retailers who’ve taken the pledge so far.
“Although the Fifteen Percent Pledge is a nonprofit advocacy organization, the work we’re doing is a business proposition,” Williams-Belfort said. “We want to create long-term, sustainable, equitable opportunities for Black business owners.”
What is the Fifteen Percent Pledge?
There are two main branches of the Fifteen Percent Pledge, Williams-Belfort explained.
- The retailer commitment: Companies dedicate shelf space to Black-owned brands.
- The consumer commitment: Shoppers buy those products.
The two commitments are linked and bolster each other, Williams-Belfort said, as consumer behavior encourages retailers to invest more in Black businesses.
The retailer commitment
The retailer commitment involves companies signing a contract with the Fifteen Percent Pledge, committing to dedicating 15 percent of their annual spending to Black-owned businesses within a set number of years.
When many of the corporate partners took the pledge, Williams-Belfort said, less than 3 percent of their shelf space was dedicated to Black-owned brands. The Fifteen Percent Pledge is designed to change that over time — some companies sign 10-year contracts, while others sign shorter ones.
The consumer commitment
The consumer commitment involves shoppers “using their economic power to make conscious and intentional decisions to support Black businesses owners,” Williams-Belfort said. When it comes to issues like systemic racism, people often want to be part of the societal change but are overwhelmed by how daunting the challenges before them are, she added. The Fifteen Percent Pledge’s consumer commitment is an entry point for people to make individual changes in their lives that contribute to the greater movement.
“Black products are not just for Black people. Black products are for everyone,” Williams-Belfort said. “It’s really important to be intentional about spending money with big retailers that are implementing strategies to be as diverse and inclusive as possible.”
Black-owned brands sold at retailers that took the Fifteen Percent Pledge
Below, we highlighted products we think you may be interested in based on our previous coverage and ranging across reader favorite categories like skin care, home goods, apparel, accessories and more — all of the products below come from Black-owned brands sold at retailers who have taken the Fifteen Percent Pledge.
Nordstrom joined the Fifteen Percent Pledge in July 2021. The retailer said it plans to increase tenfold purchases from brands owned or founded by Black individuals by the end of 2030. You can browse the Black-owned and Black-founded businesses Nordstrom carries on its site.
Anima Iris is among the Black-owned businesses Nordstrom offers products from — we previously included it in our guide to Black-owned businesses. The brand makes accessories and handbags like the Mini Zaza Leather Top Handle Bag. It features a magnetic snap flap closure, a removable top carry handle and an interior wall pocket.
Sephora joined the Fifteen Percent Pledge in June 2020, and Sephora Canada made the commitment in May 2021. According to the retailer, it carried eight Black-owned brands across categories like skin care, hair care and makeup when it first committed to the pledge. Now, Sephora carries over a dozen Black-owned brands, and in fall 2021, the retailer said it achieved the 15 percent benchmark in the hair care category. You can browse all of the Black-owned brands Sephora carries on its site.
One of the Black-owned hair care brands Sephora carries is Briogeo — we’ve included the brand’s products in a handful of our hair care guides, like our guides to scalp acne shampoo, scalp scrubs and leave-in conditioners. Briogeo’s Scalp Revival contains charcoal to help remove impurities from the scalp and coconut oil to moisturize hair, according to the brand. It’s also formulated with peppermint and spearmint oils, which Briogeo says reduces scalp itchiness, and tea tree oil, which offers antiseptic and healing properties that reduce scalp irritation and inflammation, according to the brand.
Macy’s joined the Fifteen Percent Pledge in November 2020. Since making the commitment, the retailer says it now carries five times the number of Black-owned brands compared to 2020. You can browse all of the Black-owned brands Macy’s carries on its site.
Harlem Candle Co. is one of the many Black-owned home goods brands Macy’s carries, and we featured the brand in our guide to Black-owned businesses. The brand offers candles in a variety of fragrances, including Speakeasy, which the brand says includes hints of palo santo and bourbon scents. This candle also comes in a version that boasts a 22K gold decoration on the outside of the glass.
Rent the Runway joined the Fifteen Percent Pledge in June 2020. In addition to dedicating 15 percent of its shelf space to Black designers, Rent the Runway committed to ensuring that a minimum of 15 percent of its freelance creative talent like stylists, photographers and models are Black individuals. You can browse all the apparel from Black designers Rent the Runway carries on its site.
You can find Autumn Adeigbo apparel — included in our list of Black-owned businesses — at Rent the Runway, including this bralette. It’s made from Italian merino wool and features a scoop neckline. The sleeveless bralette has a black geometric design printed on it and is available in sizes ranging from Extra Small to Large.
Ulta joined the Fifteen Percent Pledge in May 2021. As CNBC recently reported, Ulta more than doubled the number of Black-owned brands it carries from 13 to 28 last year, and the retailer is about halfway toward reaching its goal of 15 percent representation on shelves. You can shop all of the Black-owned and founded brands Ulta carries on its site.
Black Girl Sunscreen — one of the brands we featured in our guide to Black-owned businesses — is sold at Ulta. Its Moisturizing Sunscreen Lotion offers SPF 30 protection and has a sheer formula to prevent a white-cast from being left behind, the brand says. The sunscreen is also infused with jojoba and cacao avocado and is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes, according to Black Girl Sunscreen.
West Elm joined the Fifteen Percent Pledge in July 2020. As part of its commitment, the retailer vowed to dedicate 15 percent of West Elm LOCAL shelf space to Black-owned businesses — today, the retailer says Black-owned businesses make up 18 percent of its West Elm LOCAL assortment. You can shop Black-owned brands West Elm carries on its site.
Estelle Colored Glass products are sold at West Elm, and we covered the brand’s Stemless Wine Glass in our guide to Pantone’s 2022 Color of the Year. Available as a set of six, the Stemless Wine Glass comes in a variety of colors like Fuchsia, Lavender, Yellow and more. Each glass can hold 13.5 fluid ounces, according to the brand, and must be hand-washed.
The Fifteen Percent Pledge’s impact on Black-owned businesses
As CNBC previously reported, Black spending power — which refers to how much money a group has to buy products and services — reached $1.6 trillion in 2021, and it’s projected to grow to $1.8 trillion by 2024. John Harmon, founder and president of the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey, told us this means that the Black community “contributes greatly to mainstream businesses large and small.” Thus, he sees retailers taking the Fifteen Percent Pledge as a form of reciprocity: Black individuals shop at retailers’ stores, and in return, retailers support the Black community by investing in Black-owned businesses.
“They’re paying back an investment that they owe,” said Larry Ivory, president and CEO of the Illinois Black Chamber of Commerce. “We have to see investing in Black businesses kind of like reparations in terms of giving people a fair opportunity to compete in a capitalist society without enormous disadvantage.”
Additionally, the Fifteen Percent Pledge offers a directory of Black-owned and Indigenous-owned brands on its website called the Business Equity Community. The organization helps these businesses grow and create relationships with retailers who’ve taken the pledge to get their products on shelves. Harmon said this type of support from the Fifteen Percent Pledge can be “potentially transformational” for Black-owned businesses, many of which he noted are first-generation companies.
Ivory said that by helping businesses form partnerships with retailers, the Fifteen Percent Pledge is eliminating the opportunity barrier many Black-owned businesses face when it comes to expanding their companies. The Fifteen Percent Pledge estimates that it shifted almost $10 billion of revenue to Black-owned businesses in one year by connecting them with corporate partners. Harmon said this type of investment is like getting these businesses “off the runway and up in the air to a high altitude.”
Companies who have taken the Fifteen Percent Pledge
To date, 28 companies across three countries — the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom — have committed to the Fifteen Percent Pledge, including retailers as well as corporations like Vogue, InStyle and Yelp.
Below is the full list of retailers who have taken the Fifteen Percent Pledge and when they committed. This list will continue to grow — Williams-Belfort said companies are still actively in conversation to join The Pledge.
- Nordstrom (Jul. 2021)
- Matches Fashion (May 2021)
- Hudson’s Bay (May 2021)
- J. Crew (May 2021)
- Sephora Canada (May 2021)
- Ulta (May 2021)
- Kith (Feb. 2021)
- Next (Feb. 2021)
- Moda Operandi (Feb. 2021)
- Crate & Barrel (Jan. 2021)
- Crate & Kids (Jan. 2021)
- Old Navy (Jan. 2021)
- Banana Republic (Jan. 2021)
- Gap (Jan. 2021)
- CB2 (Jan. 2021)
- Athleta (Jan. 2021)
- Indigo (Oct. 2020)
- Bloomingdales (Nov. 2020)
- Blue Mercury (Nov. 2020)
- Macy’s (Nov. 2020)
- Madewell (Dec. 2020)
- InStyle (Nov. 2020)
- Vogue (Aug. 2020)
- Yelp (Aug. 2020)
- West Elm (Jul. 2020)
- Rent the Runway (Jun. 2020)
- Sephora (Jun. 2020)
- MedMen (Jun. 2020)